Coronavirus Update, April 23, 2020

At the New York Governor’s daily press conference Thursday, Governor Cuomo spoke to some of the initial results of state-wide antibody testing, which began this week. 13.9% of the 3,000 people whose blood was tested were found to have antibodies with COVID-19. The Times-Union reports that this data shows that the COVID-19 infection rate across New York is about 13.9%. 

Cuomo says that this week’s sampling is just a small portion of New York’s population, but changes the theories of the death rate of the disease. Cuomo notes that the rate of fatalities is closer to 0.5%, and doesn’t include people who died at home and not initially counted as having caught COVID-19. Tests were given by the State Department of Health, and collected at random around the state.

The Governor also announced a new collaboration with the New York Attorney General today to make sure all nursing homes follow state and federal guidelines in handling the virus.

As of Thursday New York State has over 263,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the state department of health. There are no new confirmed cases of the virus in Schuyler County, and according to health department officials only 9 positive cases have been detected in the county, and all have recovered. 361 people have been tested in total.  There are 5 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 In Tompkins County, bringing the total to 129. According to the county health department, 94 of those cases have since seen resolved symptoms. Over 3000 people have been tested in total.

City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick says that he will propose that Common Council approve a furlough of approximately 25 percent of the city workforce, the Ithaca Times reports.  In an email to city workers Thursday, the Mayor notes that he believes that the furloughs will be temporary and not result in permanent layoffs.

Furloughed employees would continue to receive health insurance benefits, access to the employee assistance program, and workers would be able to retain sick and paid leave days.

Myrick emphasizes that this measure was necessary, given that the city has received no direct federal stimulus funds. He wrote on Twitter Tuesday that he is disappointed that Congressman Tom Reed did not fight for the city to receive funds from the CARES Act.

The City of Ithaca, like many other municipalities across the nation, relies on sales and property taxes for much of its revenue.  Due to the closure of local businesses and the absence of college students, the city expects its revenue stream to be short $4 to $13 million dollars this year.

Mayor Myrick in his email details that the city spends $560,000 per week on payroll, and that if it can reduce some of that amount, the city will be able to weather the COVID-19 crisis more easily.  He indicates that he will be donating 10 percent of his yearly salary back to the city.

Cornell University’s Tech and Ithaca campuses are expected to lose hundreds of millions of dollars due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. President of Cornell Martha Pollack released a statement saying that the losses are estimated to be between $160 to $210 million dollars.

The University is uncertain when it will be able to resume regular on-campus activities.

Pollack acknowledges that huge financial pressures are being exerted on the University.  One is the growing need to provide financial aid to students whose families are being affected by the pandemic; the other is a decrease in the University’s regular sources of income.

President Pollack has suggested that reactivating campus for the Fall semester will require even more complicated logistics than went into shutting down the campus. Multiple committees on reactivating campus have considered many different scenarios. These include bringing back students in late August and having the campus open gradually over the course of a few weeks. 

In other higher ed news, Cornell has received a grant of $12.8 million from the CARES Act, according to the Ithaca Voice. Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina says that all of the CARES funds will be used to support Cornell’s students. 

At least 50% of the money must be used as emergency financial aid grants to help students cover expenses from the disruption of campus operations from the novel coronavirus. 

Malina says Cornell is anticipating an over $100 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year because of the pandemic. The University is shrinking its budget, including a freeze on hiring, salary increases, university-related business travel and non-essential construction projects. Additionally, the University cannot simply draw on its endowment to provide sustaining funds during the crisis.  There are limits on how much of its $7.3 billion endowment can be used at one time. 

Ithaca’s Small Business Resilience Fund has received an “enthusiastic” response, after applications were opened on April 15th, according to the Ithaca Times. The fund was designed to help small businesses with less than 25 employees stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new program was originally set to total at $390,000 with Cornell donating $100,000. It accrues zero percent interest and the loan is entirely forgiven if a business remains open on December 1st, 2020.

Some people reached out to the city to ask if they could donate to the fund instead of applying for the loan. Alternatives Federal Credit Union created an online page where people could donate to the fund. So far, the community has donated $1,700 to the fund.

Food pantries and soup kitchens are seeing more patrons as local residents are affected by job layoffs and furloughs due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tompkins Weekly reports that as food insecurity grows due to the pandemic, increasing numbers of patrons, including single people and families, are finding that they need to partake in food-related social services.

Monika Roth is an agricultural specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, or CCE-Tompkins.  She says that there are many new people coming into the system because they have lost their jobs, and are figuring out how to get food if they have no income.

At the same time, there are stresses on those who are working in the food system.  Baz Perry, equitable food systems coordinator at CCE-Tompkins, states that food service personnel have to now look at health and safety, learn about new distribution chains and examine more equitable ways to distribute food.

At their regular meeting Tuesday, the Tompkins County legislature unanimously passed a resolution urging New York State to return enhanced federal Medicaid matching funds related to the Affordable Care Act. Legislator Shawna Black of the Town of Ithaca introduced the resolution.

A press release from the county legislature indicates that the state has held the matching funds for over three years.  The payments, when released, would go to counties across the state, as well as New York City.   

The legislature also voted on a resolution to urge the New York State legislature to suspend rent payments for certain tenants and mortgage payments for certain landlords.  The vote was approved 9 to 5 and moved to the Housing and Economic Development committee for further discussion.

Contributing writing by WRFI News Volunteers Esther Racoosin, Tessie Devlin, News Intern Christian Maitre, and News Director Michayla Savitt