The Tompkins County Health Department is reporting a number of potential public exposures to COVID-19 on TCAT, Routes 40, 43, and 53. The various exposures were in a rider, and occurred  January 15 - 18.

You can review the specific days and times of the COVID exposure on TCAT, Routes 40, 43, and 53 on the Tompkins County Health Department website under “public exposures”.  The health department recommends anyone who may have been exposed to the virus to monitor their health for any COVID-19 symptoms.

Now we’ll take a look at the local COVID-19 caseload. The number of hospitalizations in Tompkins due to complications from the virus are at 18 as of yesterday According to the Tompkins County health department, as of the time of our 6 p.m. broadcast there are 273 active cases of COVID-19. Yesterday there were an additional 51 positive cases and 39 people released from quarantine.

In Schuyler County, today there were 7 new cases of COVID-19 reported. 54 active cases remain, according to their Health Department. 10 people are hospitalized due to the virus.

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COVID infections and deaths from the virus have spiked in New York prisons, according to the Ithaca Journal.

Positive cases among the incarcerated jumped from 1800 to 3100 in December, and continued to climb to roughly 4000 by mid-January. Of the 29 COVID-related inmate deaths, 11 have occurred since the beginning of December.

New York state’s prison system houses roughly 38,000 inmates. While the general New York population has a 6.5 percent positivity rate, the rate for New York prisons currently stands at 16.5 percent. More than half of New York’s prison systems are reporting outbreaks of coronavirus, with the highest positivity rates ranging between 51% to 45%.

Incarcerated individuals are speaking out about the conditions that make the facilities a petri dish for infection - including a lack of personal protective gear, lack of social distancing, proper education about the virus, and some correctional officers showing disregard for mask-wearing.

State officials and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervisions (DOCCS) defend their response by pointing out the actions they have taken, including shutting down visitation, suspending the intake of individuals from county jails, and slowing down movement within the system.

However, anecdotal stories from inmates along with data provided by DOCCS shows that the response has been inadequate. Advocates are calling for an increase in early release programs, mass testing, and vaccinating the incarcerated.

More than 3,300 state correctional officers have tested positive for coronavirus and at least six have died. Correctional officers are now eligible for the vaccine.

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For the first time, Governor Andrew Cuomo has outlined two different annual budget proposals highlighting New York’s need for federal government aid.

According to the Albany Times Union, the first proposal includes raising taxes, delaying projects, and heavy state borrowing, burdening future generations. The second proposal includes the restoration of delayed funds, lower taxes on the middle class, new housing construction, and help for small businesses.

The correct future state budget depends on how much aid New York will receive from the federal government. In the last 10 months, Cuomo has repeatedly accused Washington of quote, “negligence”, unquote, in their handling of Covid-19, and believes they should bear the financial responsibility for the effects it has had on New York.

The first budget proposal is called the “worst case scenario” and includes $6 billion in federal aid, while the second proposal is called the “fair funding scenario” with New York receiving $15 billion - enough to fill the budget gap.

President Biden’s “American Rescue Package” is a $1.9 trilliion proposal which includes $350 billion in state and local aid. Cuomo is threatening to sue the Biden administration if New York does not receive $15 billion. The real worst case scenario is if the proposal doesn’t pass and no further aid comes from the federal government, although such a scenario is unlikely with Democrats controlling both the House and Senate.

Both budget plans include the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults and the expansion of online sports betting.

Contributing writing by WRFI News Director Michayla Savitt and WRFI Volunteer Susan Fortson-Eginton