Albany Times Union. June 4, 2021.
Editorial: An institutional problem
COVID-19 vaccination rates remain low among staff in the state’s prisons and institutions for people with disabilities.
It’s a potentially dangerous situation both inside these facilities and in the communities these employees live in.
People living in congregate settings like state prisons or group homes have endured the COVID-19 year with fewer resources and greater risks. The close quarters, limited options for maintaining hygiene, and slow rollout of vaccines to inmates and residents made them more vulnerable.
Even as the rest of us look ahead to easing restrictions, their uncertainty continues. One factor: Too many of the workers who guard and care for them aren’t getting vaccinated. That lapse in responsibility falls, ultimately, on the state.
As the Times Union’s Rick Karlin reports, only about 26% of people working in New York’s prisons have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Among those working in residential facilities operated or certified by the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, it’s 31%.
That means three-quarters of prison staff, or two-thirds of OPWDD center workers, could be bringing the virus into their facilities — or bringing it home from work and into their families and communities.
This isn’t just a New York issue. An Associated Press/Marshall Project study released in March found that corrections officers around the country are refusing vaccinations “at alarming rates.” Many frame it as an issue of freedom or personal choice. On the flip side of that coin, of course, are the inmates who have no choice but to interact with prison staff.
Since inmates’ access to vaccines is more limited — no walk-in or pop-up community clinics for them — staff members have an even greater responsibility to keep the virus at bay.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision says that by now all inmates have had a chance to get the vaccine, though only 36 percent have done so. That effort — which started much too slowly — must continue, and at an accelerated pace. And the inoculation campaign must include health counseling and education to address vaccine hesitancy.
The same goes for guards. Last year, the corrections union NYSCOPBA pushed hard to protect its members from COVID risk, calling for policies such as restricting prison visitation and nonessential transfers of inmates. NYSCOPBA should push just as hard now to urge its members to take the best available measure to protect themselves against COVID — getting vaccinated. That example might, in turn, help persuade hesitant or distrustful inmates to get the vaccine.
The state, too, should be actively promoting, even incentivizing, inoculations for workers in residential facilities. And if that doesn’t get staffers vaccinated, then it’s time to discuss making inoculation a condition of employment, pending the vaccines’ full approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration. Because ultimately, workers have a responsibility to protect the people in their care — and the state has a responsibility to make sure they do.
Advance Media New York. June 4, 2021.
Editorial: Open up high school graduations, US-Canada border
What do New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have in common — aside from 445 miles of border? Both leaders were much better at closing things down to stop Covid-19 than they are at opening them up.
New York state’s latest reopening conundrum affects high school graduations. While thousands of vaccinated fans can gather indoors for a Knicks basketball game, and tens of thousands can sit outdoors for a Yankees baseball game, high schools still must follow strict capacity and social distancing requirements for graduations. This is in addition to requiring masks and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
The graduation rules, issued in April, are out of step with the progress we’ve made to stop the spread of coronavirus. Statewide, the positivity rate last week was well below 1%, and more than half of the population had received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.
“There are mixed messages,’′ Fayetteville-Manlius Superintendent Craig Tice told staff writer Elizabeth Doran. “It’s confusing for the public because there’s one set of rules for school events and another set of rules for other events. We’d like it to be uniform.”
The state Health Department can’t or won’t explain that lack of uniformity. That’s inexcusable. The stricter rules for graduations are frustrating for administrators, families and, most of all, the graduates. They’ve earned a “normal” commencement after putting up with so many restrictions during their senior year. The Cuomo administration ought to cut them a break.
Meanwhile, the northern border will have been closed to land traffic for 15 months on June 21, with some exceptions for essential workers and goods. Trudeau said Canada won’t be rushed to reopen the border. “We’re on the right path, but we’ll make our decisions based on the interests of Canadians and not based on what other countries want,” he told reporters last week.
The Biden administration is coming under intense pressure from Congress to negotiate with Canada to allow vaccinated Americans to cross the border for any reason.
“For more than a year, Americans and Canadians have endured separation from their families, friends and property in response to the public health crisis,” U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and two Liberal members of Parliament wrote in a joint news release. “It is time for our governments to listen to the experts.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, has been calling for the border to reopen to vaccinated travelers for months. “New York is opening up, but the border is not,” Schumer told Washington reporter Mark Weiner in early May. “We all know how important the northern border is to our economy.”
North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, called on the Department of Homeland Security to “unilaterally” ease border restrictions. It’s not clear to us how that would prevent Canadian authorities from simply turning away Americans trying to cross the border, but making a fuss about it signals growing impatience at Canada’s intransigence.
Trudeau wants 75% of Canadians to be vaccinated before easing travel restrictions — a high bar to reach by June 21. Currently, 50% of the Canadian population has received at least one dose; only 4.61% of Canadians are fully vaccinated.
And yet: There’s talk of Canada allowing National Hockey League teams to go back and forth across the border for the Stanley Cup playoffs. If hockey players can cross, so can vaccinated Americans seeking to reunite with family, check on vacation properties, attend school or travel for any other legitimate purpose. Let’s get cross-border traffic moving again.
Auburn Citizen. June 6, 2021.
Editorial: NY group homes deserve better support
About 40,000 New Yorkers live in group residences that are overseen by the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities in communities throughout the state, including Cayuga County. The supervised housing provides a valuable service for people with development and intellectual disabilities, giving them support to live quality lives with some independence.
But the group home system in New York state appears to be crumbling, and New York state’s neglect is a primary reason for the trouble.
At a state Senate committee roundtable discussion last week, advocates for group home residents and staff provided about three hours of testimony that brought to light major issues with COVID-19 protocols. These homes have struggled badly to acquire protective gear, and residents and staff have been put at greater risk by lax state virus testing protocols. At the same time, inadequate state funding for group home programs has contributed to an emerging staffing crisis driven by the low wages for many people who work in these homes.
Though it has not received the same level of government and media attention as the impact of COVID-19 in nursing homes, the data for group homes is certainly disturbing. About 7,100 group home residents in New York, or 18% of the total population living in those facilities, have tested positive for the virus. There have been at least 577 deaths, too, though the number is certainly higher because it doesn’t include group home residents who died in hospitals (yes, that sounds eerily familiar to the lack of transparent data from the state on nursing home deaths for all of 2020).
We hope last week’s roundtable discussion, which was overseen by state Sen. John Mannion, chair of the Senate Disabilities Committee, leads to some concrete changes by the state to improve care quality for this vulnerable population of New Yorkers, and also to create better working conditions and pay for the workers on the frontlines of this system.
Newsday. June 7, 2021.
Editorial: Time to ease permit backlog
It all starts with a permit.
Building a new house. Adding a swimming pool out back, or a bedroom on the side. Erecting a garage or constructing a deck.
Such activity has a tremendous impact on Long Island’s economy, by adding jobs, redeveloping land and boosting many of our key industries, from retail to finance to real estate. That’s particularly important now as we head into summer, a season we hope will bring rebound and recovery.
But that could be stymied if Long Island’s towns, cities and villages cannot appropriately and quickly process the building permits required to start the work. And right now, that effort is severely backlogged, with some towns taking four months or longer before even looking at a permit application. That’s troubling.
A bill making its way through the State Legislature would allow a project to move forward if a professional architect or engineer certifies that the planned work meets the state’s codes, without requiring the full local government permitting process. The proposed law, which applies only to Nassau and Suffolk counties, would provide a more efficient, timely way to start projects, while still maintaining town or village involvement in inspections and certifications later in the process, so that safety remains a top priority. At least five towns — including Babylon, Brookhaven, Hempstead, Huntington and Islip — have publicly supported the measure.
Importantly, the bill would expire in three years, providing enough time for the backlog to loosen and the construction industry to rebound, but also giving the state an opportunity to make sure such self-certification works well and isn’t abused. It will be essential that state and local officials track the permits approved under the new process, to determine that projects are certified appropriately and to penalize those who self-certify projects that don’t meet standards or otherwise misuse the new freedoms they’re granted.
But the law will be a failure if town and village officials don’t use the three-year reprieve to update and streamline permitting and other certification processes. They must end the backlogs and inefficiencies that now plague their operations. A more permanent fix wouldn’t just help large developers hoping to start more extensive projects. It also would assist far smaller builders, along with the many Long Islanders wanting simply to improve their homes. And it would encourage all of them to do the work legally and safely.
All of that can be done without the loss of public sector jobs. The bill contains a critical provision that specifically prohibits local governments from eliminating the positions of those who handle permitting while the new certification process is in effect. If anything, the legislation should expand construction efforts across Long Island, which in turn could provide more work for everyone involved.
At a time when there’s so much talk of infrastructure, of big plans and grand proposals, getting the economy going also will depend on doing the smaller stuff well.
Let the construction begin.
Dunkirk Evening Observer. June 8, 2021.
Editorial: Environment: Keeping watch of wind work
It’s good to know the state DEC is overseeing cleanup of a “frac-out” in Cherry Creek at the site of the Cassadaga Wind LLC wind turbine project.
A “frac-out” can occur as a result of directional boring in the area that can release drilling fluids into the surface environment. A frac-out is when drilling mud is released through fractured bedrock into surrounding rock and sand and then toward the surface.
We’re not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the state Public Service Commission requires wind turbine developers to be ready for such incidents, but a seven-page document on file with the PSC in regard to the Cassadaga Wind project lays out a clear process for dealing with a frac-out.
Of particular concern are complaints of turbidity in Cherry Creek. While the drilling fluid may not be toxic, fine particles in the fluid can smother plants and animals, particularly in an aquatic environment. According to Utility magazine, there are also reports of sections of road rising, water pipelines falling as a frac-out washes away bedding sand, power boxes filling with fluid and vegetation disappearing into sinkholes caused by a frac-out.
We’re sure DEC officials will do their best to make sure the mud and any other drilling materials aren’t making their way into the surrounding watershed — and people in the area should pay attention to make sure none of the other issues arise either.