State orders business curfew, limit on gatherings
With COVID-19 cases surging statewide, including in Dutchess and Putnam counties, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday (Nov. 11) ordered bars, restaurants and gyms to close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and restricted gatherings at private residences to 10 people as Thanksgiving approaches.
On Monday (Nov. 16), Dutchess recorded 84 new cases, the county’s highest daily total since May 18, and the county has averaged 61 new cases a day for the last week. Dutchess has added 743 total cases so far in November, compared to 417 for all of October and 280 in September.
Putnam added 57 positive cases on Monday — the highest of any day since April 24, when Putnam was testing about twice as many people — and has averaged 24 new cases a day for the month. Total cases for November have more than tripled from September, to 382 from 124.
Dutchess and Putnam’s positivity rates, or the number of cases divided by the number of tests, are also rising. Dutchess’ daily rate has averaged 2.1 percent in November after averaging 0.8 percent in October. Putnam has averaged 3.2 percent this month compared to 1.5 percent in October.
On Oct. 17, Cuomo announced a “micro-cluster” strategy to identify COVID-19 outbreaks and target testing and enforcement of masks and social-distancing.
Hot spots are designated by their average positivity rate and number of cases, with metrics differing by size of the county. If cases increase, the area progresses through yellow, orange and red zones.
There were eight yellow zones in the state as of Nov. 11, including one in Orange County, and four orange zones, in Brooklyn and Rockland, Westchester and Chemung counties.
In Dutchess, a yellow designation would be triggered with a seven-day rolling average case rate of 3 percent or higher over 10 days and 12 or more new cases per 100,000 residents (i.e., about 36 cases) on a 7-day average.
In Putnam, it would be a seven-day rolling average case rate of 3.5 percent or higher over 10 days and 15 or more new cases per 100,000 residents (i.e., about 15 cases) on a 7-day average.
On Wednesday (Nov. 11), the 7-day rolling positivity rate in Dutchess was 2.4 percent and the average in Putnam was 4.1 percent. With Putnam also averaging 23 new cases over seven days, the county Health Department warned in a Facebook post on Friday (Nov. 13) that Putnam was in danger of being designated a yellow zone.
One of the restrictions for counties in the yellow zone is a requirement that a school test at least 20 percent of its students and staff weekly. At the Garrison School, Superintendent Carl Albano said the district does not have the capability to do that, so that school would go to 100 percent virtual learning if Putnam enters the yellow zone.
Other restrictions in the yellow zone would include limiting worship services to 50 percent capacity and restaurant dining to four people per table. The restrictions get tighter in the orange and red zones.
Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, said the county is preparing for a rapid response to any areas that appear on the verge of becoming a micro-cluster.
“That’s what we are prepared for next: that we will have a ZIP code or two that exceeds the state threshold,” he said.
On Tuesday, nearly 5,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 statewide, a threshold last reached in late April, although the state was testing far fewer people then. The number of people hospitalized statewide has been rising steadily since Sept. 5; the 1,677 patients admitted on Wednesday constituted the highest total since June 13.
On Sept.14, Cuomo announced that New York had its 38th straight day with a positive rate under 1 percent. On Wednesday, the rate was 2.95 percent.
The governor and local officials say the increase has been expected as the weather cools and people spend more time indoors.
“If you do the contact tracing, you’ll see they’re coming from three main areas: establishments where alcohol is served, gyms and indoor gatherings at private homes,” Cuomo said, explaining his restriction order.
Molinaro said during his weekly Facebook town hall on Wednesday that 30 cases have been confirmed among residents and staff at the Fishkill Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Beacon, and that two people have died.
Marist College in Poughkeepsie is also battling an outbreak, with 80 cases, he said. The college said on Tuesday that it was extending until today a campus-wide “pause,” with all classes held remotely and all other activities, including sports, canceled.
By Wednesday, Dutchess’ active case total had grown to 381, compared to 107 on Sept. 15. The total included 10 cases in Beacon.
The majority of the cases in Dutchess, Molinaro said, are from “ordinary socialization,” particularly family members infecting each other. “We’re moving toward the same pace of new cases that we were experiencing earlier during the year,” he said.
Putnam County, which updates its dashboard weekly, showed 71 active cases as of Nov. 5, compared to 20 on Sept. 25.