City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Caffe Lena’s Stay Home Sessions, which take place every night at 8 at caffelena.org, continues with Friday with The Suitcase Junket, captured in this image on stage at Caffe Lena 55th anniversary concert at The Zankel in 2015. The Stay Home Sessions feature Jontavious Willis on Saturday, April 25, and Sloan Wainwright and Cosy Sheridan on Sunday, April 26.
• The council during its Tuesday meeting unanimously approved by a 4-0 measure a 30-day extension of the city’s State of Emergency declaration, initially declared in March. That State of Emergency now goes through May 12. City Mayor Meg Kelly was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
• Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton updated the latest known status of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course, which is slated to begin July 16.
“My understanding is that NYRA is following the governor’s recommendations and they are preparing to be open and to run if they have the opportunity to do so - meaning the restrictions on mass gatherings and events will have to be lifted,” Dalton said. “If indeed that happens then they will be ready to run in July.”
Accounts commissioner John Franck added that there also is a possibility that the Saratoga meet may be staged with no fans present. “This is what I heard from various representatives and racing people; I guess the reason being there will still be gambling online, so there would still be revenues coming in to NYRA and the state. We just don’t know yet.”
Last year, the meet at Saratoga Race Course generated more than $700 million in all-sources handle for the first time in NYRA history at The Spa, despite losing one full racing day to a weather cancellation. The $705.3 million all-source handle bested 2018’s total by more than $46 million.
• Late Fees for City, County and Delinquent School Taxes: Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said the city had looked into the potential waiver of fees and penalties as they relate to tax bills. “Last week the late notices went out to anyone who was late paying their taxes and that really kicked off quite the firestorm,” Madigan said Tuesday, during a meeting of the City Council via Zoom. “Unfortunately, legal research shows that the city has no authority to waive these fees. The only person who can do so during the State of Emergency is the New York State governor.” The New York Conference of Mayors legal team reports that local governments do not have unilateral authority to extend the interest-free period with respect to the payment of property taxes, she added.
Regarding other types of fees or late payments that are established via local law - such as water, sewer, garbage - local governments do have the ability to extend or modify late penalties and payments dates by promulgating an emergency order that suspends the relevant local law.
• Funds: Given anticipated revenue losses due to the COVID-19 emergency, Madigan asked each department to submit by April 29 suggestions on where to potentially cut or trim non-mandatory expenditures.
All city employees - full-time and part-time – had been paid full wages through April 17. “As of April 18, part-time employees have been furloughed, unless their departments deem them essential and they are actually working,” Madigan said. A temporary hiring freeze went into effect April 10. Until that order is rescinded, new hires may only be made on an emergency basis.
Options under consideration include payroll reductions, layoffs, securing loans, and using the city’s cash fund balance, the latter of which is already underway, according to Madigan.
• Land Use Board meetings will resume this week and will be held virtually with board members and applicants and may be viewed via live stream on the city’s website. Consult the city website for dates and times for meetings of the Planning Board, Design Review Commission, and Zoning Board of Appeals.
ALBANY — There has been a noticeable shift among lawmakers during the past 10 days that points to a scheme of an eventual reopening plan for New York that may take the shape of a region-by-region easing of restrictions, as opposed to the state reopening in its entirety, all at the same time.
“There are regional economies within the state. Let’s talk about reopening economies in a regional context. Coordinated regionally. And that’s what we’re going to be doing,” state Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week, naming Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in charge of overseeing the Western New York region public health and reopening strategy, and former Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy as special advisor on public health and reopening in the Finger Lakes region.
Nearly two months since New York registered its first COVID-19 case, and three months since the first case in the U.S. was discovered, Cuomo surveyed the daily charted number of infections, hospitalizations and intubations in New York City - where more than 10,000 residents have died as a result of the virus – and cautiously explained “the numbers would suggest we are seeing a descent…the question is how long and how steep the descent? Nobody knows.” That descent will play a major role into when the state reopens.
Governors in each state will decide when to re-open, and President Donald Trump has recommended in advance of a phased-in approach to reopening there should be, among other things, a decline in COVID-19 cases for 14 days.
Regionally, however, the percentage of the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has been steady, or rising. A three-day sample in Saratoga County from April 15-17 indicates of 267 people tested, 17 (or about 6.4%) tested positive, while more recent tests of April 19-21 sample shows 13 of 175, or about 7.5% tested positive. Overall, as of April 21 in Saratoga County where about 3,500 people have been tested, 7.6% percent of those tested positive. Albany County shows a 9.8% overall rate, Warren and Washington counties each are over 11%, and Schenectady County is over 12%. And indications are that those percentage numbers have not fallen in any of the counties.
On April 17 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researcher Malik Magdon-Ismail discussed a new model showcasing the pandemic impact in smaller cities. The model indicated that with 75% of the population in the Capital Region in New York remaining at home, the COVID-19 pandemic will peak locally in about four weeks, in late May.
“How do you educate yourself on reopening? Testing,” said Cuomo, who explained he had a “productive” meeting with Trump at the White House April 21, and one of the results of that meeting is the expectation that the number of tests in New York State will as much as double in the near future - from approximately 20,000 to 40,000 per day.
“Make the decisions on the facts, not on political pressure. We make a bad move, it’s going to set us back,” said Cuomo, adding that it is vital to also understand the consequences of opening one region at a time, so as to not flood that region with unanticipated problems, presumably meaning an influx of people coming from areas still on “pause.”
“We can’t make a bad decision and we can’t be stupid about it. This is a marathon, not a sprint. More people will die if we’re not smart,” he said.
As Cuomo spoke inside the State Capitol, a rally organized by the group “ReOpen New York State” was staged outside on Wednesday to protest the New York on Pause coronavirus plan. While protest organizers told people planning to attend the rally to respect social distancing, most were crowded on the sidewalk and in the road, and many were not wearing masks, according to WRGB.
At the same time and of a different view, a letter signed by Saratoga Unites, Saratoga DSA, Saratoga Progressive Action and more than a dozen other area organizations and individuals was issued in support for efforts taken by New York state leadership with the current stay at home orders. The letter states, in part: “It is natural to feel like we need to ‘do something,’ and we encourage people to focus on support for healthcare and essential workers, the unemployed, and the small businesses which are all so vital to the Capital District.”
Cuomo said he anticipates “a rolling curve” of infections. That is, that different test-positive hotspots will flare up at different times. “New York City had the first curve and then they project higher curves in other states and in other parts of our state,” the governor said. “Buffalo will have a later curve, Albany will have a later curve, and we’re watching the curves in different parts of the state. Our strategy is: we deploy to wherever the curve is highest.”
ANTIBODY TESTING UNDERWAY
A weeklong statewide antibody testing survey that will randomly sample 3,000 people began April 19 in a handful of upstate communities, Saratoga and Schenectady among them.
The antibody test – which is different than the tests which currently identify the virus - will tell whether a person had previously had COVID-19. The state is hopeful this large-scale antibody testing will help determine the percentage of the population that is now immune to the virus, allowing more individuals to safely return to work. The finger-stick blood samples will be tested at the Wadsworth Center, which is located in Albany.
The “random” designation is particularly important. The other tests conducted – the ones which tell whether a person currently has the virus - are mostly conducted with people showing symptoms of illness, or those potentially exposed to it.
Preliminary data of the antibody tests - randomly conducted in grocery stores and box stores in 19 counties, 40 localities overall - showed 13.9% overall tested positive for antibodies – that is 13.9% of people randomly tested across the state have, at some point, had the virus.
Upstate New York specifically where one-third of the antibody tests were conducted, only 3.6% of those had tested positive for antibodies.
This is compared to 11.7% in Westchester/Rockland, 16.7% Long Island, and 21.2% NYC.
In Schenectady, where the information regarding the random testing was not made public, those showing up to be tested included “several county legislators” according to the Gazette. In Saratoga County, where the information was made public by Saratoga County on its Facebook page, many more people turned out than were anticipated.
“It should not have been posted on Facebook – both for randomizing purposes, but also a (Price Chopper) manager told me at one point there were nearly 300 people in there just to get tested,” said Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston, who visited the Price Chopper store in Malta where the testing took place. “That 300 is in addition to the people who were just shopping. My understanding is those (tests) are going to take place, but not in the same spot and they’re not going to be announced. My hope is no one puts it on the county website or Facebook page. That shouldn’t happen (again). I’m not going to say that it won’t – but, that’s our goal.”
While different parts of the state may open at different times, Cuomo said regardless of where reopenings occur, schools and businesses will be open at the same time in that particular region.
There is no specific committee charged with specifying reopenings. A region-by-region determination will be addressed via discussions in a collaborative effort between state and local governments. Cuomo did not specify whether a “local” government make-up would consist of county, city, town, and/or village officials.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Maura Pulver stood behind the counter of the Five Points Market & Deli, which she has owned the past eight years. The east side eatery has served the neighborhood for more than a century.
Last week, one of the neighbors reached out to Pulver to express some concerns.
“One of our regulars - she has three elementary school age kids – she said she and her husband were concerned about kids perhaps not getting meals,” Pulver explained.
Maura Pulver poses inside Five Points Market & Deli with a pair of handmade signs that will be fixed to a table on weekends offering “free lunch, for anyone who needs it,” while supplies on the table last. Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos.
With New York State on “PAUSE” and the closure of schools extended through at least May 15, the woman, Jenn McMahon, was brainstorming an idea for weekends that would complement breakfast and lunch availability for students provided via the Saratoga Springs School District.
“She was thinking about that kid, just riding by on their bike, who maybe didn’t get breakfast this morning,” Pulver said. “I thought, oh my God, I love that; Let’s make it happen.”
The fruition of the idea was to set some sandwiches upon a table outside the store during weekends providing a free lunch for anyone who needs it.
“So I asked her kids to make the signs for it and this past Sunday was our first day of doing it. I put them out there - sandwiches, a nice little package. Some cold cuts, some peanut butter & jelly, some cheese, an apple and potato chips, and some baked cookies,” Pulver said. “There were about 15 of them and by 1 o’clock they were all gone. Jenn ants to do it every Saturday and Sunday, from 11 to 1, and she said: ‘We’re just very fortunate right now that we can help out, and I can probably pay for a month’s worth.’”
Area residents either out for a walk or perusing social media where images of the table fixed with bright blue and yellow hand-made signs topped by an offering of small brown lunch bags went viral were moved by the gesture.
“Let me tell you what happened: when the neighbors heard about it, they came by and took pictures of the table and since Sunday people have been handing me money to have it continue,” Pulver said. “Now we’re thinking about maybe adding another day, or maybe increasing the numbers. We want to keep it going for as long as we can.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Dead & Company have canceled their previously scheduled Aug. 3 appearance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The statement, released Tuesday afternoon reads: "Because of the global coronavirus outbreak and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, we have no choice but to cancel Dead & Company's Summer Tour 2020. The well-being and safety of our Deadhead community, venue staff and the band’s touring family is of the utmost importance. We also want to get refunds back to our fans while so many are hurting economically. All tickets will be fully refunded at point of purchase. We are thankful for your understanding and we look forward to the day when we can all be reunited. In the meantime, keep the faith and believe in the power of music. We will return. We will get by. We will survive."
The show marks the third cancellation of the summer pop season at SPAC.
Cancelations were earlier announced for shows featuring Celtic Woman (June 7), and Zac Brown Band (June 13).
ALBANY – Fifty-one days since New York registered its first COVID-19 case, and 92 days since the first case in the U.S. was known, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that in New York City specifically, where more than 10,000 residents have died as a result of the virus, “the number would suggest we are seeing a descent (in cases and hospitalizations)…the question is how long and how steep the descent? Nobody knows.”
A statewide antibody testing survey that will sample 3,000 people began Sunday in a handful of upstate communities. Local officials say they were not informed of the testing until it was already underway, and two of the local counties – Saratoga and Schenectady, handled this information in different ways.
Late Sunday afternoon, the Saratoga County Office of Emergency Service posted on its Facebook page that it had “been made aware that The New York State Department of Health is conducting Antibody Testing at the Malta Price Chopper,” and that “no appointment is required.” Many did rush to the market in the hope of securing an antibody test.
In Schenectady County, where it appears the information was not made in such a public way, “nearly two-dozen people waited in line, including several county legislators,” the Daily Gazette reported.
The antibody test will tell whether a person had previously had COVID-19. The state is hopeful this large-scale antibody testing will help determine the percentage of the population that is now immune to the virus, allowing more individuals to safely return to work.
The finger-stick blood samples will be tested at the Wadsworth Center, which is located in Albany. The tests will take place at location across the state this week in the hope of securing random samples of the population and leading to calculations to determine how many have previously had the coronavirus. This test is different than the one which determines whether a person is currently COVID-19 positive.
Gov. Cuomo said Monday that he anticipates “a rolling curve” of infections. That is, that different test-positive hotspots will flare up at different times. “New York City had the first curve and then they project higher curves in other states and in other parts of our state,” Cuomo said. “Buffalo will have a later curve, Albany will have a later curve, and we’re watching the curves in different parts of the state. Our strategy is: we deploy to wherever the curve is highest.”
Approximately 1.5% of Saratoga County residents had been tested for COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health through Saturday - with 251 of 3,276 persons tested had tested positive, a rate of 7.7% - similar to the rate of infection in Rensselaer and slightly lower than in Albany (9.7%), Washington (10.6%), Warren (11%) and Schenectady (12%) counties, through April 18. Updates, when they become available, may be found HERE.
Sunday night, the Saratoga County Department of Public Health Services confirmed 269 cases of COVID-19 in Saratoga County with 11 of those individuals hospitalized at this time. The Department also confirmed the county’s tenth death from COVID-19 — a 67-year-old female from Malta.
SARATOGA - Upstate New York is further along in terms of reopening the economy than parts of downstate, more testing of upstate residents is needed, and the federal government should play a role in acquiring testing supplies, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said on a Friday conference call with reporters.
“I believe (reopening) needs to be a regional approach. You need to balance the needs of public health as well as the economic needs. From my perspective different parts of the state and different parts of the country are in different circumstances,” said Stefanik, who represents New York's 21st District in the House of Representatives. The New York district borders Vermont to the east and Canada to the north and covers rural northern regions as well as Warren and Washington Counties and parts of Saratoga County.
“There’s going to be a lot of data to look at between now and then. Different parts of New York are in different phases. We have not seen the percentage of positive cases (upstate) that we’ve seen downstate. That also is taking into consideration the lower number of tests,” said Stefanik, who earlier this week was named by The White House to serve on a bipartisan Task Force on Reopening the Economy, focused on restarting the economy after the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is contained. “I think we are further along in terms of reopening the economy than parts of downstate.”
However, Stefanik stressed there needs to be a greater amount of COVID-19 testing upstate. “We should not be under-tested compared to downstate.”
Approximately 3,000 Saratoga County residents – about 1.3% of the county population – has been tested for the virus, with 7.7% of those testing positive. A smaller percentage of residents in Warren and Washington County have been tested, while the percentage of residents living in downstate hotspots such as Queens, Dutchess, and Westchester counties are twice or three times greater. Statewide, about 550,000 tests have been administered. New York counts just over 19 million residents. It is not known how many residents may have been administered a test multiple times.
Stefanik wouldn’t say specifically what percentage of upstate residents ought be tested, deferring instead to county public health experts. “I think our county public health departments will provide important guidance as to what they think that percentage should be. Again, that 1% is less than the 2.5% of all testing form the New York State perspective. We need to balance the economic need and the public health need to make sure we have the capabilities,” she said.
Regarding whether parts of upstate New York with lower rates may be closer to reopening than downstate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday afternoon that “lower infection rate places, lower death rate places are in a better position than places with a higher death rate, higher infection rate. So yes, calibrating those differences is important.” There was no specific indication when a reopening plan of any kind may potentially begin. The key, Gov. Cuomo said, “to get the economy open wherever you can, as soon as you can, whenever you can.”
In a measure that would seem to echo Gov. Cuomo’s desire, Stefanik said the federal government should take over the acquiring of testing supplies. “I think one of the lessons learned with the PPE’s and the ventilators is you had states competing against one another. We know we need widespread testing across the country. And I do think the federal government should play a role so we’re not rehashing the challenges we had with the PPE’s, where you had not just states competing, but county-to-county competing for the acquisition of those products,” she said.
The needs of upstate are unique compared to the needs of downstate, Stefanik stressed. So too are the varying needs in different communities within the district.
“It’s a real balancing act. What I don’t want is the rules of New York City - somehow those mandates also apply to upstate New York because I think we’re in different circumstances,” she said. “But Saratoga County is also a totally different set of circumstances than St. Lawrence, or Essex County.”
Suggesting a regional approach, rather than a one-size fits all model, Stefanik explained she would recommend a county-by-county influence.
“Even if you look within the county, you have different needs, with Saratoga Springs itself versus Schuylerville, or some of the more rural parts of the county. But I think county governments in partnership with the cities are in the most local position to make those decisions - and they have that county public health expertise to drive it,” she said. “I’d like to see county leadership as part of the governor’s team in making decisions, because they’re obviously connected to the diversity within each county.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Margaret Kuenzel returned to her home Wednesday afternoon after spending her morning at the food pantry where she has worked for the past year.
“It’s a drive-thru these days,” she explains in this age of essential employees in the era of social distancing. She is one of six at St. Clement’s on Lake Avenue - where Marianne McGhan coordinates the outreach program - bagging produce and canned foods, laundry detergent and toothpaste and leaving them on a table outside of St. Clement’s Chapel for their customers who need them.
Kuenzel had worked as Family And Consumer Science, or FACS, teacher for 36 years prior to her retirement. And even as her earliest roots date to Hyde Park, N.Y., the great-granddaughter of legendary trainer "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons has lengthy traces to the Spa City. “My mom came to Saratoga every summer, following the horses and it was funny that I ended up here too,” she says. “We started a little racing stable as a hobby and have a few horses that win sometimes. My husband Charlie is a Saratoga native.”
The couple’s son Matthew grew up in Saratoga Springs and since relocated to North Carolina where he works for a consulting firm. “Matt called me and said he and his coworkers wanted to do something to support the health care workers there in North Carolina.” They heard about a need for masks and Matt and his co-workers set out to create some. “He said to me: ‘ And I’m using the home and career skills I learned in 8th grade in Maple Avenue in Saratoga Springs.’ That did my heart good to hear that,” Kuenzel says. “I’d been thinking about making masks, so I asked him if he wanted some help.”
Historians trace the history of respiratory protection back nearly 2,000 year to Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, who had used loose animal bladder skins to filter dust from being inhaled while crushing cinnabar.
“I had been thinking about the masks as a FACS,” Kuenzel says. “The whole idea of being low in Personal Protective Equipment was astonishing to me.” She enlisted the assistance of three colleagues - two retired FACS teachers and one current teacher at Saratoga Springs High School - to help with the effort.
The group consists of retired Saratoga teachers Kuenzel, Shari Keller, and Dale Walton, as well as Kristin Harrod – a current FACS teacher at Saratoga Springs High School. “So, she is going through all of the Internet classrooms and lesson planning with students, and helping us on the side,” Kuenzel says.
In addition to working on masks tabbed for North Carolina health workers, Walton is also sewing masks for city workers in Saratoga Springs as well as for Saratoga Hospital. “So, across two states, and with little tentacles that go everywhere,” Kuenzel says.
“It takes us about a half-hour to make a mask and we try to make between eight and ten masks a day. I just shipped a box of 50 masks yesterday. When we go out I do see a variety of homemade masks and most look very similar to the ones we are producing: a rectangle of fabric, pleated with elastic that will go over the ears and situate in place.” All the fabrics have been washed with hot water and dried on high heat.
How long will she do it? “Charlotte is a little behind where New York is with the virus. My son was been hearing that they should peak in the next two to three weeks so we – the women I’m working with – we just sent 50 down and I think the four of us can make another 100 masks.”
BALSTON SPA — Saratoga County officials - featuring staff from the Department of Public Health, the Office of Mental Health and Office of Emergency Services - hosted a Facebook Live event April 14. Among the information they shared is the following:
• As of April 14: 229 county patients had tested positive for the coronavirus and 122 of those 229 have recovered at this time.
• Fifteen people were hospitalized, and of those, five people were on ventilators. This number is down from the eight people who were on ventilators one day earlier; the three people who came off the ventilators were in stable condition. All those hospitalized are Saratoga County residents.
• Approximately 1,000 people had been quarantined under a mandatory quarantine/isolation order. Those 1,000 people had been in contact with the 229 people who had tested positive. Of those, 539 had since been cleared, released from quarantine and have recovered.
“What the public health department is doing is when someone is positive there is an infectability period and we look at every move that person made during that time frame. They identify to us where they’d been and who they’d been in contact with. We then reach out to each individual who is then at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 and we place them in isolation. That way if they become ill, they will not infect others.”
Testing sites: Saratoga Hospital has limited capacity; Albany has a drive-thru at the campus of SUNY- Albany campus, and Warren County has a testing site at their municipal site.
How to take a test: “Warren County requires a prescription from a doctor and an appointment. For Albany, you can go to the New York State Department of Health website where you can fill out a form to receive the test. However, they’re not testing everybody. There is a priority for someone who is ill and showing symptoms of illness, as well as health care workers. If you’re asymptomatic and you just want to have a test because you’re worried, then you may not be tested at this time. If you’re asymptomatic – you’ve had no symptoms, but you’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive, you’d be higher on the list.”
Is testing for antibodies available in the area? Not yet. Antibody testing is coming along, and there is a ramping up and developing of capabilities to widely disseminate testing, but it hasn’t come to the area yet. There is a trial underway at Albany Med St. Peter’s that gives plasma from people who have recovered from COVID to patients who are actively affected. People who have recovered can also have their antibodies tested as part of being a donor for that program.
Why has there been no disclosure of specific municipalities within the county where residents have tested positive? “We have cases in every area of our county, cases in every zip code. Giving zip codes at this point could be giving out a false sense of security of people are thinking: ‘oh there’s only one case that lives in my area.’ You have to assume that everyone has (the potential) to be positive at this time.”
The Department of Public Health encourages all individuals to wear a mask any time they are out in public. Given mask shortages, it directs residents to the CDC website as a helpful resource that outlines how to wear a mask and instructions on how to make a homemade mask. That link can be accessed at: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html
BALLSTON SPA - A special meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors will take place 3 p.m. on Friday, April 17, during which seven resolutions will be considered and potentially voted upon – the creation of a COVID-19 ad hoc committee among them.
The special meeting will be held remotely via videoconferencing and teleconferencing. The public meeting may be heard live via audio signal using the call-in number: 1-844-855-4444 and entering the Participant Passcode: 823993#
The seven resolutions to be consideration and potentially approved are:
- Suspending Rule #1 of the Rules of the Board of 2020 for the month of April
- Authorizing the county’s insurance coverages through May 8, 2021
- Correcting a 2020 tax bill in the Town of Malta and authorizing a tax credit
- Canceling 2020 taxes in the Town of Saratoga and authorizing the issuance of corrected tax bills
- Authorizing transfer of funds from the Veterans Trust Fund and amending the 2020 budget in relation thereto
- Authorizing the creation of a COVID-19 ad hoc committee
- Approving Collective Bargaining Agreement with Saratoga County Sheriff Officers Association, Inc. (Corrections Unit) for 2019
In addition, the special meeting agenda shall include roll call and ratification of the call of the special meeting at the commencement of the agenda and the Chairman’s announcement of his appointments to the COVID-19 ad hoc committee at the conclusion of the agenda.