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City News: Saratoga Meet Still On, For Now
• 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.
Thoughts for Potential Reopening Plan Shifts to Regionalized Theme
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.
Get to the Point!
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.”
County Officials Discuss Saratoga COVID-19: Infections, Hospitalizations, Testing Sites
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
#tagyourtakeout: New Incentive to Help Local Restaurants & People In Need
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The idea came to him, as good ideas sometimes do, while otherwise engaged in the seeming mundanities of everyday life.
Jacob Hopper and Dempsey, a yellow Lab, were out walking through Saratoga Springs. Hopper had started up the Evander and Louise lifestyle and travel brand, just as everything else around him began locking down. March 1 was a heckuva time to launch a new business.
“Horrible timing,” Hopper admits. A lot of the work is centered on the partnerships he created with 17 different local restaurants.
“We know eating-out and taking-out can be a luxury for some people. And a lot of us are on limited incomes right now, watching the budget, but it’s really important that we support our small local businesses as much as we can. I think the more we can support them, the better we will be when we come out of this,” Hopper says.
“Well, we launched and then this all happened. I started thinking: what can I do?” The answer came to him while out walking with Dempsey. “Tag Your Take Out. It just popped into my head. I thought it might be a good way to promote these restaurants who really need help.”
The way the campaign works is this: people going out for take-out food snap a photo or capture a video of their excursion and post it to Instagram, tagging Evander and Louise at @e.l.saratoga and using the hashtag #tagyourtakeout.
In addition to the photos making the rounds of social media and adding to a sense of community, Hopper’s E&L selects four winners every week from the posts. Each of the four receive a $50 gift card redeemable at one the group’s 17 restaurants. A $10 gratuity will also be provided to the restaurant, and for each $50 gift card given away, a $50 donation will be made to Franklin Community Center.
“We’re buying the gift cards. I didn’t want to ask the restaurants to give us gift cards because they’re already hurting enough, and we’re also including a $10 gratuity to the business because I think it’s important to remember that there are still people working. They might not be coming to your table like they usually do, but they are putting themselves at risk,” Hopper says.
“With each gift card we give away, we’re also giving a $50 donation to Franklin Community Center as well – because the whole concept from the beginning was: support our local restaurants and support families who are in need, because the families can have other basic needs,” he says. “We’ve got 22 giveaways funded, so currently that’s $1,100 in gift cards and $1,100 to Franklin Community Center.”
Franklin Community Center – which is located on Franklin Street – is a non-profit organization providing basic necessities and services to less fortunate individuals and families in Saratoga.
“Anybody can tag their take-out at any locally-owned restaurants, and we’re certainly encouraging people to have fun with it,” says Hopper, adding that the support of sponsors, such American Natural Gas, help make the gift-card drawing possible. “It’s focused on Saratoga, but we’ve gotten some who have tagged in Ballston Spa, and we’ve gotten some from Albany. Post a photo of it, tag us and tag the restaurant and you can be entered in the drawing.”
Each week on Wednesday afternoon four winners are picked, and Hopper says he anticipates staging the drawings and gift card winners for at least the next couple of weeks.
“We want people to go and support local restaurants. The restaurants – obviously they’re all hurting and the feedback they’ve given me is they’re doing what they can to stay afloat and to keep their staff as much as is possible.”
For more information about the Evander and Louise #tagyourtakeout initiative, and a list of the Saratoga eateries where the winning gift cards are redeemable, go to: evanderandlouise.com/tag-your-takeout.
State & City This Week
• A new COVID-19 mobile testing site was opened this week in a parking lot at the State University of New York at Albany campus - 1400 Washington Ave. The site prioritizes tests for individuals that are among the highest risk population. With the increase in testing, the numbers showing those being infected with the virus is anticipated to rise. Residents who would like to be tested must make an appointment by calling 888-364-3065. There will be no walk-ins allowed and all patients must be in a vehicle. Site hours: Monday - Sunday, 8 am - 6 pm., in partnership with Albany Medical Center, St. Peter’s Health Partners and The University at Albany. The state has opened seven mobile facilities to date.
A drive-up novel coronavirus public testing site opened April 9 in Queensbury, providing the availability of COVID-19 tests for residents of Warren, Washington, Saratoga, Hamilton and Essex counties, according to Warren County Public Health Services. The Municipal Center is located off Route 9 in Queensbury, near Exit 20 of the Northway. Those who have doctors’ orders for a test will follow electronic signs on Route 9 that will direct them to the testing location at the rear of the county complex. They will be asked to enter the Municipal Center through Glen Lake Road.Testing site staff will be able to handle 50 or so tests per day between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Results through a state laboratory will take 3 to 5 days.
• Gov. Cuomo announced rapid testing to determine whether one presently has the virus is now available. The test takes about 15 minutes to determine whether one is infected. But those tests need to be brought “to scale,” in other words, brought to the public in a big way. There is only a 50,000-person testing capacity available in the state right now. Cuomo said he is interested in working with private companies who would be able to roll out the tests in big numbers.
• A different kind of test: “How do we restart our economy and get everything up and running as quickly as possible? It’s going to come down to how good we are at testing,” said Cuomo, adding that the “re-start” will likely come before the availability of a vaccine to eliminate the infection. “You’re going to have to know who had the virus, who resolved the virus, who never had it. And that’s going to be testing.”
To that point, the state DOH is developing an antibody testing scheme. The test would determine whether a person has had the virus – potentially meaning they had at one time been a carrier and may have built up immunity, making them no longer contagious, and no longer able to catch the virus. “That means you could get to work, you can go back to school, whatever you want.” But the testing has to be extensive, Cuomo cautioned, given the 19 million residents in the state of New York.
The volume of testing is not there quite yet, and Cuomo made no mention of it specifically, but in Germany, a type of immunity certificate is being considered that would test people for antibodies and those who have had the virus would be exempted from restrictions to move freely about the community.
• New York will stay on PAUSE for an additional two weeks through April 29, Gov. Cuomo announced.
• The governor also announced he was increasing the maximum fine for violations of the state’s social distancing protocol from $500 to $1,000. This increase is targeted at any lack of adherence to social distancing protocols. “Now is not the time to be lax about distance.” Localities have the authority to enforce the protocols.
• The Saratoga County Office of Emergency Service announced this week that four county residents who had tested positive for Covid-19 had died, bringing the total number of deaths of Covid-19 positive individuals in the county to five.
• During a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, NY-21, said there should be multiple mobile testing centers in the district - particularly given the high percentage of the local population who are seniors and the number of people who are shifting to their second homes upstate.
Looking forward, Stefanik said while the current priority is getting through the months of April and May, the tourist-heavy summer season that typically Saratoga hosts should dictate that the local region is “heavily involved” in any discussions in the future, “when we are able to start talking about reopening parts of the economy, when we get beyond - well beyond - the apex and even the down-slope of positive cases in New York.”
• New York is currently testing more than 16,000 people per day, more than any other state and more than China and South Korea on a per capital basis. Just over 2,200 people had been tested in Saratoga through April 8, with 172 persons (7.4%), having tested positive for coronavirus. The county of Albany had been testing 70 to 80 people per day. Following the opening of the mobile site this week, those testing numbers jumped to three times that amount daily.
• A new website was launched to provide New York State’s comprehensive coronavirus testing data to the public. The website, which will be updated daily with the latest data, presents visualizations of statewide and county-level testing and results. That site is: www.ny.gov/covid-19tracker.
• Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) Executive Director Karen Gregory announced this week that The Holiday Inn, located in downtown Saratoga Springs, will serve as a temporary location for the city’s homeless. Isolating people experiencing homelessness in individual hotel rooms with access to private bathrooms is the best possible solution to facilitate safe distancing and the ability to practice good hygiene thus preventing a community-wide spread of COVID-19, Gregory said. Food service, basic necessities and case management is being provided to those staying in the hotel. The shelters on Walworth Street remain open.
Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously approved a measure to provide financial support to S.O.S. for that relocation of the homeless population to the Holiday Inn, at 232 Broadway. City funds to be reallocated for the emergency priority project are to be drawn from the Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund in the amount of $61,950.
• Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan on April 7 announced the potential budget impacts in the wake of COVID-19. Regarding the city’s $48.7 million annual operating budget, the city is considering a “severe scenario” til the end of June of an up to 75 % loss of several key revenues, and by year-end the city may be bracing for a “worse case scenario” revenue loss of a total of as much as $14-$16 million, compared to what was previously anticipated, Madigan said. The current payroll of city employees will remain status quo through April 17. Employee furloughs are a last resort, Madigan said, cautioning the council “leading up to this date we need to be prepared and evaluate decisions for post-April 17.”
• Due to the continuing impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the New York Racing Association announced that the opening of the Oklahoma Training Track and stabling area - set to open April 15 at Saratoga Race Course, will be delayed. The delay does not impact the start of the Saratoga racing season which is scheduled to begin on Thursday, July 16.
Celtic Woman Cancels SPAC Date; Caffe Lena Broadcasts Archived Sessions; Northshire Bookstore Goes Live; A Dylan Surprise
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A local performance by Celtic Woman – scheduled to appear at Saratoga Performing Arts Center June 7 – has been cancelled, the band announced this week. Refunds are at Point of Purchase only. Internet and Phone orders will automatically be canceled & refunded, according to SPAC.
Last week, The Zac Brown Band announced it was cancelling all tour dates through mid-September, including a previously announced June 13 date at SPAC. To our knowledge, these are, thus far, cancellations of the Live Nation summer pop concert series at the venue.
Meanwhile, in lieu of the ability to continue its staging of live performances, Caffe Lena is taking a different approach. The long-running Phila Street café plans to broadcast previously filmed performances.
“Every night we gather for music and conversation on Caffe Lena's rapidly growing YouTube channel. After a few days of flailing, (apologies for all the schedule changes!!) we've decided to not even try doing anything live on stage for the foreseeable future. Instead, we're mining our private archive of recorded concerts, bringing the musicians into the "chat room" with us, and re-living a great performance together,” the venue announced on its web site. “Please come! We'd love to welcome you to the party. You can chat if you want, or just watch quietly from the sidelines. Either way, it's good company and the sound and video production will put you right back in the best seat in the house.
This past week shows featured the likes of The Lustre Kings, Jim Gaudet, and Spa City native and Figgs’ co-founder Pete Donnelly, and upcoming performances include the Gibson Brothers. The “Stay At Home” Sessions broadcast at 8 p.m. and the stream may be accessed via caffelena.org.
This month, Northshire Bookstore launched a virtual events program. Anchored around a standing Thursday 5 p.m. Northshire Live virtual event, it will feature weekly authors and guests via Zoom.
Northshire event managers Rachel Person and Dafydd Wood will host a wide-ranging conversation about books from their respective homes. Each week will feature one or more author guest stars who will read from and discuss a recent or forthcoming book.
Next up: the weekly virtual community gatherings for book lovers will feature Janice Shade, author of Moving Mountains: The Power of Main Street Americans to Change Our Economy
And, if you haven’t heard. Bob Dylan – who performed at Caffe Lena in a time when John F. Kennedy was President of the United States, has just released a 17-minute song about the assassination of JFK.
“Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years,” reads the brief introductory statement posted on Dylan’s website. “This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you…”
The song may be heard at: bobdylan.com.
State of Emergency: Week 3
SARATOGA SPRINGS — They stood several feet apart from one another at a noisy intersection where Broadway meets Lake Avenue on a Tuesday morning that marked Day 18 of the city’s declaration as a state of emergency.
Three months into her new job, the city’s Public Safety Commissioner took her turn at the portable lectern stationed in front of a City Hall under renovation, but where the tools of its reconstruction have been muted.
“This is not the time for sleep-overs, play-dates, or dinner parties,” instructed commissioner Robin Dalton.
One of the essential keys of trying to keep people healthy is social distancing – that is: remaining six feet from all other people when in public, and refraining from nonessential gatherings – be it socially, recreationally, or otherwise. Saratoga Springs is taking up Gov. Andrew Cuomo's guidelines - “These are not helpful hints, these are legal provisions” – and implementing those provisions.
“As a city we will be enforcing those through warnings, ticketing and fines if needed, because your actions are that important and our health and safety depends on them,” Dalton said. “The longer people break the rules, the longer we are going to be in this situation. How we come out the other side depends on you – the public…we’re going to need the help of every resident in our city to help slow the spread of coronavirus.”
The gathering included city Mayor Meg Kelly, Police Chief Shane Crooks, Fire Chief Joe Dolan, and Saratoga Hospital President Angelo Calbone – the latter of whom explained that the hospital had 10 COVID-19 cases in the building, and that they possessed sufficient Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE’s, to take care of patients and staff at this time. On Thursday, April 2, The Saratoga County Department of Public Health announced county-wide that there were 139 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Saratoga County with 19 of those individuals hospitalized at this time.
Saratoga Hospital has also joined the "statewide hospital system" as proposed by Gov. Cuomo, following the Covid-19 outbreak. "To that end, we are comforted to know that if Saratoga Springs needs it, help will be there from other New York providers," Mayor Kelly said on April 3. The same afternoon, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, NY-21, released a statement to say she was "very concerned about Gov. Cuomo’s announcement regarding his plan to sign an executive order to shift ventilators from Upstate to Downstate New York." Stefanik's district includes a portion of the city of Saratoga Springs, as well as municipalities east, west and north of the city.
“The North Country comprises the largest number of seniors of any Congressional District in New York State, the most vulnerable age group to COVID-19. Our critical needs and vulnerabilities must be considered....our rural hospitals are already very limited in resources and we must ensure Upstate New York’s needs for testing supplies and ventilators are fully met."
Mayor Kelly said the city’s parks are still safe for people to go to - as long as social distancing measures are observed. “We want to keep separated right now, and the last thing we want to do is close parks.” One day later, on Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo announced, due to city residents repeated violation of distancing rules, playgrounds in New York City will be closed to the public, although open space areas will remain open.Local authorities in Saratoga Springs re-iterated on Thursday that while the playgrounds and basketball courts where high-density congregation may occur are closed, the parks remain open.
During his daily briefing from the State Capitol in Albany, Gov. Cuomo warned that rules of social distancing will be in place for a while. “We’re still going up the mountain, and that’s where the battle will be in 14 to 21 days, depending on who you believe. That’s the apex,” the governor said. “We still have to come down the other side of the mountain (before everything re-opens).”
During a mid-week teleconference with the press, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who represents the 21st District, said she is concerned about non-essential travel. “We want to mitigate non-essential travel from anywhere in the state. We have rural hospitals that are already in challenging positions. If the numbers continue to go up or surge, our rural hospitals are not in the same position as some of the hospitals downstate, in terms of bed-count.”
While the renovation of City Hall has stopped, for the time being, the building of the multi-story parking garage adjacent to the Saratoga Springs City Center has received approval, with some restrictions, to continue with its construction, building for the time when visitors will once again flock to the city and engage in its multitude of events, conferences, and happenings.
Site-specific COVID-19 procedures will be met during the building process and the continuation of the Flat Rock Parking Structure is vital for the city’s ability to recover from the damages of the pandemic, City Center Executive Director Ryan McMahon said in a statement. “The Saratoga Springs City Center Authority’s action is in keeping with guidelines issued by Empire State Development (ESD) and is an essential infrastructure project.”
Financially, the city is bracing for a multi-million dollar loss in revenue due to the pandemic and the resultant closing of all but “essential” businesses, the potential cancellation of major public events, and the stifling of tourism.
At this time, the city is considering a scenario of a $7.8 million loss of revenue for the first half of 2020, and potentially a total 2020 year-end revenue shortfall of $16 million, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan estimated in March. With a 2020 General Operating Budget projecting total 2020 revenues of approximately $48.7 million, the scenario equates to a 33% shortfall in 2020 revenue to what was previously anticipated.
“We are proceeding with caution regarding how to address this loss-of-revenue scenario. Both over- and under-estimating our response has consequences,” Commissioner Madigan said in a statement. “Given the city’s good financial position and excellent community partnerships, we have many options, including cash-on-hand, healthy reserves, borrowing, various bonding tools, and shared services…It is too soon to determine what combination of these efforts will fit our needs. But it is not too soon to state that all options will be considered very carefully.”
The potential finance losses may be tempered somewhat should the city receive state for hosting a VLT casino. Earlier this year, the city, along with other state municipalities, was warned it might lose approximately $2.35 million in that aid. On March 31, the city received the hopeful news that the aid may be restored. Madigan said the restoration of that VLT Impact Aid in the 2020-2021 State Budget would be a very positive outcome, particularly as the city works through COVID-19 related fiscal uncertainties.
“We are very hopeful that the city will be receiving its VLT aid based on the budget bill that was published today,” said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, via phone late Tuesday afternoon. “The bill was published and is now aging for us to vote on it, and the cut that the governor had proposed in his Executive Budget has been removed. So, we are hopeful that the legislature will soon be voting on that bill and the aid will be available to the city.”
However, Woerner echoed Madigan’s sentiments regarding the restoration of that $2.35 million to Saratoga Springs. “You know, it’s not done until it’s done,” she said.
Working At Home In The Age of Corona
SARATOGA SPRINGS – “Ultimately, I think we’re going to be talking about things as being either pre-Corona, or post-Corona,” says Elliott Masie, disengaging from a Zoom video conference with a screen depicting representatives from 60 different companies across the nation who had gathered to discuss where they are and what they are doing “in these times.”
“I think this will change everything. And I don’t think it’s all bad; I don’t think it’s all good,” he says. “There’s a lot we haven’t figured out yet. But there are some things that are going to be absolutely different.”
Masie has hosted and curated learning & development seminars, labs, and conferences for several decades. He’s pulled in experts from across the country and put up interviews with them since before the age of Podcasts and Ted Talks, in the formative years of the Internet. He leads a learning consortium of more than 150 global organizations cooperating on the evolution of learning strategies - a lot of it from the Saratoga Springs think tank The Masie Center, with a focus on how organizations can support learning and knowledge within the workforce.
On this day, the faces of dozens of representatives from a myriad of companies simultaneously stare back from his screen. One represents a financial service company with 60,000 employees, another a fast food service company that employs 1 million workers.
“Many of them are having to lay people off, and others are working from home, so I try to be the Rabbi – to mediate, and to have conversations with them about what’s changing,” Masie says. “We’ve never had a situation like this before.”
The moment it became clear the virus was coming to the U.S., Masie says he decided to use the Masie Center - its people, resources, reputation and networks - to host regular video support conversations to link colleagues and support the people who are in charge of the workforce learning all around the country.
Working from home and learning from home. What works? What doesn’t work?
“It’s hard. If you have your partner, or kids or dogs. Maybe you don’t have the Internet at home. People may not have all the tools they need to work at home. To employers, I would say: in the old days, meaning a few years ago, when businesses shut down, they just shut down and people went home. We’re now doing something that’s miraculous, but there’s no model for doing that,” Masie says.
”I was on the phone with someone who has 47,000 people working for them and the first thing they realized is that 9-to-5 isn’t a relative term. Meaning somebody may need to take care of their kids, because daycare’s not working. So, they’ve moved from thinking about the 9-to-5 to just get done what you can done.”
Communities in upstate New York began looking at things like high-speed Internet capabilities with an eye trained upon a future time when employees could be capable of working from their homes. In 2010, then-President Barack Obama signed legislation instructing each federal agency to come up with policies to promote telecommuting. At the time of the Telework Enhancement Act, approximately 5 percent of the federal work force was engaged in some level of teleworking, with slightly more than 100,000 employees teleworking at least once a week. A 2016 Gallup Survey reported the number of employees who worked remotely in some capacity was up to 43%. For those who haven’t, now would seem a good time to heed the advice from those who have.
“Have a dedicated in-home workspace and do your best to keep it holy,” explains Michael Eck, a longtime beloved Capital Region fixture in the art and music world. A self-employed freelancer for nearly 30 years, Eck telecommutes every day to the West Coast. Currently he works for Two Old Hippies Stringed Instruments in Bend, OR.
“Get up in the morning at the same time you would for your morning drive and do your morning routine,” Eck says. “Get dressed. In actual clothes. And put on your shoes. You’re going to work. Have breakfast. Be at the desk by your regular time and do the work. Make sure to eat lunch and take a brief afternoon walk so it feels like a regular day. Lather, rinse, repeat.”
Working from home with kids at home is an entirely new experience for those not accustomed to it, writes Kristen Hare, who has broken down her suggestions for working parents at home into categories respective of the children’s ages - from babies and toddlers to middle schoolers and teens. The piece may be viewed at Poynter.org.
“Just because workers’ laptops are now nearby on their kitchen tables doesn’t mean managers can expect their workforce to be available 24/7,” points out Alison Green in her article “You Don’t Have to Work All the Time Now,” which may be read at slate.com. “People feel like they’re expected to be working every minute of the day—in ways they generally wouldn’t be expected to do when they’re in the office... Remote workers aren’t on a chain gang; they’ve just temporarily relocated their workspace.”
For people new to working at home, Masie recommends being mindful of your time not only to produce good quality work, but to avoid burning out.
“We’re people under stress. And if people are under stress, their ability to learn, for accuracy, and their ability to 100% focus goes down. So, things that might have taken a half-hour at work, now might take two hours,” Masie says. “You do need to monitor your stress level. And you may need to tell people to stop working, meaning they’re working 14 hours a day just because there is no going home. That’s not the deal and that’s not healthy.”
He also recommends limiting your news-watching time. “I tell people to find one hour a day where if you want to, need to, or choose to, to go get the news. Don’t do that all day long. I love news, talking about it, thinking about it - but it’s not really updating, in a sense. You talk to someone who went through Katrina, they’re not floating through the river with a transistor radio on. So, I think there’s a psychological balance that’s needed.”
At home, one may not have the informal “water cooler” moments to talk with co-workers. Masie says in a social-distancing world, he’s created a time to socially interact with others, albeit it using technological means.
“Every morning at 7:15, Ira and I have a cup of coffee and a toasted bagel. He lives on one side of town and I live on the other,” Masie says, with a laugh. “And we carry on the same kind of conversations we’ve always had.
“Some things will never be the same and sadly a lot of people who have spent their life building a career, might have it disrupted, in some cases transformed, or in the worse-case ended by a tragic moment in history. So, you go back to Kubler-Ross there are some death and dying elements that people have to go through to find some peace. Luckily I can’t think of a better place that I would like to be than Saratoga.”
Gov. Cuomo Issues Call for Mental Health Practitioners
Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include: Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones; Changes in sleep or eating patterns; Difficulty sleeping or concentrating; Worsening of chronic health problems; Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
Taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress. Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger.
Things you can do to support yourself:
• Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
• Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
• Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
• Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
• Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
“As we all take measures to protect our physical health, we also need to protect our emotional health,” writes psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, whose article “Dear Therapist’s Guide to Staying Sane During a Pandemic,” was recently published in The Atlantic. “Everyone copes with horrible situations differently. For some, humor is a balm. It’s BOTH/AND: It’s horrible AND we can allow our souls to breathe.” The article may be read online at: theatlantic.com.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued the following statement as part of a COVID-19 Announcement on March 21: Mental health is a vital part of public health. To that end, I am calling on psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals to pitch in and volunteer their services to help with New York’s Coronavirus response. To sign up, go to: health.ny.gov/assistance.