City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
BALLSTON SPA — Nourish Designs, an appropriately named small business which calls Ballston Spa its home, creates apparel and gift items featuring original hand-drawn mandala designs by Betsy Phelps Seplowitz. Every purchase made through Nourish provides meals for kids through the Regional Food Bank of Northeast New York.
Last fall, Nourish designed custom mandalas featuring Scotty paws and Scotty dogs – the school mascot – for each of the elementary schools in the Ballston Spa Central School District. Nourish designed spirit-wear collections for each of the four schools in a partnering with a local silk-screening business.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for about 10 years, figuring what my next move would be and it just kind of happened. I started drawing and doodling, started drawing mandalas. People were responding positively to them and thought I should do something positive with this,” says Seplowitz who grew up in Hoosick and eventually made her way to Ballston Spa.
“I’ve always been fascinated with patterns in nature. They’re all around us and a mandala, a circle with repetitive patterns, just spoke to me as my form of meditation,” she says.
A few years ago, Seplowitz had been asked to help with a new Backpack Program at her kids’ elementary school. Seplowitz has two children who are in the Ballston Spa School District. “I had no idea what it was,” she says. She learned the program helped kids who don’t have reliable access to food over the weekends.
“There is a program organized by the Food Bank that supplies non-perishable, easy to make food which can be discreetly distributed in backpacks to children so they aren’t without food over the weekend. The school just needed some volunteers to go down to the foodbank and pick up the food. I’ve been doing it ever since,” she says.
Nourish works with the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and provides funding specifically to programs which serve children. One such program is the BackPack Program which provides weekly food to school-aged children who otherwise may not have sufficient access to nourishing meals.
Her website - nourishdesigns.com – features dozens of wearable products for sale featuring the mandala design, and each purchase provides nourishing meals to kids in need. The meals provided to date number more than 25,000, Seplowitz says.
For more information on how these mandalas are feeding kids, or to see the current line of available products in the online store, visit www.nourishdesigns.com
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Eagerly awaiting a package in the mail? Patience please, says the United States Postal Service.
An unprecedented increase in volume combined with limited employee availability due to the impacts of COVID-19 have resulted in the current environment across the country.
“We’re still working through a great deal of volume, and like our neighbors everywhere, a tremendous impact related to COVID. When you put those factors together you do have what people are experiencing, which can be delays. And we’re working on that,” says Maureen Marion, USPS spokesperson for the Capital Region.
“In the Saratoga-Capital Region we certainly mirror the trends of the nation,” Marion says. Where volume is concerned, factors have included robust e-commerce activity during the holiday shopping season, a bump-up related to packages being returned post-holiday season, and people moving more packages in general rather than tending to needs in-store as they had done in the past, due to potential COVID concerns.
“I think people might be surprised in the volume related just to returns, which is larger (today) due to a new generation of shoppers who shop online,” Marion says, explaining that it is not uncommon for people to purchase multiple versions or sizes of products because returning items is an easily acceptable practice.
“People ordering things online because they couldn’t get things in their stores, or they wouldn’t go to the local stores. The home has become the dressing room and returns have become increasingly a bigger and bigger ticket item, particularly this time of year,” she says. Looking back to last spring, “by St. Patrick’s Day 2020 we were running at 40% more packages, easily. We were doing Christmas week volume for packages - and that’s significant because ‘package’ delivery is a little bit different tempo than ‘letter’ mail.
“Let’s drive through the mean streets of Saratoga: if I’m typically delivering mail a couple of years ago, I’m delivering to mailboxes at the end of your driveway and dropping off letters – boom, boom, boom. It’s labor intensive, but it’s quick. With the packages, I have to stop the truck, open the door, lock the door. I have to unlock the truck, get the package and re-lock the truck. Then I have to walk up the driveway, leave the package, go back to the truck, unlock my door, turn on the vehicle and go,” Marion says. “It takes a couple of minutes, but a couple of minutes times a hundred locations is two-and-a-half hours.”
COVID-19 has also had an effect on workers and policies. More than 600,000 USPS employees process, transport, and deliver mail and packages across the country. And the service reaches 160 million addresses every day, according to the American Postal Workers Union. It is a service that is vital, delivering everything from medications to Social Security checks, and it is the leading delivery service for online purchases, according to the organization.
Last spring, the USPS dedicated a COVID-19 Command Response leadership team to focus on employee and customer safety in conjunction with operational and business continuity during the pandemic. The protocols included mask-wearing, social distancing and updating cleaning policies in the workplace, expanding the use of telework for employees able to perform their jobs remotely, and maintaining steady communications regarding postal facility disruptions that may impact delivery via its USPS Service Alerts webpage. Those may be viewed at: about.usps.com/newsroom/service-alerts.
“At this juncture what you are seeing is staff impact related to COVID that takes on several different layers. We have approximately 7,800 active COVID illnesses nationwide; We have individuals who are then quarantined because of close contact in the workplace to those specific active COVID exposures, and employees who are quarantined due to exposure in their own families or other places outside of work,” Marion says.
COVID has also impacted some USPS offices both large and small, which have had to alter hours, as well as affecting processing plants and distribution centers. CDC recommendations suggest postal workers be vaccinated alongside teachers and those over the age of 75 in the Phase 1b vaccination process. It does not appear, thus far, that those recommendations have been included in N.Y. State’s 1B plans.
“In New York State this week there were 496 active COVID cases – window clerks, postmasters, people who work in the processing plants, drivers… everybody,” she says.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The New York Racing Association this week received approval from the New York State Franchise Oversight Board to proceed with improvements on the Oklahoma Training Track in advance of the anticipated 2021 racing season.
The Oklahoma project cost is approximately $1 million and follows discussions with Saratoga-based trainers. The upgrades will include a new base, improved drainage, a width expansion of the track where possible, and a plan for new safety railings – which specifically accounts for about $350,000 of that estimated $1 million cost. Members of the Franchise Oversight Board said they are working with Saratoga preservationists related to the width expansion of the track, as the project will likely impact existing pine trees that were planted alongside the track in the mid-1980s.
The Oklahoma Training Track signals the start of “spring training,” in advance of the summer racing meet at the main track located across the street at Union Avenue. It typically opens in April, although in the pandemic-affected year of 2020, a delayed opening pushed the opening to the first week of June. Last year’s summer meet was held without fans in attendance.
The training track has not had any significant renovation in 40 years. The project was approved as part of NYRA’s overall capital expense plan during a meeting of the Franchise Oversight Board held via teleconference. The 50-minute meeting may be heard in its entirety at: www.budget.ny.gov/boards/fob/index.html
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In this city, the guitars have all gone silent. Matt McCabe has passed away, COVID-19 taking from the city one of its most endearing souls.
“June 14, 1994. Flag Day. I started in a little 160 square-foot hole-in-the-wall space on Caroline Street,” he recalled with a smile, on a weekday afternoon 25 years later, celebrating a quarter-century in this city.
“That was my first real business venture. I opened with 48 used guitars and 10 used amplifiers. There was a lot going on and I’ll never forget it.” It was a week when he had watched his beloved New York Rangers hockey team win their first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years, and experienced the buzz among all the other storefronts on Caroline Street as O.J. Simpson slinked in the back seat of a white Ford Bronco, leading a low-speed chase by police through Southern California.
A quarter-century later, he had opened a number of Saratoga Guitar shops, where he sold new, used, and vintage instruments, a plethora of accessories, sheet music, vinyl records, and conducted instrument repairs. For a generation he hosted The Capital Region Guitar Show – which became one of the longest running guitar shows in the country - drawing dealers, musicians and fans from across the northeast to the Spa City. On occasion, he made the time to take to the stage – “playing and singing with whoever will have me, me and my guitar compadres.”
The shop served as a musician’s meeting place, and he often played host for some of the biggest ones coming through town.
“Over the years we’ve seen Graham Nash and Stephen Stills, John Fogerty, Joe Bonamassa. Beck stopped in. Dave Matthews has always been very nice to us. Sam Shepard, the actor. We’ve met some nice people over the years. They come here, they love Saratoga and they like that they don’t get bothered here. We always take the low key, engage as they want, but you have to know that they’re working people too.”
As a young man, McCabe had fancied becoming a veterinarian or a baseball player. “Everything else since then happened by accident,” he said. “Thanks to family and friends I’ve been able to make it work over the years. The city’s been very good to me. The kids were all born here. And the downtown vibe is great.”
From 2004-2007, McCabe served as city Finance Commissioner. He was a popular member of the council and independent of any political party.
“You learn a lot about your fellow citizens, and what I learned was: how smart I wasn’t. At those meetings when people come up and speak – people from all walks of life and from all over our city – you see how varied our population is. When you listen to the public comments you realize: My goodness, how many passionate people there are; How many qualified opinions there are. And from people out there who are smarter than you. Just because you’re in office, it doesn’t mean you’re smarter. It was a life-learning experience for me,” he said.
“I certainly look back on it fondly. It was a challenge, but I thoroughly enjoyed working for the people of Saratoga Springs. I did my best.”
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday announced the launch of New York Arts Revival – a public-private partnership tasked with a return of the arts and culture to the public space.
“We must accelerate the return of the arts. Cities are, by definition, centers of energy, entertainment, theater and cuisine.… what is a city without social, cultural and creative synergy,” he said, in front of a pair of screens depicting images of dancers, musicians, and the bright theater lights of Broadway.
Cuomo quoted from JFK, remarks the president made at Amherst College in Massachusetts in late October 1963: “I see little of more importance to our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”
“Almost no one has been hurt more by COVID than our artists,” Cuomo added, citing an NEA study that reported 52% of actors 55% of dancers, and 27% of musicians were put out of work due to the pandemic. “In New York, the arts and culture industry accounts for almost half a million jobs and generate $120 billion in economic output…we must act, we cannot wait until summer to turn the lights back on the arts and provide a living wage for artists.“
A series of pop-up performances across the state are being organized, the launch of which will be a Feb. 4 event to feature “more than 150 world-class artists,” Cuomo said.
Rapid testing, he said, is key to open restaurants, theaters, office buildings and other venues, and there are plans being prepared to open hundreds of rapid testing “pop-up” sites across the state.
That testing strategy was put to use at last weekend’s Buffalo Bills game, where 7,000 fans who were allowed to attend the event were COVID tested before the game. The tests were conducted via a vehicle drive-thru, and took approximately five minutes per car.
“The Department of Health is monitoring Contact Tracing results, but all early indications suggest this model was successful and it poses great possibilities to re-open events to the public.”
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week provided state guidance for school districts across New York to remain open, despite the spread of infection through the communities in which they are located.
“If the children are safer in the school than they are on the streets of the community, then children should be in school,” Cuomo said. “That is my opinion, but it is up to the school districts to decide.”
Since the start of the school year, just over 1,250 students and 600 teachers and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Capital Region.
Cuomo specified that in counties with a greater than 9% positive test rate, if testing in schools show a lower rate of infection than the community average, then the schools may remain open.
Saratoga County specifically began the new year with a 7-day average positive rate of about 11% in the community. Infections in specific school districts may be searched via the state’s Covid-19 Report Card website at: schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov/#/home.
Regarding vaccine progress, Cuomo said 288 of the 688 facilities enrolled in the Federal nursing home program in New York State have completed the first dose of vaccines for their residents. An additional 234 facilities are slated for their first doses to be administered this week, and the balance of residents are anticipated to be vaccinated over the next two weeks.
ALBANY — The first confirmed case of the UK strain of COVID-19 virus in New York State was detected in Saratoga Springs, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Jan. 4.
The new strain was detected by the Department of Health’s Wadsworth laboratory as part of the state’s UK strain testing program and was traced back to someone affiliated with Broadway’s N. Fox Jewelers.
“It’s a gentleman who is in his 60s. He was symptomatic, but he is on the mend and he’s doing better,” Cuomo said. The sample was originally done in Saratoga Hospital and then was one of the samples that Wadsworth received as part of their UK testing program. Three others at the jewelry store tested positive for COVID-19, but it was not immediately known whether that was also part of the UK strain.
The COVID variant first discovered in the U.K. is reported to be 70 percent more contagious than the normal COVID strain, although it is not believed, on its own, to be more lethal.
“It seems to be a little bit more easily spread and travel a little more quickly than the virus we know,” said Saratoga County EMS Coordinator Mike McEvoy. “It does not appear at this point to make people more sick or cause different types of illness and seemingly can be vaccinated against with the same vaccine. It concerns us in a sense that if there is a wide-spread outbreak of it, we would have more people ill in the community faster and our capacity to take care of those people in public health and in the hospitals could potentially be compromised with the speed that we’ve seen it spread in other locations,” McEvoy said.
“The key thing is the message we’ve been preaching since March or April: wear your mask, wash your hands as often as you can, and try to limit your social interaction with large groups of people. Stay with people who you know.”
The state Department of Health initiated what it called “aggressive contact tracing” related to people who may have visited the jeweler between Dec. 18 and Dec. 24, to learn if the specific viral strain has infected others. Starting on Tuesday, Jan. 5, the department set up a free testing area near Peerless Pool in the Spa State Park to specifically test people who were in contact or in the Spa City jewelry shop Dec. 18-24, for the UK COVID strain. Pre-registration was required. Howard Zucker, Commissioner of Health for New York State said it takes about 44 hours to learn results regarding the B117 strain, as it is known.
N. Fox Jewelers released a brief statement to say it is working with the state health department on COVID-19 UK strain tracing and is voluntarily extending its store closure until further information can be provided by state and county health officials.The store reopened late in the week.
“Containment is vitally important,” Cuomo said. “This is a virus we have to be extra careful with. The numbers are frightening on the increase of the transmittal of (this strain of) the virus. Even if the lethality doesn’t go up the fact that it is so much more transmittable is a very real problem.”
BALLSTON SPA — The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved $350,000 for IT improvements for the supervisors’ board room that will include integrating audio-visual system with conferencing software, upgrading microphones and committee room with better screens and allowing for video and streaming of meetings, and adding public Wi-Fi, city supervisor Matt Veitch reported this week.
“I’m excited that we’re finally going to be video-streaming our meetings – I can’t believe I’m saying that in 2021, that that’s a big deal because everybody (else) does it – as well as getting our meetings so people can see what’s going on, because right now you call in to the county, it’s really awful and you can’t hear anything or determine what’s going on,” Veitch said. Installation will take “a little while.” In December, the county approved a $341 million budget for 2021.
Moreau Town Supervisor Theodore Kusnierz was elected chairman of the Board of Supervisors. The Republican supervisor previously served as Chief of Staff and Director of Policy and Operations for New York State Sen. Patty Ritchie has served on the Moreau Town Board for 16 years. Saratoga Springs Supervisors Tara Gaston and Matt Veitch both voted in favor of Kusnierz, who narrowly defeated Greenfield supervisor Daniel Pemrick in a board vote on Jan. 6.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Two COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for use in New York and more may be on the way as the state moves through its first designated phase of vaccinations.
“The vaccine is here. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we see this ending the pandemic ultimately, but to do that we need to have 70% of our population vaccinated. In Saratoga County that’s 168,000 people we need vaccinated. So far, we’ve been able to vaccinate about 3% of the population, so we have a long way to go,” Mike McEvoy, EMS Coordinator for Office of Emergency Services at Saratoga County, said this week.
The amount of vaccine the state receives is based upon the allocation made to New York by the federal government. It is up to the state to determine who most needs it first, which is reflected in the phased approach.
“There is a limited supply of vaccines – there certainly is not enough to go around to everybody, so people have been divided into groups to determine who will get the vaccine first, who will it second, who will get it third. The timing of this is based on who is first at risk,” McEvoy says.
The process is currently in Phase 1A – which includes at high-risk hospital workers, ICU staff, nursing home residents and staff, EMS workers and others. McEvoy said he anticipates Phase 1B – which includes teachers, first responders, people aged 75 and older - may begin by early February. But there are may variables.
The first priority is protecting hospital capacity and staff, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week. “Vaccinating the hospital staff is vital. They are the front line. The UK strain complicates the issue because if more nurses and doctors get sick, it reduces your hospital capacity. And if you reduce your hospital capacity, then you have the worst-case scenario. And the worst-case scenario is a very real possibility. You overwhelm the hospitals, people die. You have to close down the economy. So, it’s game over if the hospitals get overwhelmed.”
As of this week, New York has received 950,000 dosages toward the first 2.1 million-plus people in the healthcare and nursing home Phase 1A category. By the end of this week, the state expects it will have distributed approximately 911,000 first doses of the vaccine to providers for administration to eligible New Yorkers. The state is receiving about 300,000 dosages per week from the federal government, a rate that would take several weeks to fulfill first-shot doses for millions of people in the first phase.
“Everyone wants to know: When will they get vaccinated? 1A is the healthcare workers and that’s what we’re doing now. 1B are the essential workers and those over 75,” Cuomo said. That 1B category includes: 870,000 educational workers, 207,000 first responders – such as police and firefighters, a combined 200,000 public safety and public transit workers, plus 1.3 million people aged 75 and older, among others.
The governor said he is hopeful the federal government will be increasing production. “They say they will, I believe they will, and frankly the private market is increasing production,” Cuomo said, pointing to current vaccines Pfizer and Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson – which is undergoing efficacy tests and requires just one shot, and Oxford-AstraZeneca. “I can’t say to any New Yorker right now ‘How Long’ until we know exactly what the supply is going to be. The experts are talking about March-April for large-scale, general population distribution.”
The FDA and New York State’s independent Clinical Advisory Task Force has thus far approved two vaccines: Pfizer and BioNTech, and another developed by Moderna. Each requires two shots and individuals must receive two doses of the same vaccine, with the second dose administered 21 days later with the Pfizer vaccine, or 28 days later with the Moderna vaccine. Other COVID-19 vaccines under development include Johnson & Johnson’s proposed COVID-19 vaccine, which reportedly plans to seek emergency use authorization in February and could potentially only require a single dose. In New York State, Cuomo has stipulated the vaccines will be provided at no cost.
The program is being led by hospitals in each region. As such, “Saratoga County does not have the capacity to determine who gets vaccinated, how many vaccines we have or even when we get them,” said Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston. “I understand the information on vaccinations is not where the public would like it, where the city would like it, where I would like it. The information the state is positing on their vaccine distribution page is all that has been released publicly or otherwise. We are requesting additional information and as soon as we get it, we will be putting it out. There are currently no facilities (yet approved) in Saratoga County that provide vaccination to the public generally,” Gaston said.
“Despite the fact that we do not have the full timeline, Saratoga County is working diligently to plan the broader release of this vaccine. The county is reviewing several sites throughout the city of Saratoga Springs and the remainder of the county so we may institute PODs (Points-of-Dispensing) for the delivery of vaccines with less than 24 hours’ notice.”
Gaston added that anyone who may meet the qualifications to administer vaccines may register to volunteer at www.amc.edu/CapitalRegionVax. “This is the site that’s been set up by Albany Med – who have been assigned the role of leading vaccinations in the Capital Region.”
For the most current information about vaccines in New York, go to: covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov.
New York State is currently in Phase 1A of vaccine distribution.
Eligible New Yorkers for the vaccine currently include: High-risk hospital workers; Residents and staff at nursing homes and other congregate care facilities; Federally Qualified Health Center employees; EMS workers; Coroners, medical examiners and certain funeral workers; Staff and residents at OPWDD, OMH and OASAS facilities; Urgent Care providers; Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff, as well as all front-line, high-risk public health workers who have direct contact with patients, including those conducting COVID-19 tests, handling COVID-19 specimens and COVID-19 vaccinations, among others.
Once Phase 1A vaccinations are satisfied, the state will move to Phase 1B distribution.
Following vaccinations for the health care sector, New York will move to Phase 1B of the distribution, which will include:
• Teachers and education workers
• First responders
• Public safety workers
• Public transit workers
• People 75 and older
CDC: Frequently Asked Questions About Vaccines
Q: Can a COVID-19 vaccine make me sick with COVID-19?
A: No. None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.
Q: If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Yes. Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, vaccine should be offered to you regardless of whether you already had COVID-19 infection.
Q: Will a COVID-19 vaccine alter my DNA?
A: No. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two-term Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly has announced that she will not seek re-election in November 2021 for a third term.
"Serving the City of Saratoga Springs as its Mayor is a profound experience. Having been raised in Saratoga Springs and nurtured by its community and culture, serving as Mayor has been a once in a lifetime chance to contribute to the City’s future. I have done so with one objective -- to give my very best to the City of Saratoga Springs,” Kelly said in a statement.
All five City Council seats – including mayor – are up for vote in November 2021. Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan announced in November that she will not seek re-election.