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City & State Coronavirus Update co-sponsored by CMW Strategies

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Candidates’ ad hoc mask approach

When state Sen. Andrew Gounardes resumed door-to-door campaigning in August, he had to come up with best practices for canvassing in the middle of both a heated state Senate race in South Brooklyn and the global pandemic. He decided he and his team of about two dozen volunteers would wear gloves and face coverings, stand six feet back after knocking on doors, never knock on doors of constituents 75 years old or older, and get their temperatures checked daily.

“I basically took the existing guidelines that are out there for just general person-to-person interaction and I tried to add a couple of steps that I thought were just precautionary, like the gloves, like limiting the age of the people that I speak to,” Gounardes said. “There’s not a (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guideline document for political campaigning, but I think that there are some pretty common-sense things that you can do to just protect yourself and other people.”

With no federal mask mandate or best practice guidance available specifically for political candidates going door-to-door during a pandemic, candidates have had to come up with protocols on their own. Some public health experts say stringent protocols for candidates are needed.

In competitive New York races where candidates have been pressed to compete for every last vote and meet voters face-to-face by knocking on doors, approaches to campaigning have varied, including some candidates who have ceased door-to-door canvassing altogether. Read more here.

What else is happening

* Mass gatherings and outdoor dining will resume in areas of Orange County as COVID-19 cases slow in ongoing clusters, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo says that other recently imposed restrictions will remain in place in Brooklyn, Rockland County and Broome County. The percentage of tests coming back positive for the coronavirus is dropping in those areas and statewide, though the number of new cases per 100,000 – another key metric – is now hovering at about 8. The state imposes a two-week quarantine on visitors from states (with some exceptions) that exceed 10 per 100,000. The latest state data shows that the Central New York and Mid-Hudson regions of the state are now above that level. There are nearly 30 new cases per 100,000 people in the Southern Tier.

* Cuomo says that small gatherings are increasingly becoming the primary means by which the virus is spreading across the state. Examples cited by Cuomo include 18 cases from a Western New York wedding, 75 among North Country church-goers, and 22 cases among Long Island birthday revelers. That does not bode well for the upcoming holiday season. “(It’s just) a small Thanksgiving gathering with just 12 members of my extended family,” the governor said while quoting a hypothetical New Yorker. “I know, but that could be dangerous, but that’s just my opinion.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a similar warning Tuesday and SUNY is not allowing students to go home from school until they report negative test results.

* De Blasio is going to allow 40,000 city businesses to use city sidewalks. The new program will run from Oct. 30 until the end of the year, with applications now open according to Gothamist. While some in the business community are still holding out hope for looser public health restrictions at restaurants and gyms, the new Open Storefronts program appears primed to join Open Streets and Open Restaurants as one of the more popular aspects of the city response to the pandemic. “This ambitious new program will usher in some hope for (small businesses’) survival,” the New York City BID Association said in a statement. One outstanding question: what to do about fines accrued by businesses that jumped the gun.

* New Yorkers are still lining up in big numbers five days after early voting began statewide. Long waits are either testimony to a surge in voter fervor or an indictment of the election process itself. De Blasio, who spent a good chunk of Tuesday waiting in line to vote in Brooklyn, has three ideas for improving the elections process by changing the controversy-prone city Board of Elections, but critics will have to settle for some extended early voting hours for now. Fear of getting their mail ballots invalidated appears to be a motivating factor for a not-insignificant amount of people, but when it comes to getting election results out fast, the Empire State at least might be better than some states.

* The state will allow county and city governments to impose mask requirements of their own, Cuomo announced Wednesday. This follows a request by Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who wants to issue an order in schools. More than a third of school districts statewide do not currently have mask requirements in place, according to Spectrum News.

* Commercial tenants at Grand Central Station are getting a break, but subway and bus riders might not be so lucky as members of the board at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority considered at a Wednesday meeting what will happen in the absence of billions in new federal stimulus money. The agency will release two plans this November. One will assume federal help happens. The other will not, which could mean fare hikes, hour-long waits and fewer system improvements. Getting more money from the federal government, however, should not make up for any decreases from the state side, transit activists say. “This means not withholding any funds, and not subjecting MTA dedicated taxes to 20% across-the-board cuts,” reads testimony submitted by Reinvent Albany.

* On November 17th, join us as we host our Virtual Government Procurement Conference! The event will foster business partnerships between the city and state level government, prime contracts and small, minority, service-disabled veteran-owned, and women-owned businesses. How has the coronavirus pandemic affected purchasing and what does the future of procurement look like? Featured speakers include Dan Symon, Chief Procurement Officer, NYC Mayor’s Office of Contract Services; State Sen. James Sanders; Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte; NYC Small Business Services Commissioner Jonnel Doris; and more. Register for free here!

* The SUNY system continues to report low levels of infection across its 64 campuses, leading some activists to wonder why more testing cannot be done in state prisons where COVID-19 is currently surging in some facilities. “New York State’s public college system has administered 11X more COVID-19 tests in two months than NY’s prison system has done during the entire pandemic,” activist Dave George tweeted Wednesday. A Cuomo spokesperson noted that 70% of the 36,000 people incarcerated in state facilities have been tested – a few points above the percentage of New Yorkers at-large. However, prisons are congregate facilities, similar to college and nursing homes, which arguably makes them better comparisons. No additional releases of incarcerated people are planned anytime soon, Cuomo told reporters Wednesday.

* County leaders say they have billions to lose in a federal stimulus-free future. Revenue losses for 62 counties across the state could range from $2 billion to $3 billion this year, according to the New York State Association of Counties. This includes $600 million in state reimbursements and “significant reductions in hotel occupancy tax collections, lower gaming revenues and uncollected fees for services,” reads the latest edition of the NYSAC monthly magazine. Local officials would have to raise property taxes by something like 55% to make up for a potentially 11% total cut in county revenues. “It took time to get through the consequences of the Great Depression, and it will take us all time to get through this pandemic,” Executive Director Stephen Acquario writes.

* Newark, New Jersey is reimposing restrictions on indoor dining, gyms and social gatherings to temper the spread of the coronavirus, which is at unprecedented levels in dozens of states. Things are hardly better overseas as France and Germany get ready to reinstate limited lockdowns. A record 2.8 million new cases have been reported worldwide in the past seven days, according to the World Health Organization. If you think that these increases are just a result of more testing, then you might want to check out this piece by Elemental, which outlines the case against five common forms of “COVID-19 bullshit.”

* The coronavirus continues to hurt low-income people in particular, especially considering just how expensive health care can be. “New Yorkers living below the poverty line have long faced enormous health disparities compared with those with more money in neighborhoods only blocks away,” one nonprofit leader told City Limits following the release of a report outlining how economic distress means fewer vaccinations, doctors visits, prenatal care, and surgeries for households receiving government benefits. Such disparities could grow even more bleak with time, especially considering how COVID-19 “long-haulers” experience sometimes severe symptoms that will require significant treatments in the months, and perhaps years, to come.