5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: Sept. 3, 2020

Woah. You walk away from the computer and leave the phone in the car for a few hours and boy, do you miss a lot.

I know some of us are probably already in long-weekend mode, and if that is indeed the case for you, I am jealous. There’s a lot of ground to cover this evening, so I’m going to jump right in.

1) The war of words between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump continued today, with the president tweeting his criticism of the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and the governor accusing the president of trying to “bully” New Yorkers.

Cuomo upped the ante by saying that Trump has no chance of carrying New York in the November election. (This isn’t going too far out on the limb, by the way, as the last Republican to carry the Empire State in a presidential contest was Ronald Reagan).

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio also got in on the action, threatening to sue if the president pursues his pledge to defund New York City, Washington DC, Seattle and Portland, claiming officials in these Democrat-led municipalities allowed “lawless” protests.

“It makes no sense,” the mayor said. “By the way, your words don’t carry much weight on this topic because the Supreme Court has spoken. The President of United States can’t interfere with federal funding for cities and states just because he feels like it. We have laws in this country. So if you persist and trying to deny the funding, we will see you in court. And once again, we will beat you in court.”

2) More than five months after Daniel Prude, 41, died while in the custody of Rochester police officers, who put a mesh hood over Prude’s head and held him facedown on the pavement, the city’s mayor, Lovely Warren, has finally announced disciplinary action against the seven officers who were involved in the incident.

The officers have been suspended without pay, and the mayor urged state AG Tish James to complete her investigation into the matter. Warren said she realized her action would likely spark a lawsuit by the local police union, but she said she did not care as “I have been sued before.”

“Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police department, our mental health care system, our society and, he was failed by me,” Mayor Warren said. “Daniel Prude‚Äôs death has proven yet again that many of the challenges that we faced in the past are the same challenges that we face today.”

Warren claimed that state law prevented the city from notifying the community of the incident – including Prude’s death seven days after his encounter with police. But that claim is not supported by the text of the law she referenced, or by the city’s past practice.

The governor also weighed in on the matter, saying he had watched the body footage video of Prude’s death and found it “deeply disturbing,” adding: “I demand answers.”

“For the sake of Mr. Prude’s family and the greater Rochester community I am calling for this case to be concluded as expeditiously as possible,” Cuomo said. “For that to occur we need the full and timely cooperation of the Rochester Police Department and I trust it will fully comply.”

3) Cuomo had some good news today for the state’s long-shuttered commercial casinos, announcing they can reopen at 25 percent capacity after Labor Day weekend.

This comes as a relief to thousands of workers across New York, who have been calling for the governor to let them get back to work. It’s unclear, however, how long it will take the industry to recover – if it is able to do so at all. Just because a business is cleared to reopen doesn’t mean that its customers are ready to return – just ask the airlines and others in the travel sector how that’s going these days.

Casinos have taken a serious beating during the pandemic, with mass furloughs and layoffs. This is occurring both here in New York and around the country, as gaming facilities struggle to adjust to the new normal.

Indian-run casinos have been open – though at reduced capacity – for some time, which is possible because Native tribes are sovereign and therefore not beholden to the same requirements as the rest of the state.

Also today, Cuomo announced that malls in New York City can reopen at 50 percent of their normal capacity as long as they install special air filters, he said. Malls in the five boroughs cannot have indoor dining, however, as that remains a sticking point between the governor and de Blasio.

4) Newly-minted SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras cracked down on SUNY Oneonta today, announcing that classes at the campus would be held remotely for the rest of the semester as a result of a significant COVID-19 outbreak. This far, 13 percent of students have tested positive.

Students who have tested negative will be sent home, and are being asked to move out from Friday, Sept. 4, to Monday, Sept. 7. Students who are already in quarantine are being asked to remain isolated on campus until they are cleared by the Department of Health.

Oneonta was already on a two-week pause to facilitate widespread testing in an effort to get a handle on the outbreak, which officials have attributed to students attending parties without adhering to social distancing and mask protocols.

A decision about the fate of the spring semester has not yet been made. Full refunds will be issued for dorm rooms, Malatras said, and other refunds will be “worked out” in the future.

“I hope this serves as a wake-up call for the entire campus community,” the chancellor said. “This is a serious matter.” Malatras said he had hoped to be a “fun” chancellor, but this is a serious issue that merits a serious response.

He also lamented the fact that the majority of students have been following the rules, and expressed hope that this situation would serve as a wake-up call for others about how “a small minority can ruin it for everyone else.”

5) In case you’re starting to get depressed about the lack of fun things to do when the weather turns colder and outdoor pursuits are a little less pleasant – or, at the very least, require more bundling up – here’s some encouraging news from Howe Caverns.

The popular Schoharie County attraction, located about five miles outside of Cobleskill, will be hosting a haunted-cave tour called “The Underground” on Friday through Sunday nights from Sept. 25 to Nov. 1.

These tours are intended for kids age 10 and up, and are described by promotional material as taking visitors on a journey 16 stories down to experience a “hidden world of creatures, of monsters, of demons, of torture and death!”

The last time I was at Howe Caverns, I nearly had a full-blown panic attack. Something about being that deep underground, walking around beneath untold pounds of earth in the semi-darkness really freaked me out. But I can see the creepy appeal here…it really is a very eerie place, even without the added scariness of Halloween.

A visit to the Howe Caverns website reveals that they are taking extra precautions in the age of COVID, including limiting the number of people on each tour and requiring all visitors to wear masks throughout the duration of their visit. That said, there’s also a disclaimer that by showing up for a tour, you’re more or less voluntarily accepting the risk of a possible infection.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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