Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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SARATOGA SPRINGS — As the city begins to move toward budget season – a 2021 budget must be approved by the end of November – the estimated revenues that will factor into that budget are anticipated at nearly $8 million less than was budgeted for 2020.   

“Even with the phased reopening, our city cannot expect revenues to rise to former levels immediately upon the reopening of our downtown,” city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan told the council this week. 

“It is generally held that it will be months, if not years before the new economy establishes itself well. In addition social, behavioral and consumer changes due to closed businesses, wide-spread unemployment and other results of COVID-19 will continue to affect revenue collection well into the future.” 

Madigan estimated that revenue collection - without any additional state or federal aid - at approximately $7.8 million less than the amount estimated for the pre-COVID world of 2020. As such, the 2021 general operating budget revenue is anticipated to be $40.9 million, down from the current year’s $48.7 million adopted budget. 

Madigan reported the following year-to-date comparisons: 

Sales Tax: year-to-date collection 19% lower than last year. More specifically - May 2020 is 37% less than May 2019.

Occupancy Tax: year-to-date collection is 54% lower than last year at this time. Specifically, 2nd quarter collection is 78% less than 2nd quarter collections in 2019.

Mortgage Tax: 0.24% lower than 2019, year-to-date. 

Some Good News: The state released 80% - or $1.86 million - of annual VLT aid amount to the city.

COVID-19 SAFETY PROTOCOLS

City officials said this week that a newly amended state law will provide greater clarity in enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols. The amended law comes in the wake of some businesses and municipalities alike requesting stronger language than what had previously been issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as an Executed Order. 

“The New York State Department of Health (on July 9) amended the Public Health Law, specifically Section 66, which codifies statutorily the requirements that Gov. Cuomo had implemented in the executive order and also imposed the ability for civil penalties associated with that, establishing authority for state and local municipalities to enforce those provisions,” City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis said Tuesday. 

“So it’s something we’re looking at to address that’s not necessarily punitive or restrictive, but lets people know that health is a priority for Saratoga Springs, that you can come here and feel comfortable,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton. 

“We’ve been looking for ways to encourage and enforce people wearing face masks in and around Saratoga Springs. It continues to be a problem, and the problem has grown. We keep hearing from people who are uncomfortable to leave their homes, or uncomfortable to visit here because they’re afraid they’re not going to be safe and healthy if they visit our downtown,” she said, adding that the biggest problem is weekend nights on Caroline Street, where large crowds gather along the sidewalks outside late-night establishments.    

‘It’s not really the bars and restaurants, they’re doing a great job, it’s the people who are coming downtown and wandering in big packs on the sidewalks (and) no one’s wearing a mask. So that to me is the more urgent situation for us to be able to address the safety issue through this public health amendment.” Dalton said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “We’re not going to be scouring Broadway in the middle of the day, seeking out people who aren’t wearing masks.” 

DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco argued that the police had better things to do than to enforce people wearing masks. Commissioner Dalton responded to say there already exists a police presence along Caroline Street, and actions there wouldn’t take away from any other safety issues in the city. 

Commissioner Madigan added that there is no reason why police wouldn’t want to ask large crowds who had gathered to disperse or to don masks, and that pedestrians exhibiting safety measures also provide a positive display for local economic reasons in assuring people it is safe to visit and shop downtown. 

The amended Public Health Law – which may be read in its entirety on the NYS website under New York Codes, Rules and Regulations heading -  contains some exemptions, and reads, in part: Any person who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face-covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face-covering when in a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance.

SARATOGA COUNTY DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH RESIGNS

Saratoga County Director of Public Health Catherine Duncan announced this week that she will retire, effective July 31. As such, the agency is currently actively seeking to fill the position of Commissioner Of Health. 

The appointment to the position is for a term of six years at a salary of $132,446 plus benefits. Job responsibilities include to direct, manage and regulate the Department’s delivery of public health services throughout Saratoga County. Requirements include: being a physician currently registered to practice medicine in New York State and possessing two years of experience in administrative practice in a health-related organization or government agency. For more information about the position, call 518-885-2225, or go to: www.saratogacountyny.gov.

HEALTH & WELLNESS PROPRIETORS UTILIZE CITY PARKS

The City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday, and Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco announced Wednesday that Saratoga Springs based gyms, fitness trainers, and yoga studios are able to utilize Congress Park, High Rock Park, Geyser Road Veterans Memorial Park, and the Waterfront Park to host workout sessions without paying rental fees through Sept. 7. 

Health and wellness proprietors can host classes at the specified parks by filling out a rental use agreement. 

Regulations: No permanent equipment can be installed and a strict carry-in, carry-out procedure must be followed. Safety guidelines set forth by the CDC must be adhered to including mask wearing and social distancing. No loud speakers, loud music, or other activity interfering with others’ enjoyment of the park will be authorized. Providers must submit an anticipated schedule and location to inform the city of routine dates and times of usage, and DPW will resolve any conflicts between providers and/or other renters of the parks; location preference will be given to paid renters. A Certificate of Insurance must also be furnished. 

Interested parties should contact Mary in the Department of Public Works at 518-587-3550 ext. 2555 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to obtain a rental agreement or for more information.

COVID-19 TESTING

COVID-19 Testing Sites and Antibody Testing Sites for Saratoga County change frequently and are updated at the Saratoga County website.  Currently, sites include: Saratoga Hospital and Wilton Medical Arts – where COVID-19 and Antibody testing are available to Saratoga County residents of all ages with a provider order; Malta Med Emergent Care - Provider order required, and Saratoga Hospital Medical Group Primary Care in Ballston Spa - Antibody testing only – available with provider order. Appointment information, criteria for testing, and a regularly updated list of testing sites is available at: www.saratogacountyny.gov.

Thursday, 16 July 2020 12:43

A Cautious Start

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The bugler blows the Call To The Post. If there are no spectators inside the racecourse to hear it, does it make a sound? 

In this unusual summer of a most unusual year, the racing season nonetheless got underway as scheduled on July 16, and is slated to run through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7. This year, a lot will be different. Perhaps the biggest is staging the races – or at least the start of the summer meet - without fans in the stands, in compliance with New York State guidelines. 

Forty-eight hours prior to the start of the Saratoga meet, NYRA officials and members the city’s Public Safety department staged a joint press conference at the racecourse to discuss additional changes for the start of the summer meet. 

“The critical part of this meet is we celebrate racing – but, we celebrate at home. This city cannot have people come to the track and try to watch the races,” said city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton. 

The city requested and NYRA complied with the installation of  a temporary “privacy fencing” along exterior boundaries of the race course on Union and Nelson Avenues where it is feared fans may congregate on the sidewalk in close quarters to catch glimpses of the action inside. 

“The COVID pandemic has really changed the way we do things – both personally and professionally,” said assistant city Police Chief John Catone, who along with Public Safety Commissioner Dalton, was joined by city Fire Department Battalion Chief Aaron Dyer at the press gathering on July 14.

Catone discussed the importance of having a “fluid safety plan” which can flex as COVID-related restrictions are either increased,  or loosened – in the latter case enabling the potentiality of limited spectator attendance or horse owners at some point during the summer. 

“We were trying to figure every potential scenario: no fans to partial fans to everybody’s going to be back to normal,” said Catone, adding that discussions between city officials and NYRA officials were initiated in April. “The safety and operation plan is very fluid,” Catone said, “and it’s also going to be based on what we see the next week or so, in terms of people who want to show up and try to catch live racing - and we’re going to deal with it accordingly.  We want NYRA to have a successful meet but we also do not want to put ourselves in a position like some other states right now – where they opened too early, they didn’t control the pandemic and their numbers have risen dramatically.” 

There will still be “a few” officers assigned to the track and its surroundings, including an officer with a bomb-sniffing dog, and others to deal with potential traffic and pedestrian issues. 

YOU WANT TO MAKE A BET

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 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. 

This year, on July 13, NYRA announced that the Belmont Park spring/summer meet generated $15,466,198 in average daily handle from all sources, a 42 percent increase over the daily handle during 2019 spring/summer meet. And despite running 23 fewer days than in 2019, all sources handle during the spring/summer meet totaled $386,654,955.

Financially, the city of Saratoga Springs is estimated to suffer a $14 to $16 million revenue loss this calendar year, or a quarter of the city’s $48.7 million budget due to the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic. The city receives no money from wagering, said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan. It normally receives funds via an admission tax; those funds go to Saratoga County and are then shared with the city of Saratoga Springs. However, with no fans in the stands as it looks right now, there will be no paid admissions and subsequently no funds to come the city’s way.    

NEW RULES FOR JOCKEYS

Two days prior to opening day, NYRA announced a number of updated health and safety protocols that includes closing the track to out-of-town jockeys riding at other racetracks, and requiring all personnel working at Saratoga Race Course in any capacity to produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property. That policy is inclusive of jockeys, valets, NYRA employees, trainers and their staff, outside vendors and credentialed media. A NYRA spokesman Tuesday said that a partnership with Saratoga Hospital was secured for a consistent stream of testing. 

The 2020 Saratoga Summer Condition Book currently lists 22 active jockeys and three apprentice riders. This group is to be considered the regular NYRA jockey colony.

Any jockey who rides at a racetrack outside of Saratoga from opening day forward will be considered an out-of-town jockey and will not be permitted at Saratoga Race Course. Out-of-town jockeys not currently riding at another racetrack may be considered for inclusion in the regular NYRA jockey colony provided the jockey does not ride at another racetrack.

In addition to race day safety protocols including standard health screening and temperature check, NYRA says the jockey quarters at Saratoga Race Course have been substantially altered to provide maximum social distancing and reduce density. All areas accessed by jockeys during the regular course of a race day are closed to all outside personnel, including credentialed media, and are cleaned and disinfected throughout the day.

Jockeys and valets are not permitted access to the barn area. In order to work a horse in the morning, the jockey must meet the horse in the paddock and can then proceed to the main track.

 Steeplechase jockeys must produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property and will be completely isolated from the regular NYRA jockey colony in a physically separate location. Following that day’s steeplechase race, which will be carded as race one, the steeplechase jockeys will depart the property.

 NYRA will follow current Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) and New York State Health Department guidance when determining the return of a jockey who has tested positive for COVID-19. This process will include a period of quarantine determined by the severity of the individual case followed by a series of diagnostic tests to rule out ongoing infection. 

Following the four-day opening weekend at Saratoga, live racing will be conducted five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays.

Thursday, 16 July 2020 12:39

Congress Park Vandalized

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A bronze sculpture of a Civil War soldier dedicated in September 1875 in Congress Park was found to be vandalized early Thursday morning. A plaque adjoining the soldier – a mustached figure wearing a cap and a knee-length coat - reads: The 77th Regiment New York Volunteers, Bemis Heights Battalion.

Earlier this week, graffiti marred the pedestrian steps on the south side of the park. 

“We will not tolerate this kind of vandalism and destruction in the city – between the (graffiti marred) Katrina Trask steps and now the statue in Congress Park, we’re going to find out who did this and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton. 

It is not known whether surveillance cameras in Congress Park had captured any of the activity. Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to contact the Saratoga Springs Police Department at 518-584-1800. 

Thursday, 09 July 2020 13:02

Looking For A Little Civility

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Campfire s’moreo. Bourbon truffle maker. Baked placid cheesecake, and mango dragon fruit sherbet.  There are more than 60 different flavors available at Stewart’s Shops, including those four which are part of the summertime limited edition kind. This summer, the company thought it a most appropriate time to re-introduce a limited-edition flavor that first premiered two years ago. It’s called: Civility. 

“Just plain old kindness,” “getting along with people,” “putting out a positive energy to everybody you come across,” sound the endorsements in the company’s 80-second video clip re-introducing the ice cream flavor. 

“It initially launched in 2018, a time when things were similar to how they are today - a country divided,” Stewart’s Shops spokeswoman Erica Komoroske said this week. “Right now, we’re having a big issue with masks. People are really divided on the mask issue. COVID-19 has put people on edge and we see a lot of hostility, customers yelling at each other in our shops about wearing a mask.  What better time to bring back ‘civility,’” she says. 

By definition the practice of extending basic politeness and respect to all citizens of society; by flavor, a vanilla based ice cream with a salty caramel swirl thought up by owner Bill Dake and created at the company manufacturing plant in Greenfield. “It’s a non-nut flavor,” she says.  “We’ve had dozens and dozens of requests from customers to bring Civility back.” 

Stewart’s Shops are deemed essential businesses and as such have remained open for the duration of the COVID period. It counts approximately two dozen shops within 10 miles of Saratoga Springs, 55 shops in Saratoga County and approximately 5,000 employees and 337 stores in New York and Southern Vermont. 

On July 1, the company posted a lengthy statement on its web site detailing its priority to protect the health and safety of customers and employees, its adherence to CDC recommended guidelines and the protocols it was taking: the installation of plexiglass barriers at cash registers, offering hand sanitizer for customer use, regularly sanitizing high-touch areas, and posting signage to enforce customer social distancing, among them. 

All shop employees - across New York and Vermont - are required to wear face coverings. Store signage informs that customers over the age of 2 medically able to do so are also required to cover their face with a mask or cloth face covering. However, it the customers’ responsibility to comply with the mask order. 

“A mask is required, but we can’t put our partners in a position to enforce it,” Komoroske says. We’re trying to offer gentle reminders to customers – ‘hey, did you forget your mask today?’ There have been physical altercations in our parking lot. There have been customers chased with a tire iron. This mask issue has definitely divided people.” 

The problem, she says, is the wearing of masks is not mandated by law. “If Ag & Markets came out with a law that said masks are mandatory, we would have better backing to enforce it as well,” she says. 

“It’s not a law, it’s an executive order,” says Robin Dalton, public safety commissioner in Saratoga Springs. “There is no enforcement that is available to us as a local municipality to do anything other than remind and strongly encourage people to wear their masks. We are completely hamstrung. Our police department very much wants to follow the rule of law, but they are not going to write a ticket for something they know is not a law and not enforceable,” Dalton says. 

“Personally – I think every single person should be wearing a mask when they step outside. If they aren’t around people, they should have it dangling on their wrist, like I do, so the second they see someone coming into their space, throw it on, or cross the street,” she explains. “There are a lot of people stuck at home, who are terrified to go downtown and terrified to go outside  because other people are not willing to show them the common courtesy and respect of putting on a face mask. I think it has to do with safety, and with respect. We are such a philanthropic and giving community, but when it comes to this one particular issue, for some reason which I will never understand, it’s polarizing.” 

A survey initiated by Saratoga-based tourism agencies conducted in June in which just over 3,200 participated, listed “masks worn by employees” as the top safety precautions businesses and their employees can take that will motivate respondents to visit their businesses. The results of the survey, publicly released July 8, also listed “a lack of trust in venues enforcing proper safety guidelines” as the main reason nearly 1,000 of the respondents are deterred from visiting Saratoga County. 

The survey partnered Mind Genomics the Saratoga County Chamber, Discover Saratoga, the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership and other agencies and was designed to glean information about what will motivate respondents to visit Saratoga County in the next six months.

Absent stronger language from the state regarding  mandatory mask-wearing of customers, Stewart’s Shops is test-marketing different ideas. 

“We’re rolling out a test right now offering complimentary masks in one of our district of 17 shops in Valatie, and we’re trying to learn: are people going to respond? will they take the mask? how will they respond if a partner offers them a mask?” Komoroske says. “if that test goes well, we’ll roll that out company-wide.” 

SARATOGA SPRINGS –  Playable pinball machines celebrating Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle, paying tribute to the Rolling Stones, Kiss, Guns N’ Roses and others, and the acoustic guitar upon which The Who’s Pete Townshend composed “Pinball Wizard” will go on exhibit at Universal Preservation Hall this month.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame exhibit “Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball” opens Sunday, July 26 for a two-month run at UPH, located at 25 Washington St. in Saratoga Springs.   

The interactive exhibit showcases rock-themed, playable pinball machines and combines them with merchandise and artifacts to explore the artistic portrayal of artists and bands. 

UPH, a partner in the Proctors Collaborative, will sell tickets for 90-minute blocks throughout the run. Tickets will be available for admittance at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day and hours will be extended to include 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. admittance on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The event concludes on Saturday, Sept. 26. 

Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball is presented at UPH by Adirondack Trust Company. 

Pinball and rock became inextricably linked, with the Who and the group’s opus ’Tommy,’ which highlighted the skills of the rock opera’s lead character. Pinball was banned until the mid-1970s in most of America’s big cities because it was considered a form of gambling.

On display, along with the classic “Wizard” and “Tommy” pinball machines, is Pete Townshend’s acoustic guitar used to compose “Pinball Wizard” and several other Who songs from the album ‘Tommy.’    

Making its debut as part of the exhibit is Alice Cooper’s newest pinball machine – Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle. The classic horror adventure game is narrated by Alice himself and features a number of songs spanning Cooper’s career and a working guillotine set piece. An electric chair stage prop that Cooper used in his 1971 tour across North America and Europe is on display in the exhibit.    

Fans can also view pioneering pinball machines of their favorite musicians such as Captain Fantastic (1976), based on the album by Elton John and his character in Tommy, and Beat Time (1967), one of the oldest rock and roll tables, which capitalizes on Beatlemania, featuring several mop-topped musicians and a drumhead emblazoned with “The Bootles.”    

Other rare and sought-after playable machines in the exhibit pay tribute to the Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, Guns N’ Roses, Elvis, Metallica, KISS and AC/DC. From Peter Criss of KISS’ drum set to Dolly Parton’s dress that inspired the backglass for the DollyParton pinball machine, fans will find other artifacts on display as they learn more about the popular pinball and rock subculture. 

Hosting the exhibition at UPH has been in the works more than a year as the Saratoga venue sought to develop programming that complimented - rather than competed - with Saratoga’s live entertainment scene in the summer. 

“It wasn’t clear when COVID-19 came along that we could hold the event but now that museums are reopening in the state we are proceeding with our plans,” said Teddy Foster, director at UPH.  

UPH will follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention and New York State safety guidelines in establishing safety protocol for exhibit visitors. Each visitor, staff person and volunteer will be required to bring and wear a face mask and to wear provided gloves while playing the pinball machines. All individuals will also be required to maintain proper social distancing. 

UPH staff will also take and record each individual’s temperature and procure proper tracing information, and sanitize all surfaces including handrails, light switches, elevators, exhibit pieces, restrooms and common surfaces before new groups are admitted. Capacity will be initially limited to 20 guests per time slot and will be re-evaluated regularly. 

Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and are available now at universalpreservationhall.org.    

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A panel discussion featuring local leaders involved in the arts was showcased during a Zoom meeting June 30. 

The discussion was moderated by Ian Berry, Dayton Director of the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College. Berry noted that these are strange times, yet stressed he remains optimistic. “This has prompted us to be better neighbors, to reach out, to share our vulnerabilities,” Berry said. At the museum, staff have worked remotely for the past several months and while the museum building remains closed, a variety of online offerings have been made public. 

The Tang Museum usually welcomes 40,000 visitors per year – about half of those during the summer season. The museum building is being readied for visitors with safety protocols being put in place, and a fall exhibition is being prepared that will feature 100 women artists in a celebration of a women’s right to vote, Berry said. 

Universal Preservation Hall - and the 19th century building it inhabits - underwent a massive multi-million-dollar renovation and staged its grand opening Feb. 27. Sadly, it was forced to cancel all shows less than two weeks later.

“I’m thrilled we were open – it was only 10 days – but a spectacular 10 days it was,” said UPH Director Teddy Foster. The NY Pause “was quite a blow. We worked many years to get the building up and running,” says Foster, adding that no large-scale music shows are anticipated til at least January 2021. An exhibition of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pinball machines is slated to open in late July. Ticket information regarding the event is coming soon, and the exhibit is anticipated to be on display through the summer. UPH will institute a limited entry of up to 20 at a time for up to 90 minutes, as well as other protocols, such as face coverings, gloves and the taking of visitors’ temperatures. 

Cate Johnson, of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, said the museum hopes to unveil its newly remodeled and renovated Hall of Fame by late summer, and SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol reported the first of limited-attendance outdoor health and wellness activities gets underway this month. 

The SPAC amphitheater is projected to be dark for the duration of the summer, but other plans are being coordinated for use of the large outdoor space. A $ 9.5 million renovation project of the concession area/ year-round venue has just been completed and will soon be unveiled as well. The annual jazz festival at SPAC – which this year was remodeled as a virtual affair for three nights featuring three local artists and three national artists, garnered 10,000 views during the weekend, Sobol said. For more information regarding the summer plans at SPAC, please see the interview with Sobol, published in last week’s (June 26-July 2) edition of Saratoga TODAY. 

“This is one of our most challenging times in the city’s history. From art classes to museums, from dance recitals to concerts, no cultural institution has gone untouched," city Mayor Meg Kelly said. The economic impact of COVID on the arts and subsequently the community is large. The economic impact of just SPAC alone to the region is $100 million, Sobol said. 

The forum was sponsored by the Saratoga Springs Arts Commission in partnership with Skidmore College. Part 2 of a State of the Arts panel discussion will be held 4 p.m. on July 14. For details, go to: Saratoga-Springs.org.

Thursday, 02 July 2020 13:02

Travel Advisory Expanded

SARATOGA SPRINGS — This week, eight states were added to the original list of eight that requires residents of those states traveling to New York to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.   

The quarantine applies to any person arriving from a state with a Covid-19 positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average.

The newly added states are: California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee. Additionally, the travel advisory remains in effect for the initial eight states named on June 24. Those are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North and South Carolina, Utah, Texas. 

“We’re in the middle of a national crisis and we have to be careful. We’ve made tremendous progress, but this is not over,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his press briefing on July 1. “We’re seeing troubling signs across the country that we should be concerned about,” he said. “Our infection rate is low. How does it go up? People come in from the outside, or when we start to get lack of discipline on the inside.” 

The advisory alerting domestic travelers coming to New York occurs at a time when European nations are instituting a travel ban related to Americans traveling overseas. All members of the European Union - as well as a handful of non-E.U. nations, are slated this week to begin opening their borders to residents of more than one dozen foreign nations – Canada, Australia, and Japan among them – but not to residents of the United States, where the spread of Covid-19 has not been controlled, according to the N.Y. Times.

The rate of infection in the Capital Region remains low, although there were cautionary messages this week from the state about a COVID cluster at a Washington County/Vermont Slate Quarry. 

Washington County Department of Health subsequently announced it is working with the New York State Health Department and the Vermont Department of Health to assess the potential impacts to the community regarding reports of the cluster of COVID-19 cases. 

Cuomo said visitors to New York found to be violating the quarantine can be subject to judicial order and mandatory quarantine, in addition to being assessed fines. Those fines could be $2,000 for a first violation, $5,000 for the second violation, and up to $10,000 “if you cause harm,” the governor said.

Thursday, 02 July 2020 13:01

Phase 4 Underway

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga and the greater Capital Region entered Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan on July 1. 

The industries specifically tagged to reopen in phase four include: professional sports competitions - with no fans, higher education, both indoor and outdoor low-risk arts and entertainment, and media production. 

Regionally, the rate of those testing positive for the COVID-19 virus has remained low and statewide has fallen dramatically compared to where they were earlier this year.

This week, the number of positive test results ranged from 0.7% to 1.5% across the state, with the Capital Region measuring at 1.0% - or 1 of every 100 people who had been tested, testing positive for COVID-19. 

New York State has conducted more diagnostic tests per capita than any nation on earth, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week. 

“New York State is doing great, the numbers are good, the numbers are solid,” Cuomo said regarding New York’s infection rates, hospitalizations and the number of deaths recently caused by the virus.  “But I feel there are storm clouds on the horizon,” he warned.    

Thirty-five states have seen an increase in infection rates this week. 

“Now they’re all starting to say: we better take this seriously. We better start wearing masks. They’re going backwards on their reopening plan – which is just what we talked about happening,” Cuomo said. “If you reopen too fast, you’re going to have to close. And that’s the worst situation, the worst for the economy and you’re going to lose more people in the meantime.” 

The formula the governor described at his July 1 press briefing includes: testing, tracing, social distancing and wearing a mask. To that last point, a Fox Business report posted July 1 cited a Goldman Sachs study that says a national face mask mandate would slow the spread of COVID-19 and potentially prevent the reinstatement of lockdowns that would wreak havoc on the U.S. economy.  He also cautioned about the slipping of citizen compliance. 

“If you have citizen compliance dropping and you don’t have local governments enforcing, then you’re going to see the virus go up. Period.” Phase 3 indoor dining in New York City was postponed due to a combination of lack of local enforcement, an influx of visitors and lack of public compliance, Cuomo added. 

In Phase 4, social distancing, face-covering and hygiene protocols continue to apply. Arts and entertainment businesses are mandated to limit workforce and patron/visitor presence to no more than 33% of the maximum occupancy for a particular area at any given time outside, and to no more than 25% of maximum occupancy inside. 

Mandatory directives regarding the resuming of professional sports competitions include there be no live audience, fans, or spectators allowed to attend or to enter the venue. Additionally, fans are prohibited from congregating outside the venue. 

The industries which remain closed are amusement parks, video lottery gaming and casino gaming facilities, indoor movie theaters, large gathering concert or event venues, indoor common portions of retail shopping malls greater than 100,000 square feet and gyms and fitness centers. This week more than 200 gym-goers in West Virginia were urged to quarantine after a Planet Fitness client tested positive for Covid-19. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Skidmore College on July 2 announced their fall semester plan that covers everything from Academic Instruction and Residential Life to Campus Life and Engagement.

The plan – introduced as an ongoing work-in-progress - will continue to be refined, Skidmore College President Marc C. Conner said in a statement.  Conner - the eighth president of the college – began his term July 1.

The fall semester will begin two weeks early, on Aug. 24, and conclude on Friday, Nov. 20, prior to Thanksgiving week. Students will finish exams and final projects remotely. There will not be any break during the fall term.

All major public events that would bring large numbers of visitors to campus, such as Celebration Weekend, Homecoming and the Presidential Inauguration, will be shifted to virtual experiences.

“As we have been emphasizing for many weeks, our primary commitment in all of these efforts is the health and safety of our entire community — students, staff, faculty and the surrounding Saratoga Springs community of which we are a part,” Conner said. “Our second commitment is to make possible the Skidmore education as we all value it: high-quality, fully engaged teaching and learning, performed with creativity and skill by superb faculty and staff.”

All students must complete a daily symptom check for seven days prior to their return to campus. and there are plans to have all employees undergo a COVID-19 test prior to returning to work.

Regarding academic instruction: a certain percentage of fall courses will be offered in a remote mode. It is anticipated most classes — estimated to be approximately two-thirds of the classes — will likely be some form of in-person instruction. The exact mode for each class will be determined in the coming weeks and this information will be made available to students by late July.

“Many of the events of typical college social life simply cannot occur this fall. That must be understood by all of us. We will employ technology to make possible group events such as speakers, performances and other programs and events so we can still have communal events, even if they are not in person in the same way,” Conner said.

Academic spaces, classrooms, labs and performance spaces will be reconfigured to accommodate health guidelines. Classrooms will include social distancing spacing, personal protective equipment, including plexiglass where appropriate, enhanced cleaning protocols and more. Outdoor classroom options are additionally being explored.

Residential space for students will allow for appropriate social distancing, maintain standards of health and safety, and prevent too much social density in residential spaces. No more than two students will be housed per room for the academic year. There will be no triple-occupancy rooms. Apartment spaces, which consist of single rooms only, will operating at full occupancy.

“In order to bring all, or nearly all, of our student body to Skidmore, we are arranging for housing in local hotels, consisting of both double and single rooms, comparable to a residence hall living arrangement,” Conner said. Shuttle buses and parking will be available to students living in these hotels.

Seating, layout and foot-traffic flow in Murray-Aikins Dining Hall will be modified to provide for necessary social distancing. Outside seating will be increased with the use of tents. Hours for all dining locations will be slightly modified to allow for cleaning between meals.

To reduce personal contact and limit large group gatherings, students should expect an increased offering of online events, virtual community-building and outdoor activities.

The athletics and fitness schedule will be modified, and fan attendance will either be significantly reduced or eliminated as an in-person experience.

Facemasks will always be required in all public settings, regardless of distancing or room capacity. There will be different requirements for residential spaces. Each student, upon arrival, will receive a starter kit of personal protective equipment (PPE) consisting of two Skidmore reusable facemasks and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Similarly, each employee will receive the PPE starter kit upon returning to campus. Hand sanitizer stations will be set up throughout campus. Safe passage routes, signage and directions will be created to minimize density. Daily and deep-cleaning protocols will be established throughout the campus.

Gatherings on campus will be limited to no more than what health officials’ safety guidelines recommend, always with appropriate distancing and masking. The guidelines are likely to change during the semester.

Testing requirements will be implemented in correspondence with CDC and New York state guidelines. Several testing timelines are under consideration, which could include requiring testing prior to arrival for students, testing on arrival to campus and subsequent surveillance testing. All students will be required to self-monitor, and students with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 will be tested at Skidmore Health Services. More details on the testing protocols in the weeks to come as more information becomes available.

Some residential spaces will be reserved for on-campus students who require quarantine and isolation. Students living in off-campus housing who are in isolation or quarantine will have daily contact with Saratoga County Public Health to assess their needs. Skidmore staff will provide assistance to students to help them keep up with their coursework, and faculty will help students continue to meet course requirements while in isolation or quarantine.

Students and employees will be expected to complete a daily symptom screen that will ask them questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms.

“It is abundantly clear that this will be a fall semester unlike any other. There are deep disappointments in this, of course, as we will all miss some of the treasured events and practices to which we have long been accustomed. But the heart and soul of the Skidmore College experience will remain intact, and in many ways, our creative approach to the semester will provide experiences that will be equally, if not more, fulfilling,” Conner said. “This is a special time of challenge, and I am confident that our entire Skidmore community is equal to this challenge. Together we will get to the other side of this challenge, and we will look back with pride on how we conducted ourselves as a dedicated community.”

For details regarding the Skidmore College plan go to: https://www.skidmore.edu/fall-planning/index.php.

ALBANY — A tri-state travel advisory affecting travelers coming to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut went into effect at midnight on June 24. 

The advisory – announced jointly by NY Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont stipulates that individuals traveling from states with significant community spread of COVID-19 quarantine for a 14-day period, from the time of last contact within the identified state. 

The quarantine applies to any person arriving from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average.  When the advisory was announced, on Wednesday, June 24, those states above the infection rate were: states above the infection rate are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North and South Carolina, Washington, Utah, and Texas.

The tri-state measure will use uniform parameters and messaging on highways, airports, websites and social media across the three states. The three states will also ask hotels to communicate the 14-day quarantine to guests who have traveled from one of the impacted states. Those found violating the quarantine can be subject to judicial order and fines, Gov. Cuomo said. 

“Two thousand dollars for the first violation, $5,000 for the second, up to $10,000 if you cause harm,” the governor said. 

Guidelines for Phase Four Reopening, which is currently slated for the greater Capital Region July 1 have been posted on Gov. Cuomo’s website at: forward.ny.gov/phase-four-industries. 

Those categorized industries are: Higher Education; Low-Risk Outdoor Arts & Entertainment; Low-Risk Indoor Arts & Entertainment, and Media Production. 

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