Displaying items by tag: COVID19
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The City Council will host a Public Hearing June 16 regarding temporarily extending "eating and drinking establishments" onto "auxiliary seating areas" on public property, as a result of necessary spacing precautions during the COVID-19 epidemic.
The measure – which would amend chapter 136 of the City Code – would allow the city to accommodate licensed eating and drinking establishments to provide their services to the public on specific public properties. Those public property locations have not been specified, although is generally assumed Broadway – a state road - is not among them. If approved, the approval process may be conducted through an application process for holders of valid licenses.
On Wednesday, June 3, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced outdoor dining at restaurants will be permitted beginning June 4 for restaurants in the Capital Region – which includes Saratoga Springs – as well as in the six other regions that have been approved for phase two reopenings. Outdoor tables must be spaced six feet apart, all staff must wear face coverings and customers must also wear face coverings when not seated.
Cover Photo: Pam Worth and Alexandra Besso of Spoken Boutique are stronger together.
Gallery: 1. Marianne Barker and Maddy Zanetti, Impressions of Saratoga on Broadway.
2. Lifestyles of Saratoga owner Heidi Owen West and Margie Rotchford.
3. The Pink Paddock on Broadway.
All Photos by SuperSource Media.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Small business owners opened their doors to in-store customers and hair stylists their salons for the first time in more than two months as part of the Capital Region’s phase two reopening plan on June 3. Outdoor dining returned one day later.
“We opened at 9 o’clock and we already had someone waiting at the door,” said Maddy Zanetti, at Impressions of Saratoga. “We’ve been open the whole time for curbside, delivery and shipping but today is the first time of customers in the store.” A table cradling bottles of hand sanitizer and disposable gloves and masks sat near the entryway door.
“People are thrilled to be out,” added Marianne Barker. “I do think people who are leery are going to stay home for a while yet, but people know we’re pretty careful, we’ve been open about what we’re doing and the steps we’re taking."
Kimberly Burton opened the doors to her Pink Paddock shop at 11 a.m. “It’s been three months. Three very long months,” she said with emphasis, celebrating the 15th year of the Broadway shop that’s been fitted with hand sanitizing stations, plastic protective shields at the register counter and posted to inform customers of in-store capacity regulations. “I think people are anxious to get out of the house, to shop, to try on some new clothes,” she said gesturing toward the dressing rooms, which are disinfected between customer uses.
Phase Two reopening allows for in-store retail sales, hair salons and barbershops, and office-based work, in addition to real estate services, commercial building management, vehicle sales, leases, and rentals, and retail rental, repair, and cleaning. Outdoor dining was added to the list on the afternoon of June 3.
“We’re already booked for the next three weeks,” said Yvette Ruddy, a hairstylist at Remarkable Finish on Broadway, where a digital thermometer rests at the entryway and customer chairs have been placed at a safe distance from one another. The employees have all been tested for the COVID-19 virus before ensuring they could return to work, she said.
An array of state guidelines and restrictions accompany reopening plans for both workforce employees and customers, with presence being limited to no more than 50% of the maximum occupancy for a particular area, as set by the certificate of occupancy. Employers are also recommended to adjust workplace hours to limit in-person presence to necessary staff only, as well as maintaining six feet of separation from others and wearing an acceptable face covering.
"What we have done with this COVID virus is really an amazing accomplishment, and it was all done by the people of this state. They did it, 19 million people did what they never did before. They responded with a level of determination and discipline that I was amazed with frankly," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week. "Remember where we were: we had 800 people die in one day. We had the worst situation in the United States of America. At one point we had the worst situation on the globe. And now we're reopening in less than 50 days. We went from an internationally terrible situation to where we’re talking about reopening."
To date, more than 105,000 U.S. residents have died during the past three months due to COVID-19. More than 38 million Americans have filed unemployment claims over the span of nine weeks. Whether the worst has passed or a so-called “second wave” returns - as some in the medical community have suggested – remains an unknown.
“I’m delighted to see our retailers open again. And as we are getting caught up in our reopening details and stores are focusing on their safety plans - and we have riots going on and protests going on, It’s easy to lose track that there still is a virus present in our community,” cautioned Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
In Saratoga County, there have been 495 confirmed cases of COVID-19 this year, 56 specifically being Saratoga Springs residents. Sixteen people have died, and 6 people are currently hospitalized. Approximately 2,500 residents have been isolated or quarantined at some point.
“We all need to keep our eye on the ball here and realize there still is a virus present, it’s still in our community and we need to be really vigilant as we continue these reopening phases, so we can get to phase three, so we can get to phase four and we can get back to some kind of normalcy,” Dalton said.
Gov. Cuomo’s NY Pause order went into effect March 22, and the city of Saratoga Springs and the greater Capital District Region were cleared by the state to begin the phase 1 re-opening of the local economy beginning Wednesday, May 20.
There are four reopening phases in all, and an up-to 14-day incubation period between phases to ensure that infection rates and hospitalizations are maintained at a manageable level. Phase Three – which includes indoor dining at restaurants, is currently slated for its reopening phase June 17; Phase Four, which focuses on Arts/ Entertainment / Recreation, and Education, including libraries, will potentially hit its reopening mark July 1.
On May 28, Cuomo signed an Executive Order authorizing businesses the ability to deny entry to those who do not wear masks or face-coverings. "The store owner has a right to protect themselves (and) the other patrons in that store," he said. A subsequent announcement states summer day camps statewide can open on June 29. A decision on sleep-away camps will be made in the coming weeks.
Malls - specifically any indoor common portions of retail shopping malls with 100,000 or more square feet of retail space available for lease, remain closed. However, stores located within shopping malls, which have their own external entrances open to the public, separate from the general mall entrance may open.
Also remaining closed are: large gathering event and concert venues, gyms, fitness centers, Video lottery and casino gaming facilities, movie theaters - except drive-in theaters - and places of public amusement, such as amusement parks, water parks, children’s play centers, bowling alleys, and other locations where groups of people may gather.
WILTON — Earlier this month U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik visited with President Donald Trump at Camp David, where she said the president talked extensively about the research and development that’s going into a COVID-19 vaccination, as well as the “reopening” of the country.
“The president is very supportive of the safe reopening of the economy, which he’s delegated it to the states, and that was the right decision,” said the Congresswoman during a visit to a Belmonte Builders construction site in Wilton on May 26. “I want to see it at the state level – the delegation to the County Public Health Offices. I think that’s the right call moving forward because they’re the most connected.”
Stefanik represents the 21st Congressional District, which includes parts of Saratoga.
As the community prepares for its potential Phase 2 reopening next week, Stefanik said she believes preparations are also underway should a rise in COVID-19 infections hit the region.
“In my communications with the county public health offices and the hospitals, we are watching the data very, very closely. Our (increased) testing capacity gives us a better understanding of the real data in upstate, because initially we were undertested in this region,” she said. “But certainly, there are plans and discussions going on if there is a second surge in the virus transmission. It’s part of the conversation about reopening schools - we have to reopen schools safely and there are ways to do that - but many of our students who are underserved either in the disabilities community, or who are unable to access online education, they have atrophied so much during this crisis. I feel very confident that those conversations are being professionally handled by the county public health offices.”
Stefanik’s visit coincided with a joint announcement that she and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko made. Tonko represents the 20th Congressional District, which like the 21st District also includes parts of Saratoga. The announcement heralded a $61,515 award from the Federal Communications Commission to improve telehealth for Saratoga Hospital Consortium in Saratoga Springs. The funding is intended for remote diagnosis and monitoring equipment and other telehealth equipment to treat patients with COVID-19 infection and to expand telehealth to other patients with symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
“Out of necessary efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19, telemedicine has quickly become the primary method of connection between a patient and their doctor,” Saratoga Hospital CEO and President Angelo Calbone said in a statement. “Unfortunately, anyone who doesn’t have access to internet services and equipment can’t participate. Sometimes, a video visit can’t provide enough clinical information about a patient’s current status for those with chronic or serious conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. This grant enables us to pilot a Facilitated Telemedicine program that will provide essential medical care to these underserved populations without having to leave their homes.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A continued adherence to social distancing and face-covering guidelines have reduced the COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rate significantly across the Capital Region during the past few weeks, and as such, businesses in the Spa City and the surrounding communities are preparing to potentially enter the Phase 2 reopening of their establishments next week.
“It’s working,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week, referring to New Yorkers across the state reducing the curve of the virus infection.
Cuomo’s NY Pause order went into effect March 22, and the city of Saratoga Springs and the greater Capital District Region were cleared by the state to begin the phase 1 re-opening of the local economy beginning Wednesday, May 20.
There are four reopening phases in all, and an up-to 14-day incubation period between phases to ensure that infection rates and hospitalizations are maintained at a manageable level.
And while the state has yet to release Phase 2 reopening guideline, or give the OK to cycle into the next phase, there is a general belief that that the region will meet the metrics required and be able to reopen for Phase 2 at the expiration of the 14-day incubation period on Wednesday, June 3.
Phase Two reopening allows for the following: Professional Services (including hair salons and stylists among them); Retail; Administrative Support; Real Estate / Rental & Leasing. Social distancing, face coverings and limited occupancy requirements will remain in place.
WHAT IS REQUIRED OF BUSINESSES
Every business is required to develop a written safety plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Businesses may develop their own safety plan or use the template below provided by the state. To download that state created Safety Plan Template, go to: governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/NYS_BusinessReopeningSafetyPlanTemplate.pdf.
A copy of the plan must be retained on business premises at all times and be made available to the NYS Department of Health (DOH) or local health or safety authorities in the event of an inspection.
One key factor in reducing the spread of the virus is, when discovering someone has been infected with the virus, tracing that person’s previously known whereabouts and with whom they had come into contact. According to the CDC, the goal is to trace and monitor contacts of infected people, notify them of their exposure and support the quarantine of contacts to prevent additional transmission.
“We’ve done that from day one in Saratoga County and that’s how we flatten the curve, how we were able to reopen, and how we’ll be able to stay open,” Cathy Medick, Department of Health Director of Patient Services said during a forum the county hosted May 27.
Additional questions were raised during the forum regarding the topic.
Q: How do big box stores like Walmart, Target, etc. Do tracing? Is that any different than small businesses?
A. Cathy Medick, Department of Health Director of Patient Services: “No. As far as their employees go, they have to keep track of all the employees that are on for a shift and it’s their responsibility to have it as part of their safety plan. We have worked with bigger businesses and places that have had positive cases. Many of them had used their security cameras or their Frequent Shopper cards to identify people who may have come into contact. We do realize it would be impossible to write down every single customer that comes into the store, so, that’s the main difference there.”
Q. How is our privacy protected, and what type of information is to be given to a contact tracer?
A. Medick: “Under Public Health Law, HIPPA is skewed a bit. As a Public Health entity, we have the right to collect information to protect the health of the greater public.”
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus, a panelist at the forum, was also asked about the topic.
Q. What happens to a business owner if contact tracers track a cluster back to their business – and, what is the extent of that liability?
A. Todd Shimkus: “One of things businesses need to do as part of their safety plan is to figure out how they are going to manage contact tracing should somebody from the county show up at their business a day later, or at any point in time and say: ‘OK, you had a customer who was here three days ago, we need to make sure we notify you, your employees and anyone else who might have been here.’ So, every business as part of your plan, you have to have some way of recording who was in your store, your business or workplace every day, so in case there is contact tracing going forward you can contact those people who were there. It’s part of your responsibility as part of your safety plan.
“The second is liability. This is a much bigger challenge. The liability provisions in terms of insurance and the law do not cover COVID-19.
“That means you at the very least, have to comply with the existing law which goes back to having a safety plan. Making sure that safety plan uses all the right protocols: that your employees are following it, that your customers are following it, so that you don’t have any issues that cause you liability concerns.”
The NYS Forward Safety Plan Template regarding the issue, directs that customers may be “encouraged” to provide their information, but are “not mandated to do so.”
That specific segment reads: “Maintain a continuous log of every person, including workers and visitors, who may have close contact with other individuals at the work site or area; excluding deliveries that are performed with appropriate PPE or through contactless means; excluding customers, who may be encouraged to provide contact information to be logged but are not mandated to do so.”
Additionally, “Which employee(s) will be in charge of maintaining a log of each person that enters the site (excluding customers and deliveries that are performed with appropriate PPE or through contactless means), and where will the log be kept?”
Again, while a Safety Plan is required, the state informs that a business may use the NYS Forward Safety Plan Template to fulfill the requirement, or may develop its own Safety Plan.
An official announcement regarding the OK for the second phase of reopening is anticipated soon, as Friday marks 14 days since a handful of regions in the state began phase one. And in what may ease any confusion, the state is also expected to release detailed updates regarding Phase Two plans. For the most current update, go to: forward.ny.gov.
Like most in the world today, I’m not sure the Saratoga County Chamber was ready for COVID 19. BUT in the face of this adversity, we’ve adapted.
Our professional staff is working remotely from our homes in Clifton Park, Schuylerville, Wilton, and Saratoga Springs. We hold regular staff meetings via Zoom and we stay in touch constantly during the day via email, calls and text messages.
You can still call us at 518-584-3255. You can still email us. We’re still accessible and ready to help.
What we believe has made the Chamber so vital in this crisis is how we’ve connected our members with what’s really going on and what’s really important. We’ve been relentless in our communications sharing information, ideas, important news updates, and amazing stories of kindness.
Every day we’re sending out an email to just about everyone in our database. Since March 13, these emails have been opened more than 150,000 times.
The work we’ve done has been helped immensely by the collaborations we started with SEDC, Discover Saratoga, the City Center, the DBA, and Prosperity Partnership on March 13.
We’ve also joined forces with FLAG Saratoga as they lead an effort to purchase more than 2,000 meals from local restaurants for delivery to health care workers and first responders.
We joined with six breweries who call themselves wearebrewnited.com as they raise money to support local hospitality workers.
We are working with Death Wish Coffee as they sell t-shirts to support local businesses closed during this pandemic and their employees who are now unemployed.
We’ve been visible and vocal advocates. At first, we helped businesses get classified as essential so they could stay open. Later in this crisis, we helped local businesses who had important questions get answers about their PPP loans.
We’re regularly in touch with elected and appointed leaders at the Federal, State, County and Local level. We are constantly sharing with them what they can do to help our economy to recover.
The response to our work has been unbelievable. We’ve lost track of how many people have thanked us for listening to them, advising them, helping them, advocating for them and giving them hope.
I can safely say the Chamber is doing well. We’re making a difference. We’re helping to lead the economic recovery in Saratoga County. In fact, we helped write the plan.
So, if today your business or nonprofit organization is in a position to support us by joining or renewing your membership in full or in part, we’d be so appreciative. And if you are not, we understand and we’ll work with you as time goes on knowing that by helping you today that you’ll be able to help us tomorrow.
We know the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce helped make Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County one of the greatest places in the world to live, work and play. We’re going to keep adapting, communicating, and leading our community through the recovery.
So how is the Chamber? We’re here to help. We’re ready to make a difference. We always will be.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Robin Dalton surveyed the all-important region’s chart of metrics. There are seven metrics in all and once all seven are satisfied, Saratoga Springs, Saratoga County and the seven other counties that flank it may begin a phased reopening of their businesses.
Number of tests that will be conducted on residents: check. Contact tracers: check. Hospital beds and ICU beds available: check, and check.
“I think we’re getting close,” says the city’s Public Safety Commissioner, who alongside Fire Department Chief Joe Dolan and Chief Aaron Dyer, Police Chief Shane Crooks and Chief John Catone, Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Eileen Finneran, and Risk and Safety Manager Marilyn Rivers comprise the City of Saratoga Springs COVID-19 Task Force.
The group is, among other things, putting the finishing touches on safety guideline protocols and procedures for businesses in Saratoga Springs.
“I think it’s really important for businesses to think about a plan of what things will look like when they open,” she says. “Soup-to-nuts we’re trying to make it as easy as possible for businesses to reopen without having to seek out additional guidelines from anywhere else.” The list of protocols will be made available during the next few days, with copies distributed to city businesses and available for download on the city’s website.
“Recovery will look different in every business, because you have unique situations. You have to accommodate social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-sanitizers. Every business will look different,” Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said during a Facebook Live event forum hosted by Saratoga County on May 13.
Before it may start its phased re-opening however, the region as a whole must hit on all its metrics. The tallies change daily, but at this point in mid-May, it has not reached acceptable grades regarding declines in hospitalizations and patient deaths in hospitals.
The seven-metric standard for reopening were established based on guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of State, and other public health experts.
New York State is separated into 10 geographical regions each comprised of a half-dozen or so counties. Saratoga is located in an eight-county “Capital Region” sector which stretches from Columbia County to Warren County. This week, four of the ten regions announced they had met all seven metrics. They include: the Finger Lakes Region, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier and the North Country – which begins north and west of Warren County and stretches to the Canadian border.
NY ON PAUSE
Two months ago, an Executive Order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s put New York State on PAUSE. The plan went into effect March 22 and put social distancing measures in place, closed non-essential businesses, and limited public gatherings in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Those efforts to “flatten the curve” were successful. After peaking in late March and into early April, the charted rate of infections, hospitalizations and number of deaths slowly began to decline.
The governor’s daily public briefings have showcased the graphs and tracked the trends.
May 8: “We have the beast on the run. We haven’t killed the beast – but we’re ahead of it. The hospitalization rate is coming down, the death rate is coming down, so that’s all good news and I feel that – for the first time in this engagement – we are actually ahead of the virus. We have the virus on the run because we have been smart, because we have been disciplined.”
May 10: “We’re right about where we were March 19, when we went into the abyss of the COVID virus…from my point-of-view, we’re on the other side of the mountain. All the arrows are pointed in the right direction.””
May 11: “It’s an exciting new phase. We’re all anxious to get back to work. We want to do it smartly. We want to do it intelligently, but we want to do it. That’s what this week is going to be all about.”
AFTER REOPENING, STAYING OPEN
One key component after reopening is having a keen eye on potential rising infection rates, and a steady hand to slow that rise.
“Watch for infections,” Cuomo said. “The local region has a Control Room and a Circuit Breaker: If You see those dials going into the red zone – if you closely watch the dials you won’t have to turn the valve off – you would just have to slow the valve a little bit. You can’t overwhelm your hospitals. It depends upon how smart you are with your openings.”
The person in Saratoga charged with having that keen eye and steady hand is County Administrator Spencer Hellwig - who was named to Gov. Cuomo’s Regional Control Room team for the Capital District alongside leaders from other counties in the region. It is his responsibility to watch the dials and “slow the valve,” before the numbers spike to a point where everything must shut down.
“When you hit all seven metrics that doesn’t mean: OK, we’re done. Monitor every day. That’s the regional responsibility. Look at those numbers every day. See what’s happening with those numbers every day and respond to those numbers. That’s the responsibility of every county. That has to be watched every day and you have to calibrate your level of activity every day,” Cuomo said May 13. “If people get cavalier, cocky, if they get arrogant, we’ll be right back in the same situation.”
Striking the perfect balance of “reopening” the economy while maintaining the safety of public health is key. “That is the struggle, constantly weighing these two things,” Dalton says. “Both have to win. We can’t have a loser. The economy has to do well, and people have to stay alive and healthy.”
Businesses in each region will re-open in phases. Re-opening refers to non-essential businesses, essential businesses that are open will remain open. The breakdown of industries in each phase: Phase One - Construction, Manufacturing, Retail – Curbside Pickup, Wholesale Trade, Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting; Phase Two - Professional Services, Retail. Administrative Support, Real Estate / Rental & Leasing; Phase Three - Restaurants / Food Services; Phase Four - Arts / Entertainment / Recreation and Education. Regions aside, drive-In movies have been deemed able to reopen by the governor. Malta Drive-In, located on Route 9, is slated to open their season Friday, May 22 with new protocols and guidelines.
There is a recommended 14 day wait in between the opening of phases. “Fourteen days is a preliminary estimate,” Cuomo said May 12. “Why 14 days? You got infected, the virus manifests. If you get seriously ill, you end up in a hospital. That takes about 14 days. But, you can watch it all along. If those rates are staying low, can you accelerate the 14 days? Theoretically yes. If you’re testing isn’t moving (in a negative direction), then you could say: we’re in good shape, less accelerate.”
On May 12, Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Preston Allen announced the creation of a reopening advisory group tasked with guiding the county’s reopening efforts. The group will focus on CDC guidelines in a phased-in approach for businesses and necessary health precautions related to the county and coordinate these efforts with the other seven counties that comprise the Capital District region.
The advisory group is made up of supervisors Jack Lawler, Ed Kinowski, Eric Connolly, Tom Richardson, Kevin Tollisen, Dan Pemrick, and Matt Veitch; Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo; County Public Health Services Director Cathi Duncan, Stewart’s Shops President Gary Dake, county Chamber President Todd Shimkus, and Charles V. Wait, President and CEO, Adirondack Trust Co.
“The County has selected this diverse group to navigate the complicated reopening process, Supervisor Preston Allen said in a statement. “While we all recognize that the economy must open back up soon, we cannot do this hastily or without regard for the serious public health concerns. This group will be thoughtful and pragmatic, with the best interests of county residents serving as a guiding principle.”
On May 12, Saratoga Springs extended its State of Emergency for another 30 days, until June 12. The order allows the city the ability of its emergency management committee to make decisions regarding how it responds to the virus in the city and is a critical component of following ICS (Incident Command Systems) forms, as well as ensuring FEMA guidelines are being followed.
“We’re doing this in a way so that we’re documenting every single thing we’re doing in the hope that we’re getting reimbursed after the fact, but it also gives us the freedom to react as a city, as opposed to whatever the state’s doing, if for some reason our numbers suddenly go up,“ Dalton said.
“I would implore people to follow the rules, because if we have a group of businesses that just open up out of their own self-interests, it is going to have a dramatically negative effect on our area,” Dalton says. “We all need to be working for the collective good.”
There are two different types of tests; a nasal swab test determines whether a person currently has the COVID-19 virus. An antibody test – which is a blood test – seeks to identify whether a person previously had the virus.
Currently, just two venues located in Saratoga County where testing is conducted – there are additional resources in Warren and Albany counties - and the criteria for testing in either case is for persons symptomatic or who have had exposure to a positive case.
Saratoga Hospital conducts the swab test at a tent located at the Alfred Z. Solomon Emergency Center on Myrtle Street. Appointment and referral from physician or local health department is required. Contact your doctor for assessment. Providers may call to set up appointment. Go to: www.saratogahospital.org/covid19.
Well Now Urgent Care on Route 9 in Clifton Park offers both tests. No appointment is needed. Testing is covered in full for patients that carry insurance as part of the CARES Act. For self-pay patients, testing costs $150 for the molecular (PCR) test and $100 for the antibody test, in addition to a charge for the base visit. Go to: wellnow.com/covid-19.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Annual summertime Spa City favorites, The Dave Matthews Band, will be kept off the road this year as a result of the global pandemic.
As such, a pair of DMB’s previously scheduled dates this July have been postponed and have been rescheduled to take place one year later, July 9 and July 10, 2021.
The band issued the following statement this week: We are disappointed to announce, that in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we will be moving all of our 2020 summer dates to the summer of 2021. We make this decision with the health, safety, and well-being of our fans, touring crew, and venue staff as our priority.
Your previously purchased tickets will be honored for these rescheduled performances, and we’re happy to announce that the 2021 tour includes a few additional stops that were not included on the 2020 tour. We are also providing fans with the option to refund your tickets at the point of purchase. We are incredibly grateful for all of our fans who come out to see us every summer and will miss seeing you all. For now, we will keep everyone in our hearts and minds until we can be together again.
On sale information for the new 2021 dates will be available at a later date.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Contact tracing, tracking where someone has been for a period of time, can become a key aspect in fighting the battle with COVID-19.
Aarathi Prasad, assistant professor of computer science at Skidmore College, started studying contact tracing six years ago, a time when no one understood why she chose to focus on that topic.
“I couldn’t convince people that was an important problem because at that time people had the flu and measles. Measles was too rare and the flu too common, so it was hard to convince people that it was an important problem to work on,” Prasad said.
She found herself immersed once again in her studies when COVID-19 hit the community. Prasad believes using contact tracing technology is key to completely stopping the spread.
“The process of contract tracing is as follows: When someone has symptoms, they go to get tested. When they get tested positive, it’s up to the public health workers who will reach out to people they may have been in contact with. That’s what contact tracing is,” Prasad said.
Prasad aims to focus on developing a method to compliment the work of public health workers. Using wireless technology, Prasad wanted to help people see the value in sharing while protecting their privacy. She focused on preserving identity and location privacy.
“Any technology can only help after there is the positive test. The goal is to make it easy for the memorabilia aspect,” Prasad said. “Suppose I ask you where have you been in the last 40 days? It’s easy now, because you’re safe at home most of the time; it’s easy to think about how many times you’ve left the house. But once the lockdown ends, it’s going to be hard if people just resume their normal activities and keeping track of where you went. That’s where wireless technologies can help.”
The tracking technology app can support public workers as they tackle the battle with the virus. The app can make it easier for those public health workers to reach out to people who may have been in contact with the disease.
However, Prasad studied not only tracing technology, but focused on how long a virus remains on the surface. She learned that tracing active viruses on a surface and alerting people of a contact they might not have seen to be a challenge.
“The technology that I see now is only looking at the following. Let’s say the infected person was in the library, we would alert everybody else that was at the library at the same time,” Prasad said. “But we’re not thinking about what happens after he leaves and before all the surfaces he touched were wiped down, what happens then? How do we alert the people that he did not see?”
Prasad hopes to have an app solution before restrictions are lifted. However, the problem lies in everyone using the same app. On April 29, the Washington Post released an article stating 3 out of 5 Americans are not willing or able to use an app tracking system. The article states that 1 in 6 Americans do not have smart phones, which would be necessary to use the app. Of the 82 percent of the population who have smart phones, 50 percent had a willingness to use an infection-tracing app.
“Most of them didn’t trust private companies,” Prasad said. “What we need is to build trust in whatever technology or app that would be helpful so people can see a value in that app. It’s a similar idea to everyone staying at home now, to protect others. By downloading the app it’s the same thing, except you can move around.”
Prasad said supporting an open source app, in which the code behind the app is on the Internet, would allow users to understand and view how the data is being collected and used. Being more transparent would build trust and allow altruistic sharing.
“Altruistic sharing, when you have some information you want to share with someone else because you see a benefit in sharing,” Prasad said. “But it can’t be just one solution. I think the technology compliments contact tracing. The technology cannot solve everything, it cannot detect the virus, that’s what public health does. So we want the technology to work side by side.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — First, the money. In 2019, $2.1 billion was wagered on 2,000 races at Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont, according to the New York Racing Association.
The Saratoga meet (40 days) delivered the largest return of gambled money - $147 million wagered at the track, and a $705 million all-source handle – meaning many more dollars were spent on Saratoga races at off-track betting sites across the globe, than were at the actual track. Other 2019 betting dollars: Belmont Spring & Summer – 48 days, $525 million all-source handle; Belmont Fall – 37 days, $275 million; Aqueduct – 25 days Fall, $205 million.
What they are saying about Saratoga:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: You can’t open an attraction that could bring people from across the state to that attraction and overwhelm a region. We have time to decide first of all, but I don’t think you can open Saratoga Race Course (slated July 16) and the State Fair (Syracuse – slated Aug. 21) unless we can open all large-scale attractions statewide. Density is not our friend...How do you do sit six feet apart at the racetrack?
New York Racing Association plans to open at Belmont first, then Saratoga - Closing to spectators and reducing employees and support staff to only those who are required under the rules of racing.
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, 113th Assembly District: move forward planning to hold this year’s race meet. Potential “opportunities including but not limited to social distancing, limited viewership, and personal protective equipment.”
Elsie Stefanik, 21st Congressional District: explore options for the racecourse to reopen for the meet with updated operations based on public health recommendations. Protect public health but also ensure the meet moves forward in a modified capacity to protect the public's health.
Board of Directors of the Adirondack Trust Company: give NYRA time to draw up careful plans—subject to state approval—that would allow a limited number of fans to attend racing consistent with safety protocols. Examples: limiting the number of seats and/or entry tickets sold, marking and monitoring designated viewing areas to ensure proper social distancing, plexiglass screens, mandatory temperature checks and masks, changes in backstretch housing and strong protections for workers, strictly enforced.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Salvation Army of Saratoga Springs held a Drive-Thru Food Pantry on Tuesday May 5, at the Knights of Columbus and Pine Grove Community Church, located at 50 Pine St. in Saratoga Springs. Volunteers from across the county joined the effort to provide access to nutritious food for 300 families.