New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens and bowling alleys. A look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.
Here's the latest:
New York state officials plan to apply for federal emergency funds to extend weekly extra unemployment payments of $300, officials said Friday. But those who qualify may not get those funds until next month.
After the federal pandemic unemployment payments of $600 ran out July 31st, the Republican-controlled Senate failed to negotiate an extension, leaving states to figure out how to aid their residents in the midst of record unemployment.
The new program overhauls the previous Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, replacing it with a new one called Lost Wages Assistance.
The state Labor Department will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to direct up to $44 billion in emergency disaster relief funds to states via grant agreements. The $300 payments will supplement existing unemployment benefits.
President Donald Trump had announced an executive order on August 8th that would have required additional state contributions of $100 weekly per claimant for states to get federal unemployment aid, but now the federal government has eliminated that requirement.
"Now that the federal government has blinked and will no longer make states provide funding they do not have, New York State will apply for the Lost Wages Assistance program,” said state budget director Robert Mujica in a statement Friday. “As Governor Cuomo has said, politics does not impact policy -- especially during a pandemic -- and if New Yorkers are in need, this administration will do everything we can to support them. But make no mistake, this does not absolve Washington from doing its job, and they must pass a comprehensive aid package that provides a stable extension of unemployment benefits, repeals the SALT cap and supports local and state governments. Anything else would simply be unacceptable."
The new funds will not go to everyone, including those receiving the smallest benefits of less than $100 a week, such as part-time workers. The New York Times reported: “Only people who qualify to receive at least $100 in unemployment benefits each week — either through the regular state program or a federal pandemic assistance program — are eligible for the extra federal funds.”
Getting the money from the federal government to people's bank accounts could take until at least September. Many state labor departments, including New York's, used antiquated systems that buckled under the early waves of applications from those who lost work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, delaying funds.
The extension is also likely to be short-lived; the $44 billion in FEMA funds are projected to cover four or five weeks of payments to unemployed workers who are eligible, the Times said.
As NY Reports Record-Low For COVID Positivity Rates Statewide, More Bars Hit With Violations
11 a.m. Positivity rates for COVID-19 remained below one percent for a 15th straight day even as bars in New York City continue to get hit with violations for not enforcing social distancing guidelines, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced.
The state reported rates at 0.69%, marking the lowest positivity rate across New York since the pandemic began, even as health officials continue testing at much higher numbers. Friday still saw new COVID-19 at 653 across 42 counties, bringing the statewide total to 429,165.
“This shows that protecting public health and reopening our economy aren't mutually exclusive if done the right way, and record-high testing doesn't equal more positive test,” said Cuomo in a statement. “New Yorkers have driven this recovery and I urge everyone to stay New York Tough—wear masks, socially distance and stay disciplined. This thing isn't over yet."
Hospitalization rates dropped to 483, the lowest since March 16th, while the number of patients in ICUs fell to 116, the lowest since March 15th. But there were still four deaths in the state, with one death in Queens.
The news comes amid State Police and the State Liquor Authority’s continued crackdown on bars that don’t enforce social distancing guidelines. On Friday, six bars in Manhattan and one in Queens were hit with violations. Another establishment in Long Island was also cited.
COVID Cases Emerge After Massive Sturgis, South Dakota Motorcycle Rally
11 a.m.: A week after a motorcycle rally drew around 365,000 attendees from across the country to Sturgis, South Dakota, health officials have linked dozens of coronavirus cases to that event.
South Dakota, which has a population of about 885,000 (in relation, Staten Island has around 476,000 residents, while Manhattan has 1.6 million), never had a stay-at-home order during the pandemic, in spite of an early outbreak at a meat processing plant. Its governor, Republican Kristi Noem, has, as CBS News reported, "cast doubt on a broad consensus in the medical community, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that wearing a mask could prevent the spread of the coronavirus, saying there is 'very mixed research and the science has not proven what's effective and what isn't.'"
The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ran from August 7th through August 16th, and while masks were encouraged, they were not required. An AP reporter spotted "fewer than 10 in a crowd of thousands over a period of several hours." One t-shirt sold said, "Screw COVID. I went to Sturgis." Photographs and videos showed crowds without masks and not social distancing at numerous events, including a Smash Mouth concert:
According to the NY Times, "Health experts say the coronavirus is less likely to spread outdoors, especially when people wear masks and socially distance. But large gatherings like the motorcycle rally also increase the number of visitors inside restaurants and stores. A few businesses in Sturgis put up signs limiting the number of customers who could enter, but most did not post such notices."
Fifteen Minnesota residents who attended the rally have tested positive for COVID-19. The Star-Tribune reports, "The Minnesota Department of Health received the first case report on Thursday and 14 more case reports on Friday, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s director of infectious diseases, during a briefing Friday with reporters. Minnesotans who tested positive visited multiple campgrounds and bars at the South Dakota event, Ehresmann said, so cases apparently can’t be connected to any one location. Seven residents of North Dakota also have cases connected to the Sturgis event, a government spokesman told the Star Tribune."
South Dakota health authorities have said that "a bar patron who tested positive for COVID-19 may have transmitted the virus to other customers at the One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon on Aug. 11" and "a person who worked at a tattoo shop in Sturgis had tested positive for the virus and could have exposed people to the virus last week," the Hill reports.
Earlier this week, the Washington Post asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, "Does it drive you nuts when you see photos of people crowded outside, like at the beach or a motorcycle rally? Does it make your blood boil?" The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases replied, "The answer... is yes. But my blood evaporates when I see people indoors in a bar or in a crowded area. It’s worse being indoors in a crowd without a mask, with poor ventilation, because outdoors is always better than indoors."
Currently, New York State requires anyone visiting or returning from South Dakota to quarantine for 14 days.