| Times Herald-Record
The number of Orange County patients hospitalized with COVID-19 doubled in two weeks. Westchester County reported that more than 2,600 people were diagnosed with the virus in that same time. Ulster County had the most people hospitalized with the virus since the first wave abated in May.
The resurgence of coronavirus cases that began in the Hudson Valley in September has now hardened into a sustained trend, mirroring the increases across New York and nationwide as a second wave takes hold.
The daily counts of newly confirmed cases in the seven-county region rose four days in a row this week, hitting 710 on Wednesday. The Hudson Valley’s seven-day positive test rate that day was 3.2 percent, not as bad as some hard-hit parts of the state but worse than New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio was considering closing all city schools.
Restrictions are starting to reappear as infections return after a summer lull.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose administration has imposed restrictions on targeted areas with case spikes, ordered on Wednesday that all New York restaurants and bars must close by 10 p.m., except for takeout service. He also limited indoor or outdoor gatherings at homes to 10 people, putting a damper on large Thanksgiving get-togethers with extended family.
Orange County Health Commissioner Irina Gelman banned visitors at the county’s nursing homes and hospitals in October after cases began to rise, and ordered that residents of nursing homes and assisted-living centers must quarantine for 14 days any time they leave for a doctor’s appointment or other reason.
The number of people hospitalized in Orange County with confirmed virus cases numbered in single digits for virtually the entire summer, but has been on the ascent since mid-September. The count on Thursday was 66, double the amount reported two weeks earlier.
Five people in Orange County have died from the illness in that same two-week period.
More than 1,100 Orange County residents were diagnosed with COVID-19 in that time. The City of Newburgh leads the county with 134 active cases as of Thursday, followed by the neighboring towns of Newburgh and New Windsor, which had 81 and 80 active cases.
Kiryas Joel, an earlier hot spot, had 44 active cases on Thursday. The state designated the community – also known as the Town of Palm Tree – a virus “red zone” last month after a flood of new cases were diagnosed, but has since downgraded that alert level to orange and then yellow, the least restrictive of the three cluster categories.
The Hudson Valley has three cluster zones. Cuomo announced Friday that an orange zone in the Monsey area of Rockland County had been downgraded to yellow. Kiryas Joel’s yellow zone and a recently established orange zone in the Westchester County village of Port Chester remained intact.
Cases have been rising among high school students, with Halloween parties contributing to that spread. As of Thursday, student infections totaled 24 at Pine Bush High School, 18 at Washingtonville High School and 17 at the Newburgh Free Academy, according to the state’s school COVID-19 tracker.
Some districts closed schools and reverted to fully remote instruction in response to the recent cases. Pine Bush canceled in-school instruction for the rest of November for grades seven through 12 after the first 10 high school students who attended parties the prior weekend tested positive.
In an online message to the district, Donna Geidel, the acting Pine Bush superintendent, lamented reports that students had attended parties without masks, saying such behavior endangers others, disrupts in-person schooling and could lead to community spread. She urged safe practices and voiced concern that some families concealed positive cases – “which puts our whole community at risk.”
Administrators closed Monroe-Woodbury High School on Friday after three students tested positive and 32 staff members were quarantined. They planned to reopen the school on Nov. 20.
Westchester, the most populous county in the region, had more than 2,600 newly confirmed cases over two weeks. Rockland County had 1,100 active cases as of Thursday, while Dutchess County had 418 and Sullivan County – the smallest in the region – had 100.
Ulster had 337 active cases as of Wednesday, up by 78 in two weeks and enough for County Executive Pat Ryan to warn that the county had entered a second wave and urge safe practices. He said active cases had reached their highest level since mid-June and the hospitalization rate was at its highest since May.
“This is a make-or-break moment for us as a county and a community,” Ryan said. “We have a chance to remain proactive and blunt a much more significant second wave, but it will require all of us to continue to social distance, wear masks, and take all precautions necessary.”
Hospitalizations have climbed throughout the region. As of Wednesday, 238 COVID-19 patients in the seven counties were in hospitals, the highest total since June 10. Thirty-four were being treated in intensive-care units for severe symptoms.
Hospital cases remain a fraction of what they reached in the spring, when COVID-19 patients were filling emergency rooms and intensive-care units. The 66 Orange County residents hospitalized now are less than a third of the 237 hospital patients on April 14 at the peak of the initial outbreak.
If another surge occurs, the region’s hospitals already have state-mandated plans in place to add hundreds of beds for COVID-19 patients.
In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered hospitals across the state to find ways to increase their capacity by 50 percent. Garnet Health, for instance, drafted plans to add 180 beds for its Town of Wallkill hospital, formerly known as Orange Regional Medical Center, and 45 beds at the former Catskill Regional Medical Center in Sullivan County.