Category Archives: COVID-19

Monday, June 22 update

NYS update: Cuomo is no longer with us, yet his disembodied voice continues to be heard — on radio, MSNBC, etc. And just like that, Northeastia is back as a concept, as the governor is publicly musing about the possibility of stranger danger and seeing if the rest of the Tri-State area would like to get on board with 14-day quarantines for travelers coming from the nether states.

(Much as I would like to bash Florida, a widely reported story about Florida’s governor requiring ICUs to report only patients needing “intensive care,” which sparked guffaws all over the Internet today, is not as dumb as it sounds. It actually reminds me of the recent battles faced here at home by local leaders dealing with COVID hospitalization numbers and nursing home patients — although in this case it’s about a governor trying to weigh accurate ICU numbers from hospitals and not local leaders forced to report bogus hospitalization numbers by the governor’s office.)

Onondaga County update: Today, after a week’s hiatus, a county briefing was held, although it’s understood they will be less and less frequent. The CE has now taken to Twitter to deliver daily updates and I would imagine that with the community spread solidly stabilized, and with no more daily Cuomo briefings to clean up after, there isn’t a lot of material from day to day. However, when asked at today’s session if he thought it would be harder to get information from the state because Cuomo’s daily televised court has ceased, McMahon thought we might be hearing a lot more from the governor now that reporters wouldn’t be around — just not in his corporeal Albany form.

There was a tick upward to 12 community spread cases on Friday (the daily average is more like 5-7), but I’d bet that had to do with cases uncovered at the confusingly named Champlain Valley apple packing plant in Oswego, where some of the workers are from Onondaga. By today this had ticked down again to the “new normal.” Warehoused nursing home patients are slowly leaving the hospitals. ICU cases are in the single digits.

McMahon was there supposedly to take questions about reopening — Phase 4 will probably start this Friday — but he started in on Congress’ delay in voting on local recovery measures, and this was the first time I heard him mention NYSAC to a “lay” audience.

The only things left to talk about are mostly City of Syracuse matters such as the shootings on the Near West side over the weekend, a depressing situation all around because after doing so well for the past few months, it feels like things are edging out of control. There never should have been a birthday party of hundreds of people on a street corner in the first place (social distancing). We know why the cops didn’t move to break it up – and gang members figured that out too. Do we just have a power vacuum in the city now?

Unlike the county response to COVID, it feels like city government is struggling to stay on top of events, not all of which are of their own making. The CE has an easier job than the mayor; he isn’t required to police the sheriff’s office and can just shrug speculatively when asked about social distancing enforcement. But we still have a situation where people are justifiably raw about cop behavior, cops are not wanting to charge into a really unwisely gathered group of people and possibly start a riot, and criminals are taking advantage. Where is the outside breath of air or shaft of light in this seemingly hermetically sealed system? Somebody on the (relative) outside of this system who has room to maneuver needs to take charge.

At least we know now what is largely causing the national pyrotechnics plague — fireworks dumping. There are many reasons to dislike Pennsylvania, but the probability that most of the illegal fireworks in New York are coming over that border, is top of my list right now. (Do we have to include Pennsylvania in Northeastia?)

Fireworks are awesome, and in principle, one could enjoy a delightful fireworks display any day of the year. In practice, however, the American Pyrotechnics Association reports that nearly 80 percent of display firework revenue is associated with July Fourth celebrations, which are widespread across the United States. This year, many of those celebrations have been canceled, and many other firework-intensive events like pro sports have also been impacted by the pandemic. This creates the potential for diversion of fireworks from the professional display market to the consumer market, complete with the possibility of bargain-basement prices. Combine increased availability of fireworks with pandemic-induced boredom and you have the recipe for unusually lively summer nights.

Of course, conspiracy theories abound. (Milk, fireworks… wonder what future inventory dumpings we are not thinking of… and what their bizarre effects will be?)

Thursday, June 18 update

NYS update: Well, this is awkward. While New York State and most of the Northeast were modifying their behavior and laboring hard like little worker ants to flatten the curve and get ready for the dreaded “second wave” of COVID speculated for the fall, a good chunk of the rest of the USA went off to run and play like grasshoppers. Now the governor is contemplating declaring Fortress New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday that he’s considering imposing a quarantine on travelers arriving to New York from states like Florida where coronavirus cases have spiked.  “I haven’t made a decision yet, but I have had experts advise me of that. It is a real concern,” Cuomo said when asked about whether he’d consider imposing some sort of quarantine measure or taking health precautions at airports where travel has increased.

This sort of quarantine probably wouldn’t really work, just like Florida’s quarantine against New Yorkers didn’t. But the ongoing national psychological estrangement is bleeding into a pseudo-physical one the longer the virus is at large on the continent.

I have extended family in states like Florida, Arizona and South Carolina where the virus is either growing exponentially more prevalent, or threatens to. Having heard from family in Arizona recently, I can tell that psychologically, they are now where we in New York were in March. More people are eager to wear masks and wary of allowing non-family into their homes. Don’t expect any “you were right, we should have listened” — any more than Chinese and Italians could have expected the same admission from us in the Northeast three months ago. We really aren’t one country. To most of us, vast swaths of the United States rest beyond the edges of our real psychological maps. What happens “over there” is make-believe.

As Cuomo winds down his daily homilies tomorrow (you bet I’m tuning in for this historic moment, or at least to see what the last slide says), I suppose we in upstate New York should reflect on how lucky we (sometimes) are to be chained to the Tri-State Area. And forced, along with the rest of fellow New Yorkers, to endure the admonitions of our Great White Father in Albany. Would we be more reckless with the virus if we weren’t? Maybe or maybe not. It’s never easy to tell if we are relatively reasonable people by our innate historical constitution, or if it’s learned or forced behavior. It has been a trip, and promises to be even more so. Cuomo, on WAMC today:

I have total authority and with that comes responsibility.

Ya know, most leaders would just concentrate on the “responsibility” part; as in, “It’s my responsibility what happens to the people of this state,” etc. Andrew just cuts right to the important stuff, which incidentally happens to have that other “responsibility” stuff tacked on. I guess when you have total authority, you can pick and choose what responsibility you want to take.

Steve McLaughlin, the Rensselaer County executive, watched the troubles unfold at Diamond Hill with a sense of impotent fury. The home was the county’s worst hot spot, its cases and deaths dwarfing those everywhere else. He’d had a simple reaction to Cuomo and Zucker’s March 25 order — “No way. Not ever.” — and had blocked the transfer of COVID-19 patients from hospitals to the county-run Van Rensselaer Manor unless they tested negative before being moved. But he couldn’t do that at Diamond Hill, a privately run home overseen by the state.

(You know things are bad when a red-meat rightie like McLaughlin seems like the most reasonable person in the room.)

Onondaga County update: The CE picked the wrong week to take a break from briefings, as another agricultural facility in the CNY region has flared up into a hotspot that has drawn the state’s attention.

Cuomo called the increase the “only caution sign” on spread of the virus in the entire state. But he also said the local tracing system worked well to track down the cause. Cuomo tied the jump to a cluster of new cases uncovered at Champlain Valley Specialties of NY Inc., an apple-packing facility in the town of Oswego. “That’s bad news, but it’s also good news,” Cuomo said of the cluster. “That’s the way this is supposed to work.”

At last report, the outbreak has been contained to 43 people after over 500 tests of workers and their families. (No word on if the workers are migrant labor.)

In Onondaga County itself, there haven’t been any significant changes in the daily statistics, still at around 5-9 cases of community spread daily. The number of active cases is down to a commendable 682. While I don’t closely follow the latest research, the theory that COVID is currently exploding in the hot states because of increased time spent indoors in air conditioning — more Southerners spending time indoors, more Northerners spending time outdoors — seems worth studying.

However, it’s also true that some people are getting sloppy:

Onondaga County health officials issued a warning today that a customer of TisMart Cigar Shop and Lounge in Brewerton has tested positive for Covid-19. The customer was not wearing a face mask while in the establishment on Saturday, June 13, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

(From 9:30 to 11:30 am? What is it, an opium den? Yeah, sorta.)

While I was away on vacation, another Amazon warehouse suddenly happened. This is going to be a warehouse where items purchased by Syracuse area residents will be staged and prepared for delivery. Curiously, the project will not be receiving any tax breaks.

The project site includes a floodplain associated with nearby Butternut Creek. Some of the parking lot will be built within the floodplain, according to information provided by the developer on the environmental assessment form. But the building itself will not be in the floodplain, and the base of the building will be more than 5 feet above the 100-year flood level, according to the document. The warehouse will have 920 parking spaces, more than 700 of which will be for delivery vans, according to the environmental form. The center also will get 15 tractor trailer deliveries per day.

In other news, the planned large “Black Lives Matter” street mural in Syracuse has had a design change:

The new plan is to have four words stretching in each direction at the intersection of Montgomery and East Washington streets: “Redemption” to the north, “justice” to the east, “freedom” to the west and “unity” to the south. In the center will be a painting of a clenched fist. The mural is scheduled to be painted amid daily protests, demonstrations and street clean-ups every day for more than two weeks…They wanted the street painting to be unique to Syracuse, instead of copying what other cities have done.

I am enthused, particularly at the last sentence.

Lastly, as a followup to my quick look at the Onondaga County GOP, this just in. I think this is a clear sign that, even if Trump is not yet gone, Trumpism is dying or dead in Central New York.

Onondaga County Republican Chairman Tom Dadey said Thursday he won’t seek reelection when his term leading the local party expires in September. Dadey, of DeWitt, served as the county GOP leader for the past decade and rose to become vice chairman of the New York Republican Committee. He was one of President Donald Trump’s earliest supporters in New York. He was rewarded with a seat on Trump’s presidential transitional team and the Republican National Committee’s platform committee in 2016.

Like I said — the less said, the better.

Thursday, June 11 update

Onondaga County update: Neighborhood violence in Syracuse has risen to horrific levels since the pandemic and its associated economic consequences started to hit hard. Today there was a shooting of an armed man by police, a 10-year-old girl hit with a bullet, and an astonishing eight murders in two weeks. I’ll be blunt — if you think we need to break up the United States in order to pass stricter gun control laws locally, I’m listening.

That isn’t going to solve any problems right now. Our local BLM marchers are planning to march for 40 days straight, and it’s still a pretty impressive turnout.

There was no county briefing today, but Onondaga County has reached 164 COVID deaths. No new trends in the data are visible. And upstate NY continues to be invisible, because we’ve reached Phase 3 as of tomorrow, “normal life” is coming back steadily (except for neighborhoods where lead is flying), and the rest of the country is headed in the wrong direction.

What a world we live in, when Republicans dangle 200 government jobs over the cliff — not to throw them over the side, but to force the county legislature to pass a tax:

McMahon has proposed reviving a 4% county sales tax on residential energy sales. The tax was discontinued in 1982. But legislators voted 15-2 last week to put off until July 7 a vote on reviving the tax, which would raise about $12 million per year and cost the typical household $6 per month. Knapp said the layoffs will be offered as an alternative to imposing the residential energy tax on utility customers. He supports the tax, which would expire after two years. “I was prepared last month to vote for the energy tax,” Knapp said. “I prefer that to laying off at least 200 folks, or probably more.” Under the county charter, the county executive cannot impose layoffs without the approval of the legislature.

So this energy sales tax has been lying in the county’s attic unused since the Reagan years; supposedly, many if not most other counties in the state already have one. Aside from the specter of Onondaga County becoming even more addicted to sales tax (what can you do, when no corporate tax break is too large) — I want to step back and observe how Onondaga County’s GOP seems to be turning into my favorite metaphor: “not so much a party, but party parts flying down the road in formation.”

My wild theory of the moment is that the end of the Republican Party could be on display (in one of the places) where it began — right here in CNY. We think of the cultlike rot and corrosion of Trump, and assume that this party which has been caught in the cult is going to do something righteously spectacular and explode over our heads like a hellish meteor, never to be seen again. After the show is over, it will be Greens vs. Dems, or something like that.

But in that light, it’s fascinating to observe the Onondaga County GOP and the range of characters they have these days are a pretty motley crew. The scion of the local Walsh dynasty, the mayor of Syracuse, is an independent (and, supposedly, was never Republican at all) who didn’t like the Trump brand. (Disclaimer: I am descended from a cadet branch of the Syracuse Walshes. My grandfather became a secret Democrat during the 1950s and cautioned my mother to register Republican as well. And it was a big deal if your friends and family on Tipp Hill found out you were leaving the Party.)

Then we have our county executive, who many believe has gone full RINO. I don’t think that’s so. A couple months ago he was outraged that his fellow Republicans (“my Federal friends”) in Washington did not follow the tenets of fiscal conservatism. When I stopped laughing, I started to think he really believed that was a thing in today’s national GOP. As with the mayor, the fact that he is even in this position right now is wild. He started off in the minority on the Syracuse common council, then got elected to the county legislature, where he was named chair on his first day, then Joanie up and quits and suddenly he’s county executive and, as of 2019, elected to the position. (For those unfamiliar with the CE or the Celtic knot of Syracuse politics, here’s some background.)

Then there’s the DA (say his name seven times and he appears behind you). He’s been in office since time immemorial (but not really). He has opinions, and gets to air them a lot. I was just glad that marchers were too busy marching last weekend and probably not paying attention to his media appearances.

Fitzpatrick has played an outsize role in this community for far too long, injecting politics into justice in his multiple stints on right-wing talk radio shows. He intimidates defense attorneys, berates his critics, uses his campaign war chest to prop up local politicians. During the tenure of our most recent past police chief, Fitzpatrick regularly denigrated Police Chief Frank Fowler, an African American, dismissing him as “irrelevant”. The District Attorney all but called the Chief of Police “boy” (a man with “a juvenile mind” was the precise phrase). This is the man who would ask our community to trust him? To call him out of touch is perhaps too kind.

And the county GOP chair is still down with Trump wholeheartedly. The less said the better, except to acknowledge the continuing existence of that kind of reactionary tent peg.

I come neither to praise nor to bury the Onondaga County GOP (and indeed, I’m not sure if anyone would really think it was “in trouble” as long as it keeps winning local elections). I just want to point out that political evolution never stops. The Republican Party didn’t exist until rapidly changing times gave them a reason for existence.

I only offer this as one more alternative theory about What Happens Next. R. rockefelleri is extinct; we know this to be true. But what if the Republican Party… doesn’t die? What if it just melts into a puddle of different, out of which something new arises? Could be something awful. Could be something interesting. You just never know where the action might actually be.

Monday, June 8 update

NYS update: At last, we’ve turned the corner and now we don’t have to pretend that what Cuomo says every day is newsworthy. The Legislature is wasting no time on police reform tonight; at least, they are going after the low-hanging fruit first, passing the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act. This is an easy one, criminalizing deaths that occur when police use the chokehold. But it doesn’t appear to universally criminalize chokeholds themselves, and let’s not forget that until relatively recently, being choked into unconsciousness — and off camera — was not a felony in New York mainly because it was “unprovable” in court.

Choking, experts say, is one of the most pervasive forms of domestic violence, with its overtones of power and control, and one of the best predictors of more serious violence. “A woman who has been choked is seven times more likely to be the victim of a domestic violence homicide later.”

Hopefully we can now also recognize that a police officer who likes to use chokeholds beyond what is reasonably called for by procedure is akin to a domestic abuser (and statistically, alas, may actually be one). Hopefully we get politicians who are perfectly happy to support domestic abuse shelters to start supporting assistance to victims of police abuse, which of course starts with believing that it doesn’t happen because people often run into cops’ fists.

Defunding the police is the talk of the moment. One thread about what really happened in Camden, New Jersey when police were defunded, however, should be read carefully. Not because the actual experience in Camden negates the benefits of defunding police, but because the road to improvement in Camden was long and painful and just didn’t start out well at all. You can’t just “defund police” if it creates a vacuum where new abusers rush in.

The [new] Metro Police immediately became better funded, hired more police officers, and became much, much whiter and younger. In fact, because the new force paid so little after busting the local union, it became a place that young, white police spent a year or two prior to returning to their own towns. Camden County even had to try to recoup “training” costs from other townships, it had become a state-wide training ground for white cops who did not stay long… And as you might imagine, the instincts of the newer, whiter force were not good. They went on an explicit broken windows campaign… The violence by police was paired with tokenistic approaches to community policing — ice cream parties, cops playing basketball, often covered by the news while the issues of excessive force received less attention.

The only thing that created real improvement in Camden was — you guessed it — local black community leadership that demanded specific action. (Fingers crossed that Syracuse has already skipped the bad parts of this story and will fast-forward to the good.)

New York City is starting on Day One of the rest of its life today. As bad as things have been there, at least we can all count ourselves fortunate that we are not living in Arizona, where alert officials have called for hospitals to start instituting their crisis plans now that some of their ICU’s are almost 100% full.

Onondaga County update: Do you want to know what will be happening next week in New York’s COVID-19 recovery process? The track record of the past three months hints that it will be about whatever CE McMahon is musing about publicly this week. With Cuomo now allowing churches to open at 25% capacity (which was McMahon’s plan all along), the latest is that Phase 3 and Phase 4 of reopening might be telescoped into mostly one phase. This is the page we are now on as of today. Cuomo is still licking his finger to turn the page on last week’s chapter.

The (first?) COVID wave in Onondaga County has not officially been deemed over, but the remarks today seemed all but a formal declaration of the end, as the CE began to say “…if the virus is in fact gone now.” Community spread, which should have been making itself well apparent now after the start of Phase 2, remains extremely low. Of course, the protests could have upended that — and we won’t know for another few days. No one is to take off their masks.

A lot of today’s questioning focused on the issues surrounding the protests, making for an awkward moment when McMahon apparently misheard the question “What do you think about defunding the police?” as “What do you think about defending the police,” which he did with vigor. Ahem. No, actually, what about defunding them? Oh, that. This did give him an opportunity to remind everyone again that he hasn’t got his own police force. But, actually, yeah, the county executive is responsible for making decisions about funding the sheriff’s office. But nobody has any money any more! He then complained a bit about the press being bored with his PIE (poverty, infrastructure, economic development) platform that he ran on in 2019. I don’t doubt his sincerity on investing in all of these things; but I do question if this is the right moment to fall back on (as the Camden story above puts it) “tokenistic approaches to community policing — ice cream parties, cops playing basketball, often covered by the news while the issues of excessive force received less attention.” Which he essentially did in this briefing today.

As local leaders of Last Chance for Change figure out where to apply pressure best on whom, I’m sure that the CE’s influence over the funding of the county sheriff’s office will be another pressure point for them to push. Someone who is so far ahead of the curve on COVID will hopefully learn to be ahead of the curve on what he called in today’s briefing “a countywide movement.”

Sunday, June 7 update

NYS update: So it seems the state’s fancy contact tracing system really is pretty horrible for the counties and they don’t want to play any more:

The widening mutiny grew animated Thursday evening during a statewide conference call involving county health leaders, including many who have raised questions about the reliability of the software program developed by CommCare, a company retained by the state, and the counties’ ability to maintain control of their own tracing efforts… “How is somebody from Long Island or Queens or the Bronx going to be able to contact an Amish family in Chautauqua County?” Wendel said. “We don’t have ‘1-800-AMISH.’ 

Cuomo briefed at noon today (among Albany journalists, it appears “to brief” is now a verb). His onscreen time is ever decreasing — today’s session was but seventeen minutes. (“I am mostly loving — don’t you forget that.” NO MAS.) There was a bit of an answer about legislative police reform, but if you want to read more of the latest of the status of the bill to repeal 50-A, this Twitter thread is a good start.

I have felt that the dragged-out process of providing guidance for various aspects of reopening has been mainly about providing content for these daily briefings. Lately I’m wondering if the real state of high-level leadership in this country — gubernatorial as well as presidential — is really about mostly isolated political figures like Cuomo and Trump who fully believe they are making things go, but have no understanding of how the sausage is actually made. That business is tasked to a small, insular, loyal staff that itself doesn’t have much organic connection to the nuts and bolts of governing, but who run around frantically trying to push on strings and make things happen. I mean, I’ll bet any one of Trump’s underlings really believe they are having to run, perhaps even “save,” the entire country. I’ll bet Cuomo’s Little Helpers feels the same way about running the state.

Onondaga County update: CE McMahon did not brief today, but (future tense) will brief tomorrow. Starting on Monday, the briefings will be cut to every other weekday, signaling the end of an extraordinary 90-day run in front of the cameras. (If only Cuomo would take the hint.) In the meantime, he spent a lot of time on Twitter yesterday and today, not usual for him, reporting on weekend developments with churches and exhorting the governor’s office to do more about providing guidance for large high school graduations. I’ve noticed the upstate CE’s turning more to Twitter to communicate with the public and with each other, even as Twitter goes out of style in Washington.

Over the weekend, community spread of COVID in Onondaga County fell to almost zero. Yet it’s pretty amazing how nobody is really openly grumbling about still having to wear masks. By and large, we’re a pretty docile lot here in CNY.

After a monumental protest day in Syracuse yesterday, today it was the Town of Camillus’ turn for a public Black Lives Matter demonstration. This was not organized by the Last Chance for Change people, but by some town residents who fortunately understand that a majority-white town holding its own march through the streets would be neither appropriate nor helpful. So it was just your typical Main Street static roadside gathering with signs. And a bit of chanting. A bit.

“No justice!”

“No peace!”

“Whose lives matter?”

“Black lives matter!”

“Hands up!”


“Hands up!”


“It’s ‘hands up, don’t shoot.'”

The mostly white, family-oriented crowd of about 125 people socially distanced over three blocks in front of the town hall did not provide the Camillus police with much of a challenge. While our local police seem cool about the movement in general — their difficult moment must have been on Saturday the 30th when a large crowd of unknown intentions was heading their way during Syracuse’s first night of protest — I was a little bummed out that no one (else) in the crowd seemed willing to at least temporarily display their signs in the direction of any of the cops who were hanging out 50 yards away. There was no discussion of any local issues of any kind; it needed an emcee.

It was all pretty suburbanite. And that’s okay, for now. There’s no use pretending that isn’t who we are presently. (At least we’re not Skaneateles, where the mayor, no matter what his motivation for taking down those flyers with those frightful black fists, needs to have the concept of “optics” explained to him.)

The demonstration was well-received. Passing black motorists seemed very pleased, and the few drive-by expressions of displeasure universally took the form of angry F-250 engine revving. The whiteness of the gathering was a little disappointing, and probably due to the word-of-mouth way it had been organized, but by the end we had been joined by some black residents and at least one of them spoke impromptu. And yet, we had to be subjected to a really fundamental display of young white male privilege as three older teens with skateboards made a point of being flip and yelling “No more police! Fuck the police!” as they went back and forth several times. It’s all a joke when you know you will never get detained for it because you’re not a black teen.

I spent a lot of the afternoon staring straight at the Indian mascot I mentioned the other day. And wondering how congenial the public discourse will be about that, when the time comes. I’m not optimistic right now.