Weekday top 5: Coronavirus in Cayuga County, Auburn-area businesses affected, Cuomo eyes workforce limits
The Citizen staff
The Citizen's top five most-read stories of the work week.
Cayuga County has first confirmed case of coronavirus
AUBURN — A man who traveled to Cayuga County tested positive for the novel coronavirus — the first confirmed case in the county as the respiratory illness continues to spread across the state.
Kathleen Cuddy, director of the Cayuga County Health Department, said Wednesday that a man in his early 30s became ill and was screened by a health care professional on Saturday. He was tested for the coronavirus and placed under mandatory quarantine.
The health department was informed of the positive test result on Wednesday. The man is recovering and remains in mandatory isolation, Cuddy said.
Because the man isn't from Cayuga County, Cuddy explained that the health department needed to find "an appropriate place for the person to stay." The agency is also investigating to determine any contacts he had who may need to be quarantined and tested for the virus.
As COVID-19 spread across the state, there were reports of confirmed cases in surrounding counties. At least one Cayuga County resident who traveled to a high-risk country tested negative for the coronavirus.
The symptoms of COVID-19 include a cough, fever and shortness of breath. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of the people who contract the virus will experience mild symptoms and recover. The groups vulnerable to serious illness include seniors and individuals with chronic health conditions.
Until Wednesday, the coronavirus wasn't confirmed in Cayuga County. But in the two weeks since the first positive result in New York, the health department worked with other local government agencies to be ready for any confirmed cases.
"We are much more prepared and we have certainly learned from our colleagues around the state and our nation as well," Cuddy said.
Cuddy acknowledged that the first confirmed case of the coronavirus may cause anxiety for some Cayuga County residents. She urged them to practice social distancing, stay home and avoid public areas.
Cayuga County Legislature Chairwoman Aileen McNabb-Coleman, who declared a state of emergency and closed public schools on Saturday, also emphasized the need to practice social distancing.
"We understand that this has been and will continue to be difficult," she said. "But despite these trying times, it is important that we come together as a community, to support each other and not let the fear consume us. Above all, we need to remain calm, make sensible choices and protect ourselves and our community members."
McNabb-Coleman said she will sign an order Thursday morning to limit people from accessing the county office building. The county has already reduced its workforce — Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed local governments to reduce their workforce by 50% and allow nonessential employees to work from home — and any employees with underlying health conditions were sent home.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there are 2,382 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York state. The number is rising because the state's testing capacity has increased. Between Cuomo's press conference on Tuesday and his Wednesday briefing, there were 4,482 people tested for COVID-19.
With the increase in testing, the number of confirmed cases rose by 73% in a 24-hour period. There are 549 people who have been hospitalized and 108 people who have recovered after contracting the virus.
Before Cayuga County's announcement, there were confirmed cases in 33 counties and New York City.
"We wish there wasn't illness in our community," Cuddy said. "We always want people to have good health. That's what we do. We're about prevention. But we did anticipate this would occur. We are as prepared as any other community around us would be."
As state ban takes effect, Auburn-area businesses face uncertain future
New York state's ban on certain businesses during the coronavirus pandemic is less than a day old, but many in the Auburn area are already bracing for impact as they try to adapt.
The ban, announced early Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and enacted at 8 that night, applies to movie theaters, gyms and casinos outright. Bars and restaurants are limited to takeout services.
Businesses and other spaces not covered by the ban, including social gatherings, are limited to a capacity of 50 people.
Before the ban, gatherings of more than 500 people were prohibited and spaces with capacities of less than 500 were limited to 50% of that number. The state announced that rule Friday, and enacted it that night. Auburn Fire Department Duty Chief Mike Grady said Monday that the department made only one visit to enforce the capacity rule last weekend, to Parker's Grille & Tap House, and no penalty was issued.
Grady said he expects most businesses will voluntarily comply with the state's efforts to enforce social distancing in order to slow the pandemic.
"It's going to be difficult for everybody, but as long as we're all doing what we're supposed to be doing, we'll get through it," he said.
Monday, as the new ban was about to take effect, several Auburn bars and restaurants announced takeout and/or delivery services on social media, including Hunter Dinerant, Balloons, Kosta's and Gusto Italiano. All Cayuga County breweries and at least some wineries are offering takeout beverage sales as well. And chains with Auburn locations are doing the same through services like DoorDash and Uber Eats.
Other affected businesses are addressing the ban more creatively. For instance, Auburn Public Theater, which had to cancel or postpone all its programming for the next month at least, is livestreaming its Tuesday Nite Mic on Facebook Live tonight. And those with subscriptions to the Auburn location of Planet Fitness can now livestream free workout classes from their homes.
However, not every affected business in the area can keep its doors open. And one of them, Moondog's Lounge owner Lynn Stillman, is trying to anticipate the ripple effects of being closed for the near future.
Stillman said she closed the downtown Auburn bar and live music venue during the state's ban because while Moondog's serves food, that's not what drives business there.
Though Stillman also teaches at Casey Park Elementary for a living, she still doesn't expect Moondog's to survive more than a month without being open. She not only has to continue paying back loans she obtained to open the business, but also utility bills and rent to the building's owner, R&M Real Estate. Businesses also have to pay their New York state sales tax by March 20, she noted.
Stillman is hopeful the state will provide some sort of relief or extension on the sales tax. And like many, she's waiting to see what forms of assistance the government may provide to people and businesses as life effectively grinds to a halt during the pandemic. But she understands that she can't just stop paying people like R&M, she said, because they have bills to pay, too.
"It's a domino effect for everyone," she said. "I have sales tax money for the 20th, but then I won't have money to pay my vendors or my lease."
At Moondog's, that domino effect will hit a few people, Stillman said. She has four employees she can't pay. Tuesday, before she spoke to The Citizen, she had to send away her beer and liquor vendors with no business. And then there are the musicians. While many who perform at Moondog's and elsewhere in Auburn have day jobs, many others rely on the money they make from regular gigs, Stillman said.
Stillman said she hopes that when downtown Auburn is fully open for business again, it celebrates with an event like the music festival for Art Wenzel that packed the streets in 2016.
"We need a celebration like that whenever we get through this to boost downtown," she said. "If people follow the directives, we can get this under control as soon as possible."
LIST: Cayuga County-area takeout, delivery, outdoor options during COVID-19
Below is a list of restaurants, bars and craft beverage producers in the Cayuga County area that are offering takeout and delivery services.
Notes: This list is updated regularly. Chain or franchise restaurants will be added by request. Additional delivery options through services like Uber Eats and DoorDash may also be available. To learn more about that, as well as hours of operation, menus and more, contact information for each business has been included below. If you have a business to add, or an edit to make, please email email@example.com.
3 Leaf Tea, 16 Genesee St., Auburn. Full menu for takeout. Call (315) 255-1022 or visit threeleaftea.com.
Angelo's Pizza, 25 E. Genesee St., Auburn. Food for takeout and delivery. Call (315) 252-7911.
Auburn Diner, 64 Columbus St., Auburn. Food for takeout and delivery. Call (315) 253-7375 or find the diner on Facebook.
Auburn Poultry and Barbecue, 11 York St., Auburn. Food for takeout. Call (315) 253-9705, visit auburnpoultry.com or find the business on Facebook.
Balloons Restaurant, 67 Washington St., Auburn. Food for takeout, delivery and curbside pickup. Call (315) 252-9761 or visit balloonsrestaurant.net.
Nino's Pizzeria, 8889 S. Seneca St., Weedsport. Food for takeout and delivery. Call (315) 834-6756.
Cuomo to NY businesses: 'Aggressively consider' closing due to coronavirus
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is asking New York businesses to allow employees to work from home and to consider voluntarily closing due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Cuomo said Sunday that he's had conversations with private businesses about efforts to reduce density — one part of the strategy to reduce the spread of the virus that's sickened at least 700 New Yorkers.
Other states and municipalities have ordered businesses to close due to the outbreak. So far, New York hasn't directed businesses to temporarily shut down.
"Depending on what businesses do, we could consider mandatory actions later on," Cuomo said.
The state has already banned mass gatherings of 500 people or more. Businesses with capacities of less than 500 are subject to an order requiring them to cut their maximum occupancy by 50%.
The governor directed nonessential state personnel in downstate New York — including and south of Rockland County — to work from home. That area is being targeted because it's where the most cases have been reported.
Coronavirus is also affecting the state court system. While essential services will be available, nonessential actions will be postponed.
As several counties declare states of emergency and close schools, Cuomo repeated his stance that it's "not easy" to temporarily shutter schools. His main concern is that a statewide action would create a childcare crisis for families. He also worries that if schools close, healthcare workers would need to stay at home to watch their children.
"Address the negatives of closing the schools, then yes, close the schools," he said.
Federal, state and local officials hope to limit the spread of the virus. So far, New York has 729 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. There are 137 people who have been hospitalized after contracting the virus.
As of Sunday, New York has the most confirmed cases in the country. More than 3,100 cases and over 60 deaths have been reported in the U.S.
Cuomo mandates NY businesses keep some workers at home during coronavirus outbreak
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is mandating businesses to keep at least half of their workforces at home in an attempt to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Cuomo on Wednesday issued an executive order to require that no more than 50% of a company's employees can report for work outside of their homes. Essential services, such as banks, grocery and food production, healthcare providers, media, pharmacies, shipping, warehousing and utilities, are exempt from the mandate.
The order takes effect on Friday, March 20.
There has already been a statewide shutdown of casinos, gyms and movie theaters. Bars and restaurants are closed for dine-in customers, but can be open for carryout and delivery services.
At a press conference in Albany, Cuomo acknowledged the effect of the coronavirus outbreak on the national and state economies. However, he believes the focus needs to be on the growing public health crisis.
"Once we get past that, then we'll deal with the economic crisis," he said.
The latest executive action comes as confirmed coronavirus cases in New York increased by 73% and the number of hospitalizations doubled since Tuesday. The spike in confirmed cases is largely due to the testing being conducted by state and private laboratories.
Between the governor's last update Tuesday and the press briefing Wednesday, New York labs tested 4,482 people. Since the start started testing for the coronavirus, samples have been collected from 14,597 people.
With a rise in hospitalizations, hospital capacity remains a concern. New York has 53,000 hospital beds and 3,000 beds in intensive care units. Cuomo on Tuesday revealed projections that show COVID-19 won't peak in New York for another 45 days and as many as 110,000 beds and 37,000 ICU beds will be needed to care for the patients who contract the virus.
Cuomo said he had a phone call with hospital administrators on Tuesday and the state is waiving health department regulations. Temporarily halting the regulations will allow the hospitals to expand capacity. The state is also seeking to add medical staff, including asking retired doctors and nurses to temporarily return to work.
The federal government is assisting the state with its plan to expand hospital capacity. Cuomo said he had a conversation with President Donald Trump about the state's needs.
Trump is sending the USNS Comfort, a U.S. Navy hospital ship, to New York. After requesting the Army Corps of Engineers' help with setting up temporary hospitals, Cuomo said he will meet with the agency Wednesday. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also providing assistance to the state.
"We can't build new hospitals in 45 days," Cuomo said. "The federal government can be extremely helpful here, and we need the federal government's help."