Coronavirus Update, April 8, 2020

It was announced Wednesday that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, All New York residents will be able to vote absentee on the June 23rd primaries. This comes as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also directed the Department of Labor to make $600 in additional weekly unemployment benefits available, and extend the period of time covered by unemployment benefits for another 13 weeks.

New York State now has over 149,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the state department of health. There are 5 confirmed cases of the virus in Schuyler County. In Tompkins County, there are 105 confirmed cases of COVID-19. According to the county health department, 73 of those cases have since seen resolved symptoms. In total, Tompkins County has conducted over 2200 tests for the virus.

A number of homeless people living in the encampment known as “The Jungle” have been given another week to move off city land needed for a flood control project. The land, which lies between the inlet to Cayuga Lake and strip malls, is low-lying and prone to flooding. According to WSKG, it will be used for a New York State dredging effort to prevent flooding. 

When Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick agreed to let the state use it as part of the dredging project a few years ago, he said no one was living there. However, according to WSKG, there are about a dozen homeless people living in the area. The project was supposed to start last Monday, but the mayor and a housing advocate were able to reach a compromise before the residents of the land were evicted. 

Myrick said that they were working with city and county outreach workers and the people in The Jungle to get voluntary compliance. The homeless had been offered space in local shelters, but most have chosen to stay close by, with the help of volunteers who are helping set up shelters and move their belongings. 

The Ithaca Festival is being postponed to late summer, according to organizers of the iconic community event. 14850 magazine says the festival usually takes place in late spring, but is being rescheduled to the weekend of August 27th - 30th due to the current social distancing recommendations extending past the original festival date.

Festival organizers are asking anyone who already applied to perform or to be a vendor for the original event to email them at to confirm that they’re available for the new August dates.

Prisoner advocates are asking that Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to take steps to halt the spread of coronavirus in prisons. They are proposing that inmates be allowed to use personal tablets to communicate with their loved ones, according to the Auburn Citizen. 

Nicholas Zimmerman, an inmate at the Auburn prison, made the request in an audio message addressed to the DOCCS and Governor Andrew Cuomo. He pointed out that these changes would be important to prisoners who have been affected by the ban on all visitations put in place amidst the pandemic. 

Currently, every inmate at the Auburn prison is provided with an electronic tablet to give them access to books and music. However, these tablets are not hooked up to the internet, and inmates have to use shared telephones and computers in order to communicate with loved ones and others outside the prison. As Zimmerman points out, the use of shared equipment increases the possibility of spreading the virus inside the facility. 

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision currently provides inmates with five free stamps for letters, two free secure messages on their electronic tables and one free phone call every week. Zimmerman is asking this to be increased to one half hour of phone calls, five emails and two FaceTime calls. 

The DOCCS told the Auburn Citizen that it continues to evaluate all options as the pandemic develops.

Here’s some spirit-lifting news for you: almost 40 distilleries in New York state have stepped in to produce much-needed hand sanitizer, with the help of Cornell University. Chris Gerling, the senior extension associate in food science Cornell Agritech is helping distilleries find sanitizer ingredients, affordable packaging and make supply chain connections to help ease the process of creating the product.

Other distilleries have stepped up to help combat the shortage of hand sanitizer. This includes Five and 20 Spirits and Brewing in Westfield, New York. According to the Cornell Chronicle, Five and 20 has supplied 600 to 700 gallons of sanitizer to local hospitals, nursing homes, police departments and Meals on Wheels programs.

Contributing writing by WRFI News Volunteer Ed von Aderkas and WRFI News Intern Christian Maitre