Sunday, May 3 update

NYS update: I was wrong about Northeastia being a phantom, and now we know what to properly call it: the Northeast Consortium, or NorCon for short?. Which, honestly sounds like something out of Deep Space Nine, but it’s the best we have. (I wonder how you say “We can get it for you wholesale” in Latin?) Most of the NorCon governors were brought on to say a few words, some of them were almost a little obsequiously, I guess it’s because it was Cuomo’s talk show.

Well, bliss is it in this dawn to be alive. I’ll bet that many Upstate officials were pleased to hear Cuomo speculating about PPE, reagents and drugs being manufactured here rather than overseas. I’ll believe it when I see it. The state has to do a lot more than just suggest it and hope that it starts to happen. If we could somehow get some supply chains of opportunity going — such as the one happening between Upstate farms and Queens — then maybe there would be some hope, but it will take years.

The rest of Cuomo’s session today was about social-distancing lecturing. I like the idea of Noo Yawkers letting loose on each other as only they can. In reality, though, this is being handled by the police there and it can’t be pleasant for those desperate to get outside.

Onondaga County update: There was no county briefing yesterday, and I’m not sure how many people saw today’s because we could all be outside doing better things. I continue to be impressed by how the CE is able to come out before a very thin weekend press audience and rattle off not only a mind-numbing series of daily numbers, but also to provide clear explanations of what those numbers mean.

There was definitely some explaining to do today, because in addition to two further deaths (bringing us to 36), there have been an awful lot of new positives. A slightly worrying number of them this weekend have been community-spread cases. This is the first time in a long while that numbers have been a cause for concern in the county, and Central New York is poised to partially open in less than two weeks. However, it turns out the nursing home story is growing… more complicated.

The county is apparently almost finished with the senior-center testing that it is allowed to do (assisted living centers; the state does nursing homes), and the high number of positive cases can in part be attributed to an unusually large number of tests that were returned since Friday (1,046 tests, really a very large number). The positive rate remains about 7.9%. As for the hospitalization rate — really one of the key metrics that is looked at for reopening — something new is happening, according to the CE: some nursing homes have been panicking (note: that’s my word for that, not his) and sending newly discovered asymptomatic patients to the hospitals. (Supposedly, all five of the new hospitalizations reported today were seniors who were sent from the nursing homes and did not really need to be hospitalized. “We will sort this out with them.”)

Clearly, the nursing home issue continues to be highly complicated. As a society, we already know that we just don’t know what to do with seniors, particularly infected ones who have dementia. Reporters are now dancing around the question of “Why are we doing this, again?” (testing seniors) and getting antsy about the reopening. McMahon wasn’t exactly defensive, pointing out that in every metric, the Syracuse area remains well positioned to meet state requirements, but asked rhetorically, “Where are we supposed to go — from best [in the state] to… best?” He pointed out, rightly, that we have become used to having “good numbers” but will have to get accustomed to having worse ones. (On Friday, he remarked that Dr. Gupta told him, “Say goodbye to your happy numbers when you start Phase One.”)

My take: The only way you get better numbers is to turn a blind eye to reality. This of course has been the American story for the last few decades. If you want a reality-based society — or just a reality-based COVID reopening program — you have to confront the reality of: seniors in nursing homes. Homeless people. Poor people. Kids who aren’t getting a proper education. Etc. Being a reality-based society is a bitch. Glad to see McMahon isn’t flinching even when the stakes are so very high. (In the past, he used the word “uncomfortable” when describing social distancing measures. He should take that word out again, to describe the kind of test numbers that reality-based people will have to face during these daily totals going forward.)

The second part of the story is not a mirage, unfortunately — the community spread cases have indeed ticked upward. This was attributed to improving weather conditions seen perhaps seven days ago. More community spread will undoubtedly show seven days from this (beautiful) day. The CE sounded a note of disappointment about lax social distancing (“we’re going backward”) and although this is not going to affect CNY’s position for reopening, it could complicate things if it gets worse, because once reopening has started, it will be highly difficult to walk it back if things get out of hand. Apparently, also, more people who are supposed to be self-isolating at home are getting sloppy and passing the illness to their housemates (these count as household-contact cases, however, not community spread).

For the first time, a theoretical “red alert number” was given: if Onondaga County reaches 5,000 active cases, the reopening process has to stop. (Although there are only about 400 actives now, we’re supposed to anticipate active cases continuing to rise even during Phase One; but 5,000 actives would be much too much.)

Two new contact alerts for the public were announced: the first, a COVID-positive mask-less person who shopped at East Syracuse Walmart (this is the second separate contact alert for this store this week). The second one, which probably would produce more hysteria if it had not happened on a Sunday, was from a Greyhound bus traveler from New York City bound for Binghamton (the bus either stopped in Syracuse or continued on to Syracuse, not sure which). Broome County’s health department sent the alert our way.

Everything discussed at today’s briefing makes it obvious that the road ahead is by no means clear, but that county officials are thoroughly committed to the reality-based route they have chosen to take. It will be interesting to see if this is the route that the rest of the state’s officials will go down. I think they will. Unfortunately, we already know that other states are choosing to continue down “the primrose path” of fantasy.