■ State health officials said that, as of 1 p.m. March 17, 380 people have tested positive in Westchester County, two in Putnam, 16 in Dutchess, 22 in Rockland, eight in Ulster and 15 in Orange. Statewide, there were 1,324 positives, including 644 in New York City and 215 on Long Island. The first deaths were also reported, of an 82-year-old Brooklyn woman who had emphysema and a 65-year-old man in Rockland County who had other health problems.
■ As of 5 p.m. on March 15, Putnam County has reported its first two cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19. The county health department said the individuals have been quarantined at home and will to be monitored. “Contact tracing is underway and those that are found to have had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case will be notified and precautionary or mandatory quarantine will be established for each person,” the department said. In a statement, County Executive MaryEllen Odell said: “This is not an unexpected event, nor should it cause alarm. We knew eventually a positive case would be confirmed. The Putnam County Department of Health’s communicable disease staff is working with state and local partners to identify all possible contacts.”
■ Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro will host an hour-long telephone town hall for local business owners and leaders on Friday, March 20, at 1 p.m., during which he’ll provide updates on the county’s response to the evolving pandemic, its economic impacts and relief efforts, as well as answer participants’ questions. Members of the business community can participate by calling 845-765-7121. The county government and local business partners to create the Dutchess Business Notification Network to share updates, guidelines and information that businesses will need to know. Business owners also can join sign up online to join the DBNN mailing list.
■ Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the governors of Connecticut and New Jersey jointly ordered a capacity limit of 50 people for social and recreational gatherings, effective at 8 p.m. on March 16. They also ordered restaurants and bars closed for on-premise service and move to take-out and delivery services only. These establishments will be provided a waiver for carry-out alcohol. Finally, the governors ordered the temporary closure of movie theaters, gyms and casinos. Cuomo also advised that essential services and businesses — groceries, gas stations, pharmacies and medical facilities — stay open daily after 8 p.m.
■ Cuomo waived the requirement that schools be in session for 180 days each school year to receive state funds. “School districts will be required to develop a plan for alternative instructional options, including distance learning; distribution and availability of meals; and daycare, with an emphasis on children of parents of first responders and healthcare workers,” he said in a statement. “Those plans must be submitted to the State Education Department, who can amend or modify those plans in consultation with the State Department of Health and the Office of Children and Family Services at any time.”
■ Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro canceled his scheduled Town Halls and will instead conduct a telephone town hall from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18, focused on the coronavirus situation in Dutchess County. He will also answer questions from residents. The call will be streamed live on the county’s Facebook page. “When the Telephone Town Hall meeting begins, an automated system will dial residents’ homes,” the county said. “If you receive a call at your house, you can simply join the Telephone Town Hall by staying on the line. Participants can choose to listen to the meeting, or you can ask questions. If you wish to ask a question, just follow the directions given. If you do not receive a call, or would like to dial into the Telephone Town Hall meeting from your cell phone or other location, call the toll-free number 845-765-7121.”
■ U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who district includes the Highlands, will conduct telephone town hall on COVID-19 preparedness, containment and treatment at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18. He will be joined by a local health professional. To sign up to be called, visit seanmaloney.house.gov.
■ Odell signed executive orders, effective at midnight on March 15, that mandate the closing of daycare centers and nursery schools in the county for at least five days; prohibit public gatherings or events of more than 20 people; and prohibit buffet-style food service or sales. “Data suggest that 80 percent of people who contract the virus self-resolve and tend to have mild symptoms that eventually subside — but we practice social distancing for the 20% that will have serious complications, hospitalizations requiring intubation, or possibly death,” said county Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Nesheiwat.
■ In The New York Times, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote in an open letter to President Trump: “There is now only one question your team must answer for you: Can we slow the spread of the disease to a rate that our state health care systems can handle? The answer increasingly looks like no.” He noted that New York State has 53,470 hospital beds, and only 3,186 in intensive care. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. has 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people, while China has 4.3, South Korea has 12.3, and Italy has 3.2. Plus, by one estimate 25 to 35 percent of hospital beds in New York are already occupied by people with other health problems, including the flu.
■ Among the first cases in Dutchess was a “member of the Bard College community” who had interaction with faculty and students was confirmed on March 14 as the fourth case in Dutchess County. “While we are not generally disclosing locations of cases out of an abundance of respect for the privacy of these individuals and their rights under HIPAA laws, we are confirming this location as it is a college campus where there are close interactions and the individual was known to be in contact with numerous people on the campus,” said Dutchess County Health Commissioner Dr. Anil Vaidian. “Bard College will be doing outreach to those in contact with the individual and we will engage in monitoring protocol.” Another was a commuter student at Marist, although the school said the student had not attended any events, only class, and that it had contacted students and faculty in those classes.
■ Odell on Friday (March 13) declared a state of emergency, ordering that all public and private schools close as of Monday, March 16, for at least five days and that all extracurricular functions be canceled. The state of emergency will remain in effect until at least March 27. “Schools throughout the county are facing their toughest test yet,” Odell said in a statement. “While they need to educate students, they also need to keep them safe and prevent the spread of the virus to family members and the community at large. This order will help them do that.”
■ The Garrison School announced on March 14 that it will be closed, and all transportation and activities suspended, from March 16 to April 13, with distance learning beginning on Wednesday, March 18. “The decision to close the school is based upon a few factors,” said interim Superintendent Debra Jackson in a statement. “First: We must protect the health and welfare of our employees, children, parents, immune-compromised residents, and the senior population in and related to our community. Second: We have a responsibility to participate in slowing the rate of viral transmission so as to not overwhelm the healthcare system. Third: By limiting the impact on the health care system, medical professionals will be able to treat patients who may have other medical needs. It is paramount we protect the most vulnerable.”
■ Jackson added: “By closing the school, we are practicing what public health professionals call social distancing. Limiting social interaction controls the rate of infection. As such, it only makes sense that we request you practice the same measures according to your capability: Stay home. Wash hands. Avoid socializing, play dates, parties, sleepovers, movie theaters, malls etc. Try to limit your exposure and only venture into public areas when necessary. If we all participate in social distancing, the lives saved will be profound. If we treat this closure as we would a typical break, we will undermine the purpose of this closure. The good news is that it is getting warmer and outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and running are encouraged.”
■ Jackson said that she and other superintendents in the region met with the state commissioner of education, the chancellor for the state Board of Regents and a representative from the state executive branch to discuss the issues schools are facing.
■ Troop K of the New York State Police, which is based in Poughkeepsie, advised anyone calling 911 to advise dispatchers if you or any members of the household are experiencing flu-like symptoms. This information will ensure first responders can prepare to prevent the spread of any illnesses. The State Police also announced it is suspending employment fingerprinting, along with child safety seat checks at its stations.
■ The Hastings Center, a think tank based in Garrison, has posted links to essays it has published in its Bioethics Forum and Bioethics Briefings, including two from China on transparency in fighting coronavirus and others on New York City’s response to the pandemic, the crisis of trust and a pandemic ethics briefing.
■ The state closed the Capital and Legislative Office Building in Albany as of March 15 for cleaning after two Assembly members, Helene Weinstein and Charles Barron, tested positive for the virus.
■ A message posted to the Putnam County Health Department site reads: “We’ve received many complaints that you are calling the Health Department and are not receiving an answer after leaving a message. We do apologize that our nurses are inundated with calls. Please know that you are among many other people with concerns and questions. We are attempting to contact everybody who leaves us a message.”
■ Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. suspended visitation at the Putnam County Correctional Facility effective March 16.
■ On March 16, Sandy Galef, whose Assembly district includes Philipstown, closed her offices in Ossining and Albany to the public. However, the district office can still be reached at 914-941-1111 or [email protected]
■ Dutchess County on Thursday (March 12) confirmed its first case of the virus. County Executive Marc Molinaro said a county resident tested positive Thursday morning after seeking treatment at a local hospital for a fever and cough. Officials have been tracing the patient’s social contacts, including with family and friends, Molinaro said.
■ Molinaro declared a state of emergency in Dutchess; suspended all social, community and public events or gatherings of more than 20 people; ended visitation at the Dutchess County Jail; postponed civil service exams; and closed county senior centers effective March 16.
■ Molinaro closed the schools for 14 days and suspended extracurricular functions, beginning March 16, although schools may remain open for administration and staff. His order did not include private daycare facilities, Head Start or other daycare programs.
■ Federal health officials said last week that the virus appears to be spreading within communities unrelated to foreign travel and so containment (isolating only the sick and their contacts) must make way for “mitigation,” or reducing social interactions. An early reflection of this shift was a decision to twice move a high school state tournament girls’ basketball game between Haldane and Millbrook before it was finally played in Cold Spring without spectators.
The Dutchess County Health Department posts updates at dutchessny.gov/coronavirus and also has an informational hotline at 845-486-3555.
The Putnam County Health Department has posted information at putnamcountyny.com/health/coronavirus.
New York State has created a coronavirus hotline at 888-364-3065, or visit health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is posting updates at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.
■ Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell postponed her annual State of the County address scheduled for March 12 at Tilly Foster Farm in Brewster, opting instead to share written materials with the Legislature.
■ On March 9, Odell said in a statement that “with increased testing, we expect we may have some cases” and that the county Health Department “has been preparing diligently.” Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Nesheiwat said the county is monitoring 19 Putnam residents “who either returned from mainland China or came in contact with a person who tested positive for the virus” but that, as of Sunday (March 8), all were asymptomatic.
■ A Little Beacon Blog published a (Not) Happening This Weekend Guide.
■ The faculty at Haldane, during a previously scheduled Superintendent’s Conference Day on Friday, made plans for remote and digital instruction in the event of a long-term closure of schools.
■ In Cold Spring, Foodtown said it had expanded its capacity to handle online grocery orders for delivery or pick-up. See foodtown.com.
■ The Cold Spring Coffee Shop on Main Street said it would remain open but that surfaces, doorknobs, Ipads and bathrooms would be sanitized every 30 minutes; all food and beverages will be made to-go; no cash payments will be accepted; and the milk bar and other self-serving areas will be removed. If requested, the staff will take orders and payments over the phone and deliver them your car.
■ On March 9, Molinaro said in a statement that the Dutchess County Health Department “has been informed a limited number of residents may have had contact with an Ulster County individual who tested positive. All Dutchess residents who may have had contact with the individual have been contacted and are being monitored by the department. This is in addition to several residents who were already under precautionary quarantine relating to travel status. None of the residents being monitored have exhibited any symptoms, and we are grateful for their cooperation.” He added: “We have been preparing for this emerging health situation for weeks.”
■ Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 7 declared a state of emergency, which, among other things, allows health departments to speed up the purchasing of tests and disinfectants, and hire more medical workers. “It will help us get the money we need,” Nesheiwat, the Putnam health commissioner, said in a statement.
■ Nesheiwat recommended a “call-before-you-go” plan for anyone with symptoms who intends to visit a doctor’s office, urgent care or emergency room.
■ Putnam County Legislator Nancy Montgomery, whose district includes Philipstown, on March 3 requested that the Legislature discuss adding a full-time epidemiologist to the Health Department staff. (A part-time position was eliminated in 2019 during the budget process.) Legislator Ginny Nacerino, who chairs the Personnel Committee, instead forwarded the request to Odell, noting that under the county charter the county executive is responsible for “staffing determinations.”
■ Montgomery on March 4 asked Toni Addonizio, who chairs the Legislature, to add two discussions to the agenda for its meeting the next day, one on Health Department staffing, and a second on distributing protocols for incident response to town and village leaders. Like Nacerino, Addonizio deferred to Odell, saying the county executive has complete authority over the “staffing and organization of departments” and that the Legislature cannot “establish or abolish positions of employment and titles thereof, outside of the budget process.”
Addonizio also said the county executive controlled the distribution of protocols and noted that Odell had begun a daily briefing “with key partners and department leaders” to “ensure that information is shared in an accurate manner.” Odell also had “offered assurance” that the Health Department “is prepared to issue guidelines” in the event of “any community spread of the virus” within the county.
Addonizio said she would ask Legislator Amy Sayegh, chair of the Health Committee, to invite Nesheiwat to provide legislators an update in two weeks, at the committee’s March 19 meeting.
■ A few schools and colleges closed temporarily, including the Scarsdale district in Westchester through March 18 and the private Keio Academy in Purchase through the end of the school year. The sports teams at the academy, which is sponsored by Keio University for Japanese nationals, often compete against Haldane.
■ A Cold Spring resident who is teaching as part of an exchange program in Japan, where schools closed on Feb. 27 for the remainder of the school year (which ends in April), said he had been asked to continue to report each day to help with paperwork and janitorial duties. He said a few students still show up, mostly younger children whose parents are not able to arrange for child care. No cases have been reported in the area, which is about four hours from Tokyo.
■ A report that a dog in Hong Kong was placed in quarantine following a “weak positive” test result for COVID-19 raised concern among pet owners. But Dr. Peter Bach, a veterinarian in Cold Spring, said there is little reason for alarm, given there has only been one reported case. “There is coronavirus that affects dogs, causing gastrointestinal upset, and we vaccinate for it,” he said. “It’s a different virus but in the same family. It’s usually a puppy disease.” On its website, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that “there is no reason to think that any animals, including pets in the U.S., might be a source of infection.” But, it added, “if you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.”
■ In Cold Spring, Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke reported the department has purchased masks and gloves for officers who may have to respond to calls from residents exhibiting symptoms associated with the virus.
■ On March 6, the interim superintendent at the Garrison School, Debra Jackson, said that, as part of an e-learning Preparedness Plan, parents of students in kindergarten through second grade have been given Google accounts already in place for grades 3 to 8 to connect with teachers remotely; all teachers have been trained in using the virtual learning space; a videoconferencing account has been established for staff meetings; and the business office is setting up a virtual network to operate remotely.
■ Cuomo said on March 6 that travel insurance companies and travel agents will offer residents and businesses travel insurance that includes coverage for cancellations due to COVID-19. Six insurers have agreed to offer “cancel-for-any-reason” coverage — Allianz, Nationwide, Starr Indemnity, Berkshire, Crum & Forster and Zurich — which had not been available in New York state. Standard travel policies usually exclude coverage for pandemics. “Cancel-for-any-reason” policies are more expensive than standard insurance and typically only cover 75 percent of expenses.
■ If you are not registered to vote, the postmark deadline to register so you can cast ballot in the presidential primary on April 28 is April 3. The postmark deadline to apply for an absentee ballot for presidential primary is April 21. See putnamboe.com or dutchesselections.com.