COVID-19 update: Infection rates blow up in Orange County and NYS

Goshen. Governor says offices must decrease personnel by 75 percent as New York becomes the new epicenter of coronavirus infection in the United States. Businesses get new restrictions and protections, with support for workers. A new drive-in testing site is available to Orange County residents. First Presbyterian Church of Goshen offers online worship and virtual coffee hour. Hudson Valley Honor Flight reschedules spring flights for fall. The arts council welcomes entries. The district attorney says arraignments and grand juries will continue.

19 Mar 2020 | 06:07

Thursday, March 19

New restrictions and protections in NYS

One week ago today, Orange County announced its first case of the novel coronavirus.

By Monday there were seven cases in Orange County. Today there are 68.

New York State is the new epicenter of COVID-19 infection in the United States, with 4,152 cases, up from 950 on Monday, a fourfold increase.

Thirty counties have new cases this week, said Governor Andrew Cuomo.

New York has more than three times as many cases as the next-closest state, Washington, which up until this week was the U.S. epicenter.

Cuomo signed an executive order today mandating businesses to decrease their in-office workforce by 75 percent, with exceptions made for essential services. These include the shipping industry, warehouses, grocery and food production, pharmacies, media, banks and related financial institutions, and businesses essential to the supply chain. This follows the governor’s directive yesterday that all businesses implement work-from-home policies.

Cuomo also announced 90-day mortgage relief for New Yorkers, including waived mortgage payments based on financial hardship and no negative reporting to credit bureaus; waived fees for overdrafts, ATMs, and credit cards.

“It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be disruptive, but we will get through this together,” said Cuomo. “We know what we have to do to contain the spread of this virus -- reduce density and person to person contact -- and based on new facts we are getting every day, we’re taking further steps to keep more New Yorkers at home while keeping essential services running.”

Cuomo also announced new measures to free up staff and speed up the admission and discharge process at hospitals for 90 days. The Department of Financial Services will issue a directive to health insurers allowing scheduled surgeries and admissions without insurer preapproval and allowing inpatient hospital services without insurer approval. Under the measure, insurers will pay inpatient hospital services and emergency services without waiting to review for medical necessity. It will also allow the discharge of patients to a rehabilitation center or nursing after an inpatient hospital stay without insurer preapproval, and encourage self-funded plans to adopt these same provisions.

The two major utility companies in the 39th Senate District, Orange and Rockland and Central Hudson, will waive late fees for customers affected by the coronavirus, said New York State Senator James Skoufis (D-Hudson Valley), who reached out to both utilities.

Orange and Rockland is suspending any electric and gas service shut-offs involving customers having bill payment difficulties, suspending new late payment charges for all customers, suspending no access fees, suspending telephone and email collection notices, and suspending final bill collection agency activity.

“Suspending utility fees when many residents and small businesses are experiencing financial hardship is essential so that families can keep the lights on, water running, and homes warm,” Skoufis said as he thanked the utilities “for doing their part.”

COVID-19 drive-through testing site opens at recreation area

A new coronavirus mobile testing site is currently accepting patients by appointment only at the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area in Bear Mountain, right off exit 17 on the Palisades Interstate Parkway.

The location straddles the border of Orange and Rockland Counties.

According to officials from the New York State Department of Health, Orange or Rockland County residents can get an appointment to be tested by calling the Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 1-888-364-3065.

When calling the hotline, individuals provide their information (such as name and age) and are asked a series of questions, such as whether they are symptomatic, have preexisting conditions, or have come in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

After the call is completed, the individual’s information is put into a system, and after review, the Department of Health calls the person back with next steps regarding potential appointment information. As of right now, testing is being prioritized for those considered to be high-risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those groups include individuals over age 60 and people with underlying medical conditions.

First Presbyterian offers online worship

All are invited to worship online with First Presbyterian Church in Goshen on Sunday, March 22, at 9:30 a.m.

“Although it will no doubt feel different than what we are used to, rest assured that the most beloved aspects of our weekly worship service will still be there, including prayer, wonderful music, comforting words from Pastor Kingsley, and -- most importantly -- fellowship with one another,” said the invitation.

A pre-recorded worship service will be posted on the First Presbyterian Church in Goshen Facebook page on Sunday morning at 9:30 am. You are invited to watch the service when it is posted, or you can watch it at any other time that’s convenient for you later on. To watch the service, just go to the church’s Facebook page to access the video: facebook.com/First-Presbyterian-Church-in-Goshen-NY-105924746115976.

You do not have to have a Facebook profile to watch.

Starting at 10:30 a.m. the church will host a virtual coffee hour using the Zoom video conference app. This user-friendly app will allow participants to enjoy fellowship from the comfort and safety of home. (Be sure to bring your coffee in your favorite mug!)

To get ready, download and install the “Zoom Client for Meetings” app to your laptop or home computer that is equipped with a built-in or external webcam: zoom.us/download. Alternatively, you may install the “Zoom Cloud Meetings” app on your smartphone or tablet by going to the app store for your device. While you are required to download the Zoom software to participate, you are not required to create a Zoom account if you don’t want to.

To join virtual coffee hour, click on this link: us04web.zoom.us/j/525664873. You will then be asked to enter the following meeting ID: 525 664 873. When prompted, turn your computer video and audio on if you’d like to be seen and heard.

Anyone who needs assistance during this difficult time may contact the church office at fpgoshen@gmail.com or 845-615-1239. You can reach Pastor Kingsley at dckings@frontiernet.net.

Federal small business loans available

Orange and Rockland County businesses affected by the COVID-19 outbreak are now eligible to apply for federal Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Assistance.

Small business owners are encouraged to apply immediately at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela or by calling the Small Business Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955.

The current disaster assistance from SBA is low-interest, long-term loans to businesses of all sizes and private non-profit organizations.

“As we continue to face the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak small businesses are suffering immensely,” said New York State Assemblyman Colin J. Schmitt (R-New Windsor). “After working with my partners in government we have now ensured Orange and Rockland County businesses are eligible to apply for federal SBA disaster loan assistance. All impacted businesses should immediately apply.”

Paid leave provides critical relief

The State Senate on March 28 passed legislation (S8091) ensuring employees in New York State will be able to access paid leave if they are subject to a mandatory or precautionary quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). The Senate bill also waives the seven-day waiting period before New Yorkers can apply for unemployment insurance.

“This legislation will provide critical relief to New York workers and slow transmission of the virus while protecting small businesses from incurring additional costs in this difficult time,” said Senator Jen Metzger. “People should not have to choose between putting food on the table and taking the necessary precautions to protect public health. This bill makes sure that those who must self-quarantine will continue to have the security of a paycheck.”

The bill provides for paid leave of up to 14 days for employees subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation. For small businesses with ten or fewer employees, the costs of paid leave would be fully covered by the state’s paid family leave and temporary disability insurance programs. Businesses with between 11 and 99 employees would be responsible for five days of paid leave, with the balance covered by the two state programs. Employers with 100 or more employees, along with government institutions, would be responsible for the cost of paid leave for the duration of the two-week required quarantine or isolation period.

Metzger co-sponsored a new bill (S2520C) to help small businesses and not-for-profits weather the economic and financial impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill creates a loan program that would allow eligible financial institutions to make zero-interest loans to small businesses and non-profit organizations of up to $50,000 thousand. Repayment would not begin until at least 90 days after the state of emergency ends.

Hudson Valley Honor Flight reschedules spring flights

Hudson Valley Honor Flight is postponing two upcoming spring flights. “The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have both stated that adults over the age of 60 are particularly at risk of infection and should avoid all non-essential air travel,” said the Honor Flight in its announcement. “The vast majority of our veterans fall into this high-risk category.”

The May flight out of Westchester County Airport will now take place on Sept. 19, and the flight out of New York Stewart International Airport will now take place Oct. 10.

Hudson Valley Honor Flight is a nonprofit based in Walden that honors Hudson Valley area veterans for all their sacrifices by bringing them to Washington, D.C. to visit their respective war memorials at no cost to them.

Stay in touch with the Orange County Arts Council

The offices of the Orange County Arts Council will be closed until further notice, but staff will still be available remotely.

A special informational ZOOM Video-conference will answer commonly asked questions about applying for Orange County Community Arts grants. It will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, March 20. Register by emailing info@ocartscouncil.org.

The Goshen satellite office accept appointments from 1 to 5 p.m. on Friday, March 27. Schedule your time slot at calendly.com/orange-county-arts-council/20min.

The arts council will be available at other times by email at info@ocartscouncil.org, phone at 202-0140.

The Community Arts Grants deadline has been extended to Friday, April 17, at 11:59 p.m. For more information visit ocartscouncil.org/2020-community-arts-granta.

Submit to the #OCNYArtSeen Instagram exhibit.

The council’s annual member exhibition and first annual Celebration of the Arts will be held in late August at the Thornwillow Institute in Newburgh.

Hudson Valley Creative Impact, held in partnership with Orange County Chamber of Commerce, and hosted at Storm King Arts Center amid the magnificent sculptures and scenic grounds, will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. on July 21. Registration opens March 21 at ocartscouncil.org.

The New York Foundation for the Arts (nyfa.org) offers links to resources for arts and culture organizations to supplement help to artists from local national health organizations.

Arraignments will continue

All County Courts and City Courts have limited their courtroom operations to primarily handle arraignments, matters involving orders of protection, and applications dealing with whether a defendant should continue to remain in custody, Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler announced on March 17.

“The district attorney’s office is currently coordinating with our law enforcement partners to ensure that police agencies continue to receive around-the-clock assistance with respect to search warrants, investigations, arraignments and other emergency applications,” said Hoovler. “Our staff is in constant contact with the Emergency Operations Center monitoring events, and consulting with County Executive Neuhaus and other emergency management officials. We are taking all steps possible to protect the public and our staff during this critical stage of the coronavirus response.

“We are discussing with the courts, and with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, conferencing cases by video or by telephone to limit in-person contact. Most of our town and village justice courts have adjourned their proceedings to later dates.”

Assistant district attorneys will interview witnesses, including police officers, whether to obtain information or prepare them for litigation, over the telephone, or by means other than in person whenever possible. With the exception of court appearances, all interaction with outside agencies, such as meetings and training sessions, must occur by phone or via the internet or be cancelled.

Grand juries are currently still meeting “to keep dangerous offenders off the streets," Hoovler said. Starting March 19, the grand jury will be sitting in the Orange County Legislative Chambers, which is much larger than the grand jury room, for better “social distancing."

To further protect grand jurors and office staff assistant district attorneys are preparing witnesses who must testify in person, using designated conference rooms outside of our interior offices and are putting as much distance as possible between themselves, witnesses and grand jurors.

Hoovler warned that some people may take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to defraud others, to place the greater community at risk by failing to abide by lawful emergency orders designed to prevent the spread of the virus.

He asked the public to beware of scams, such as phone calls asking for charitable donations related to the coronavirus outbreak. Do not give out credit card information over the phone, he said.

Tristate tallies:
Here follows the number of positive cases in the tristate area and beyond as of March 19:
New York State: 4,152
Orange County, N.Y: 68
Sullivan County, N.Y. 3
Pennsylvania: 185
Pike County, Pa.: 2
Wayne County, Pa.: 1
Monroe County, Pa.: 7
New Jersey: 742, 9 deaths
USA: 13,159, 200 deaths