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Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim reacts to a call during a game against Virginia Jan. 25 in Charlottesville, Va. 

NY farmworkers, food processing plant employees await COVID-19 vaccine
  • Updated

New York dairy processors and farms hope their workers will soon have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The New York Farm Bureau and Northeast Dairy Foods Association are among the groups advocating for farmworkers and employees at dairy processing plants to be included in the priority 1B group for the vaccine. 

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended certain classes of workers for each phase, agricultural and food workers were part of 1B. But when New York rolled out its own list of eligible employees, farm and food workers weren't included. 

Last month, 17 organizations sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him to add agricultural and food workers to the 1B group. So far, there hasn't been any action on that request. But the state has opened eligibility for the vaccine to others, including people with chronic health conditions. 

Alex Walsh, associate vice president of regulatory affairs for Northeast Dairy Foods Association, said Monday that the explanation offered for why agricultural and food workers were left off the eligibility list was a lack of vaccine supply. That has been a challenge for the state, which relies on the federal government to determine its allocation each week. The supply has been increasing, but the demand is much higher. 

Walsh told The Citizen that the state said once more supply is available, more groups will be eligible for the vaccine. But after people with chronic health conditions were added to the 1B group, agricultural and food workers are still wondering when they will be eligible. 

"We're still on the frontlines working every day making sure that food is on the shelves of grocery stores," Walsh said. "We're still not being included in any of these working groups." 

Steve Ammerman, a spokesman for New York Farm Bureau, said his group hopes that will change soon as vaccine supply increases. He mentioned that some farmers have anxiety because not only are they waiting for access to the vaccine, but they want to get their workers inoculated too. 

Farms, like other worksites, have been affected by COVID-19. In Cayuga County, one of the first outbreaks of the virus involved farmworkers. The first COVID-related death in the county was a farmworker. 

Once farmworkers are eligible to receive the vaccine, Ammerman said there are farms interested in holding vaccination clinics for employees and the surrounding areas. Migrant health centers would also help facilitate the vaccination process. Through the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, there are vaccines available for migrant laborers. But, Ammerman noted, the state has to have farmworkers on the eligibility list. 

There are other important factors to consider, according to Ammerman. How to facilitate the vaccinations in one question. But there's also an educational component that's important. 

"It's also making sure that our employees understand the value and the safety and the efficacy of getting vaccinated," he said. 

In other news

• Cayuga County has 147 active cases after admitting seven new cases on Sunday, according to the local health department. 

Five people remain in Auburn Community Hospital due to COVID-19. More than one month ago, there were more than 40 virus-related cases in the hospital. 

Rep. John Katko wants U.S. boycott of 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing
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U.S. Rep. John Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, thinks the United States should boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as a response to China's treatment of Uyghurs. 

Katko outlined his stance in a letter to President Joe Biden. In his letter, he cites China's human rights record and the threats posed to the United States as reasons for the proposed boycott. 

It would be the first U.S. boycott of an Olympic Games since 1980. That year, U.S. athletes did not participate in the Summer Olympics hosted by the former Soviet Union. 

"Recent actions taken by the Chinese Communist Party are antithetical to the values of both the United States and its allies around the world," Katko wrote to Biden. "Participation in an Olympics held in a country that is actively committing genocide not only undermines those shared values but casts a shadow on the promise for all those who seek free and just societies." 

Katko's letter was also sent to top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and the International Olympic Committee. 

Beijing was selected as the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics at an IOC meeting in 2015. It's the second time Beijing will host the Olympics. It was also the host city for the 2008 Summer Olympics. 

But Katko takes issue with China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic groups. Press reports indicate that Uyghurs are being detained and held in prison camps. 

In the final days of President Donald Trump's administration, the State Department determined that China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs. China has denied the charge. On Monday, the Chinese government said the United Nations could visit the country. 

While there could be other actions taken against China, Katko views an Olympic boycott as one possible message. Without U.S. involvement, the country's top athletes wouldn't participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics. More importantly, it would send a message that the U.S. condemns China's actions against Uyghurs. 

"The United States simply cannot in good faith participate in an Olympic Games in a country that is committing genocide and continuously attempts to manipulate and lie to the global community about such atrocities," Katko told Biden. 

Cayuga County Legislature to vote on pay increases for health department leaders
  • Updated

The Cayuga County Legislature this week will vote on a pair of resolutions that would give temporary raises to three senior managers in the county's health department.

The Legislature's Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved both resolutions at its meeting last week. One of them, a local law that would change the salary for the appointed public health director, is also subject to a public hearing that will take place ahead of the full Legislature's vote. The meeting this week, being held via videoconference, starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Kathleen Cuddy, the current public health director, was reappointed to her position last summer with a yearly salary of $92,053. If approved, the new law would increase the annualized pay rate to $105,000 through Aug. 25. It would then go down to $102,000 for the following 12 months and return to the $95,053 rate starting Aug. 26, 2022.

"In order to manage this public health emergency, the New York State Governor has issued a series of Executive Orders, which have imposed duties and responsibilities upon local public health officials, including the incumbent Director of Public Health, which could not have been foreseen at the time of the incumbent’s appointment," the proposed local law states. "These added duties and responsibilities include without limitation, directing and managing mandated quarantines, contact tracing, investigations, enforcement proceedings, public testing, immunizations, as well as other related activities."

Similar wording is included in the resolution for pay increases for the county's director of community health services, Nancy Purdy, and the senior public health engineer, Eileen O'Connor. The resolution would take Purdy's annual pay rate from $78,500 to $83,500. O'Connor's yearly rate would go from $79,445 to $84,445.

Both salaries would go back to their current rates on Jan. 1, 2022.

Because Cuddy's pay change needs to be done through a local law, it's also subject to a 45-day permissive referendum if approved. That means Cayuga County residents could force the measure onto a public ballot. Residents would have 45 days to collect 2,680 signatures asking that the measure be put before all county voters as a ballot proposition; otherwise, it officially goes into effect after the 45-day waiting period.

What to know about visitation at NY nursing homes
  • Updated

Nearly a year after New York banned visitation in nursing homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, indoor visitors will be allowed again. 

During Gov. Andrew Cuomo's telephone briefing Monday, state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker summarized the guidance for resuming in-person visits at nursing homes. COVID-19 tests, especially rapid testing, will play a critical role in allowing visitors to see family members at nursing facilities. 

The nursing home visits can begin on Friday, according to the governor's office. 

The state's guidance focuses on the COVID-19 positivity rate in counties. If the positivity rate is below 5%, there isn't a testing requirement for family members to visit nursing home residents. If the positivity rate is between 5 and 10%, a visitor must have a negative COVID test within 72 hours of their visit. The state Department of Health will provide rapid tests to nursing homes, Zucker confirmed Monday.

Cayuga County COVID-19 testing information

The Cayuga County Health Department, Cayuga County Emergency Management Office and Auburn Community Hospital have been organizing free testing clinics each week, with some targeting asymptomatic individuals and others aimed at people showing COVID-19 symptoms.

If the positivity rate is higher than 10% in a county, no visitation will be permitted unless it's for compassionate care, such as end-of-life scenarios. 

With more New Yorkers receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, they can use proof of the vaccine to visit a family member in a nursing home. Zucker explained that if someone has proof of a completed vaccination — meaning they have received both doses — they can visit a nursing home resident. The final dose of the vaccine must be no less than 14 days from the date of the visit and no more than 90 days before the visit. 

Visitation can occur in resident rooms — something that wasn't permitted for much of the pandemic. An earlier advisory released by the state Department of Health allowed, in certain circumstances, indoor visits. But visits to resident rooms were prohibited. 

The number of visitors in a facility will be capped at 20% of the resident census. 

"We're trying to make sure that we don't overwhelm the nursing homes," Zucker said. 

Nursing homes have been hit hard by the pandemic. There have been more than 13,000 COVID-related deaths involving nursing home residents. The Cuomo administration has drawn criticism for its handling of the outbreaks in nursing homes and the delayed release of data revealing the true number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19. Until recently, the number of residents who died in hospitals wasn't included in the nursing home death toll. 

Until recently, there were limits on visitation at nursing homes. A complicating factor was nursing homes could have visitors if it was COVID-free for at least 14 days. The post-holiday surge in cases led to some outbreaks in nursing homes, which prevented residents from having visitors.