Wednesday, May 20 update

NYS update: As time wears on, it was predictable that up in the North Country, there would be some trouble. And it’s fairly big trouble when people openly disobey a county order and have a large outdoor gathering, the local sheriff is defiant, and someone gets killed.

An ATV event held over the weekend at the Stuck in the Muck Off-road Park that resulted in a fatal UTV accident in the parking lot Saturday night has county officials on edge. The event flouted stay-at-home and anti-gathering laws still in effect as the north country begins its phased reopening with ongoing concerns over a COVID-19 surge, social distancing was not respected, masks were not worn and the campgrounds were open. While the event organizer insists he had permission, county officials insist no permission was given…

The Sheriff’s office was contacted about the event. However, it is not clear if the “cops” who showed up in the day were from his office. In April, when over 50 ATV riders took to Tug Hill on the day the Snirt Poker Run was meant to be held, Sheriff Carpinelli had said the only tickets his department could have issued would have been for normal law-breaking like disorderly conduct, traffic infractions and drunken driving. The sheriff said he believes all of the laws instated via executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo are “unconstitutional.” He could not be reached for comment about the ATV event.

Meanwhile, local police in Massena who appeared to be trying to do the right thing by informally talking to a local church that held an outdoor service, have been threatened with a civil rights lawsuit by the church. Everyone is trying to be civil, but hackles have been raised.

Onondaga County update: The biggest local news came late in the day today when SU released its reopening plan. Unlike Ithaca College, they’re planning on reopening on schedule in August, but are having a truncated semester that ends at Thanksgiving. It appears that class sizes will be reduced, making Friday and weekend classes necessary, with online versions of each course running concurrently to the real-world ones. It’s interesting, but I wonder how faculty, adjuncts and TAs will deal with extra classroom hours, even if the hours don’t represent additional courseloads.

Today’s county briefing focused in on the “asymptomatic nursing-home patient” issue, which is now openly acknowledged to be a real problem. And yes, it’s a problem when fully half of your state-tallied COVID hospitalizations (39 out of 78) are patients who no longer need (or never needed) hospital treatment. As CE McMahon rightly points out, this is turning “hospitalization” into a useless metric. This problem is beginning to also become apparent in Rochester and Buffalo, and I predict Cuomo’s briefing tomorrow will deal with it in some form.

New cases in Onondaga are high (61 new cases), but because of expanded testing, the positive rate has fallen to 6.6%, the lowest ever registered. Community spread was up significantly, to 22. The local reporters seem nervous about these new numbers, and want to talk to Dr. Gupta, who is busy. (No, she really is; she’s doing a webinar with NYSAC tomorrow on contact tracing.)

Plans were announced for the reopening of Oneida Shores (wading only), the libraries (curbside pickup) and the zoo (by reservation, no indoor exhibits, temperature checks). I wonder how widespread the phenomenon of reserving slots at attractions will become, and how persistent it might be — unfortunately, such a strategy of admission has its abuses as well as its uses. I wonder if suddenly now everyone who’s anyone will be clamoring for an elusive zoo ticket. As for churches, McMahon was yesterday suggesting 25% capacity at churches yesterday (for Phase 2), a rare divergence from what the state has mandated; but as usual, this isn’t a hill he’s going to die on and state guidance will be carried out.

Despite his usual positivity in his numbers explanations, though, McMahon seemed to me to be a little more forceful than usual on asking the public to maintain social distancing and wear masks, and he conceded that the community spread number bears watching. It was also mentioned that a county employee had tested asymptomatically positive, which led to a discussion of how manfully Cuomo had stood up for his nasal swab (“He took it pretty well, but I question if they went far enough up the nostril”).

McMahon usually studiously avoids any hint of criticism of the governor or state health department, but today I couldn’t help noticing just the faintest whiff of snark. Maybe this week there’s just a wee bit of political blood in the water.

In the Governor’s briefing, he was imploring local officials to test in minority communities and underserved communities. We’re very proud in Onondaga County that we’ve been doing that since day one. No need to implore us — we’ve been doing it, and leading.