Sunday, May 17 update

Big news today: the governor got a COVID test on live TV. And many other people are qualified to get tests too now, he says. Well, okay; but in Onondaga County they threw open the testing to everyone last week in a last-ditch effort to hit the all-important seventh metric.

Erm, about those metrics

The Capital Region can begin reopening this week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday, after the state recalibrated the metrics needed to start reviving the economy. The region has now met six of the seven requirements to reopen and is working to scale up its contact tracing operations to start phase one of the reopening process, Cuomo said…

Jim Malatras said on Sunday that the state has updated its reopening criteria so that the latter metric does refer to the most recent three-day averages of the net increase in hospitalizations and daily hospital deaths for the region. An explanation of the metrics on the “NY Forward” website now states that the hospitalization and death average “does not exceed” 15 and five, respectively, instead of “has never exceeded” those numbers. “We were confusing the hell out of people, I think, on that metrics dashboard, so we tried to clear that up for people,” Malatras said. “It got really confusing really fast.”

The changes to the metrics did not, however, address the mysteries of the state health department’s data collection practices.

WNY is also a beneficiary of this movement of goalposts, and they too have magically come up to a score of 6 out of 7 as of today. While no one could be glad that regions of the state have been unable to reopen, Buffalo and Albany have apparently been deemed “too big to fail.” (But that’s just my take on it. WNY’s conservative partisans — always legends in their own minds — are currently dancing around their bonfire triumphantly, positive that this reprieve for their region is due to Cuomo being scared of some local law firm suing the state.)

Although CNY is not in danger of falling back on the hospitalization metric that has (up to now) bedeviled WNY, hospitalization totals in Onondaga County continue to increase, and today were reported at an all-time high of 66, with 93 now dead. The community spread case number continued to be mild (10 new cases today).

Following on the heels of yesterday’s NYT story on where NYC residents of means ran to, is a look at where they are forwarding their mail. If there was ever any doubt about it, the data makes it clear: New York City residents did not flee to “trans-Hudson” upstate New York in any significant numbers. They almost completely bypassed us, in fact. And if there remains any doubt about this next point, the data has already demonstrated that when NYC sneezes, Upstate does not catch a cold. At least away from the Hudson Valley, Upstate’s infection rates have been no more notably severe than in other “flyover” metropolitan areas in the Northeast that have been locked down.

The next big test, obviously, is how much of an economic cold “the regions” will suffer through when NYC’s economic cratering forces Albany to savagely cut local funding. It’s probably not going to be just the sniffles. Having dealt with the containment and reopening stages as best they could, local authorities are grimly trying to prepare the public for the economic agony to come. “Without New York City, you’d be Mississippi” is the old saying. Everyone cast this as some kind of a choice we’d be foolish to make. Now that the choice has been made for us — because NYC is now at least temporarily “Jackson, Mississippi” — perhaps we can get rid of that conversation-killer once and for all.

It is difficult, though, to get the public at large to see crisis as opportunity. The automobile — something that the average NYC worker does not have at their disposal — is proving to be something of an economic lifeboat in upstate counties. Auto dealers were the first businesses to reopen, since counties rely on them for sales tax. At least in the Syracuse area, pop-up drive-throughs have become wildly popular. Now that drive-in movies are the only mass entertainment that seems safe, other businesses are getting in on the act… sort of.

Arlington Acres in LaFayette, New York, is partnering with Nomad Cinema to show “The Goonies” after sunset on Saturday, May 23. The 100-acre family farm, also known as a barn wedding and event venue, announced on Facebook that reservations were filled within hours.  Arlington Acres owner Katie Jerome told syracuse.com | The Post-Standard that they will not be charging for tickets, but will ask for a suggested donation of $15 per car or $5 per person to help cover costs of the first event.

“I don’t expect to make money, it’s more of a community thing,” she said.  “We are not trying to steal any business from any drive-in movie theaters or other businesses.”

These people are assuming that the popularity of outdoor venues will be a temporary blip and that they can go back to the wedding business soon, and that is probably true. However, it doesn’t exactly betray a killer business instinct, and that’s part of the problem with businesses around here in general: they only feel able to fit into specialized niches, and even then it has been a struggle even in good times.

One small blessing of the pandemic, at least in the Syracuse area, is that it’s a way to gauge what local economy actually still exists when the usual economic activity has been cut to the bone. One State Fair food drive-through is a cute story. Two independent State Fair food drive-throughs is a faint heartbeat. Three or more food drive-throughs, with a popup drive-in theater put on by another company nearby, would be an informal (though tiny) economic sector.

Not that this pop-up business activity would be long-lasting or relevant once things get “back to normal” — but it’s interesting to observe, much like it’s interesting to observe small, shy wildlife becoming more bold when the big humans aren’t stomping around.