Earlier this spring, Central New York had the worst Covid-19 hotspot in the nation after a new subvariant was discovered in the Syracuse area.
Now the alarming spike has steadily subsided. The region is no longer deemed high risk for Covid spread, and New York is down to 15 counties at high risk — in parts of the North Country, Albany area, Hudson Valley and Long island, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So state health officials are expecting the rates to continue to drop as warmer weather continues. But they also remain cautious.
“We must keep our guard up and utilize the tools we have at our disposal to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement.
In late April, New York reported a seven-day average of about 34.5 cases of Covid per 100,000 people. On Monday, it was 31.53.
On May 30, the positivity rate in New York spiked to 10.4 percent; it was 5.8 percent on Tuesday.
But that’s still much higher than a year ago, when it was less than 1 percent, and that’s why the state Health Department is encouraging people to still wear masks in public settings. The key word here is “encouraging” and not “requiring.”
In fact, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced today that masks will be optional for children 2 to 4 years old in all early childhood settings starting Monday.
Statewide, masks are still required in health-care facilities, nursing homes, correction facilities, domestic violence shelters and on public transit.
New York, however, quietly lifted its weekly Covid testing mandate for unvaccinated state workers, while a similar measure at schools will end June 30 when the school year ends, The Journal News reported.
“Ensuring you and your loved ones are up to date on vaccine and booster doses remains the most effective way to protect against serious illness,” Hochul said. “Get tested, especially if you are experiencing symptoms, and if you test positive talk to your doctor about available treatments.”
IT’S THURSDAY: Thanks for joining us for Playbook PM as we keep you up-to-date on the latest New York news from the campaign trail, in Albany and in City Hall. Summer is near, but the news is still heating up!
RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE: In 2016, the state Legislature and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to raise the minimum wage to as high as $15 an hour over several years. Flash forward: The wage is $15 in New York City and its suburbs and $13.20 in the rest of the state.
Some lawmakers and the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, said it’s time raise wages higher. Bills (S3062C/A7503B) would schedule annual increases to the rate of inflation every year. The group said it would mean a $21.25 by 2026 in the city; an $18.65 wage in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties by 2026, and the rest of the state would increase from $13.20 to $16.35 by the same time. “Indexing the minimum wage in this way would protect the buying power of millions of low-wage workers’ paychecks and, in particular, improve the economic security of predominantly women, Black, and Latinx workers,” the group said in a report. — Joseph Spector
ENERGY: If you have POLITICO Pro subscription — and you surely should — please read Marie French’s deep dive into what was accomplished and what wasn’t during the six-month legislative session.
A few takeaways: The Legislature passed an advanced codes measure that will improve appliance efficiency standards and enable the next building code to consider emissions impacts, but it didn’t tackle the bigger issue of phasing out fossil fuels in new buildings. And another stalled program would have let the New York Power Authority build and own new renewables and provide electricity to low-income customers. Better luck next year — Joseph Spector
EDUCATION: Of the more than 1 million students in New York City public schools, about 544,000 are from immigrant families and more than 329,000 do not have a parent who speaks English fluently, according to a new data analysis by the advocacy group Advocates for Children of New York.
The group said the data, from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, shows that multifaceted approaches to communication are needed beyond making translated documents accessible online. The analysis also found that about 55,858 parents of students have no more than an eighth grade education in addition to not being proficient in English and that roughly 61,657 children of parents who have limited English proficiency live in households without broadband internet access.
The group is part of the Language Access and Immigrant Family Communication Working Group, which sent a letter to city officials requesting an annual investment of $6 million to come up with a permanent, central system for the Department of Education to communicate with immigrant families. “If the new administration is serious about its desire to empower parents as true partners, then the City should be increasing — and certainly not cutting — the multi-faceted immigrant family communication and outreach initiative,” Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, director of AFC’s Immigrant Students’ Rights Project, said in a statement. — Madina Touré
TRANSPORTATION: There’s been a lot of focus on the Empire State Development Corp.’s effort to redevelop the area around Penn Station — the largest development plan in city history and one designed to raise funding for the reconstruction of Penn Station. But there’s been very little said on what the new Penn Station will look like, outside of six renderings presented by the state in November. Today, Gov. Kathy Hochul joined elected leaders and transportation officials to announce that the state is soliciting proposals from design and architectural firms to realize her vision for North America’s busiest train station.
The main purpose of the Penn Station reconstruction is to redeem its image as a dreary, cramped and dilapidated rail hub. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants to turn the station into a single-level facility that is open, airy and easy to navigate. Moving it forward will require cooperation with Madison Square Garden, which has control of land where the MTA envisions building a 450-foot glass atrium, POLITICO reported earlier this week. While those details have yet to be hammered out, elected leaders sought to display a united front today. “We are taking an enormous step toward righting one of the wrongs of the past 60 years,” Hochul said. — Danielle Muoio Dunn
PALADINO IS BACK, AND GETTING HEADLINES: Former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino is running for Congress in Western New York — and his controversial comments of the past are following him.
Media Matters found two recent incendiary comments from the Buffalo businessman and 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate: First, it reported that he shared a Facebook post on the mass shootings in Buffalo and Texas that suggest they were false flags meant to help Democrats “revoke the 2nd amendment and take away guns.”
Then it dug up Paladino’s comments last year on a local radio show in which he described Adolf Hitler as “the kind of leader we need today. We need somebody inspirational.”
Paladino today sought to clarify his remarks, telling The Buffalo News: “That had nothing to do with praising him. You look for someone to move an entire population. I was just using that as an example.”
But he added, “I should have used [Winston] Churchill” as a better example — Joseph Spector
ARCHILA ON THE ATTACK: Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Ana María Archila continued today to criticize the campaign spending by a super PAC helping her opponent, Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado.
That group has primarily been funded by Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of a cryptocurrency exchange, POLITICO first reported last week. So Archila took her campaign to outside Bankman-Fried’s address in New York City to knock him, Delgado and Hochul as the governor decides whether to sign a bill that would implement a limited cryptocurrency mining ban.
“We will continue to expose Sam Bankman-Fried and any other billionaires who think that elections are just bidding wars, and that you can use them to buy the policies your corporation wants,” Archila said in a statement.
Programming note: The first Democratic lieutenant governor debate is Wednesday. The primary is June 28. — Joseph Spector
HOCHUL’S GUN AD: On Monday, Hochul signed into law new gun-safety protections. On Wednesday, she was up with a campaign ad on the topic. Gun control will surely be a top issue for Hochul heading into the primary and general election — along with new abortion rights that she will sign into law in the coming days.
“There’s more to do. But if Washington won’t act to keep people safe, I will,” Hochul says directly into the camera. — Joseph Spector
JONES’ GROWING COALITION: U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones is rolling out some high-profile support for his Congressional bid in a newly-drawn district that straddles Brooklyn and Manhattan. The PAC run by the Congressional Black Caucus — which counts Jones as a member — is throwing its support behind the Westchester-based incumbent as he competes in an area he only moved into after the amended maps were released last month.
In a statement, two members of the city’s House delegation — Gregory Meeks of Queens and Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn — applauded Jones’ record and credentials. The PAC plans to announce its support Friday morning. It noted in a release that it raised more than $13 million during the 2020 cycle, which it credited with 58 electoral victories.
Jones is competing in a crowded field that includes former Mayor Bill de Blasio, Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, City Council Member Carlina Rivera and attorney Dan Goldman. Jones is facing carpetbagger criticism, but has a cash advantage to push back against attacks — $2.9 million on hand headed into July, according to a campaign strategy memo shared with POLITICO. “Given the new nature of NY-10’s boundaries, a primary election less than three months away, and an extremely expensive media market, a successful candidate will have to spend millions of dollars to introduce themselves to the electorate,” according to the memo.
It also takes aim at de Blasio, who represented parts of the district during his two terms in the City Council. “With the exception of the unpopular former mayor, who already trails Rep. Jones in the first public poll, the candidates must introduce themselves to many of NY-10’s voters,” the memo reads, referring to a public opinion survey that found Jones only 1 point ahead of de Blasio, with more than three-quarters of respondents undecided.
A de Blasio campaign insider, speaking on background, responded in a text: “Max-out Mondaire getting an endorsement from a bunch of fellow House members is hardly a show of strength. In fact, it’s basically a sign of weakness since he has ZERO ties to the district. Of course he’s gonna rely on DC insiders and lobbyists for support.” — Sally Goldenberg
— The George Washington Bridge will go to cashless tolling next month.
— Support is building in Orange County to turn Camp LaGuardia, a former facility for homeless men, into a park.
— A well-known mobile doughnut shop was stolen in Syracuse. Residents were asked to help find it, and they did, in five minutes. Must have been that trail of sprinkles.
— Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) will play a major role in Republican counter-messaging during hearings into the Jan. 6 insurrection.