Monday, May 11 update

NYS update: Cuomo was in Rochester today (again) to talk about regional reopenings. He did not specifically announce who gets to be in the May 15 Club, but instead flashed another scoreboard that showed Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley as being septimetrically correct, with CNY and the North Country disappointingly just short on testing volume. Central New York is likely to qualify before Friday, but I’m not sure about the North Country. It is annoying that CNY, which was so out in front of everything for so long, is now being left out of the (inaccurate) headlines on reopening. (Later, a Channel 9 reporter called the governor’s office and confirmed that CNY can join the club if they hit the testing point by Friday.)

Also, apparently a “Regional Control Room” is not something logical like an actual, county emergency management control room, but… another big committee. While Cuomo was saying that efforts would be regionally led, his office made damn sure to put state officials at the top of all the regional committee member lists. (CNY’s state official is former Syracuse mayor Matt Driscoll.) Another example of the big promises and decidedly smaller reality of the State of New York COVID response, along with the apparently imaginary “meeting with county executives” that didn’t happen. (They were invited to watch the Cuomo briefing instead.)

And a lot of bragging from the governor today, after he claimed “Hoocoodanode, it’s above my pay grade” to foresee and be prepared for a pandemic. Weak. Since Cuomo keeps bringing this up when people would rather ask him about nursing homes… what did it really matter that the virus came from Italy and not China, anyway? How different would the rate of spread into New York State have been, with New York City still being a global travel hub, if it had come from China? Five to seven days, tops? (How does he keep getting away with this self-justifying blather without being challenged?) It was as if officials in New York State were anticipating sitting back and watching the West Coast get hit, and having all the time in the world to react.

Props to the Rochester press corps for asking the big question: Why does the state health department’s daily data reporting suck so hard, and what will be done about it going forward? (That was a paraphrase.) Cuomo promised that data would be updated every 24 hours to aid in regional monitoring. Note that he didn’t promise for the data to be correct.

This does not bode well:

A Steuben County boy is out of the hospital, and on the road to recovery after a brush with a newly-discovered syndrome that is possibly tied to the coronavirus.

Nine-year-old Bobby Dean is believed to be the first child in our area to be diagnosed with pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, which is being linked to at least three deaths and 85 cases statewide.

The boy’s aunt is a worker at Hornell Gardens, one of the COVID-hit nursing homes.

Onondaga County update: After weeks of ceaseless proactivity, CNY had to sit by on the sidelines while the Mighty Powerpoints proclaimed other regions of the state to be ready to reopen, but not us. So what happened?

CE McMahon’s demeanor today could be characterized as either “feisty” or “punch-drunk” as he confidently stated that Onondaga County’s (and hence the CNY region’s) robust ongoing test results are likely stuck in a vacuum tube somewhere deep in the bowels of the Ministry of Truth NYS Department of Health. The 24-48 hour delay in test numbers getting from CNY to DOH to Governor Cuomo’s Powerpoint slides sounds plausible. (I guess Cuomo makes all his decisions off the slides themselves?) “I would love to see what the other regions’ numbers look like,” McMahon said, not lingering on this idea — but this is another indication that everyone in this state, at every level, is basically working in a vacuum. If you’ve got friends in Albany, or friends in other counties, you may know something of what is going on — but otherwise, you’ll have to guess.

The only away around this ginormous fatberg of data clogging up the pipes, it was said, is for Dr. Gupta and other county health officials to legally attest to the numbers of tests being administered, thus bypassing the whatever-it-is that makes Onondaga County and state numbers disagree so much. McMahon had just gotten off a call with the new CNY “Regional Control Room Council” where all of these points had been made. Pointing out that nursing homes were now legally mandated to test their staffs twice a week, he said it would be “impossible” for the counties in the CNY region to not hit the benchmarks going forward, since not doing so would be against the law.

This struck me as grasping a bit for logic (I mean, who can say that any new regulations will actually be enforced?), but I also get the feeling that our CE’s governing motto must be “Tis not in mortals to command success; but we’ll do more, we’ll deserve it.” A commendable old moral, but may not be practical in the long term. Everything seems to be by the book, both from a public health management standpoint and also the dancing to the state’s shifting tune (“Jump? How high?”). I wonder if the press corps watching all this are feeling the same dread that some day, McMahon is just finally going to have some kind of meltdown, because this whole thing has been more than a little Kafkaesque. (“This week has been pretty depressing,” a reporter ventured, but he didn’t take the bait.)

This evening’s story summarizes McMahon’s main points:

He argued that recent efforts have already ramped up testing to exceed the state mandate. The state’s ruling was based on old data, he said, noting that it can take several days for the state to compile all of its testing numbers.

He’s unsure where the state’s number — 647 tests a day — came from. McMahon said he’d gotten yet a different testing number from the state during a conference call earlier.

A different state mandate will force the county to meet its testing goal, anyway. The state is ordering nursing home employees to get tested twice a week, citing the pandemic’s catastrophic toll on older people in care facilities. In Onondaga County’s case, that’s 5,000 employees who need to be tested twice a week, for a total of 10,000 tests a week. That by itself is enough to fulfill the state’s testing mandate, McMahon noted.

Given Central New York’s relatively low rate of coronavirus infections, McMahon said that the state’s testing mandate “doesn’t make a lot of sense,” though he promised to comply to allow the local economy to reopen.

After exhorting one and all to come down to the Syracuse community testing site to get swabbed (CDC guidelines be hanged), McMahon admitted he is squeamish about the test process and will not go for a test unless he has one of the symptoms. (Would love to see Cuomo get asked that too…)

Also of note today was that community spread cases shot up again (to 22), which is thought to be the direct result of the beautiful weather on the weekend of May 1-2. This would fall within a 3-5 day incubation period before symptoms would appear, prompting sick people to seek testing around the 5th day, and with a 24-48 turnaround depending on the test site, would produce the expected rash of positives. Epidemiology in action?

While it seems likely CNY will get to open soon, even by May 15, the whole thing is so frustrating. All of the stress and confusion is coming from the top. I just hope that local leaders conserve a bit of their energy and sanity so that they have something left over when the emergency phase has ended.

But for some perspective on what this is really about…

While the New York Times is useless for any reporting whatsoever on Upstate life, I find that the Washington Post covers New York State surprisingly often and with good detail. They focus on a VA hospital employee in Syracuse who has been struggling to recover from COVID for weeks and suffering greatly. You just don’t want to catch this disease.