Ellen Abbott

Reporter, Syracuse

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County.  Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered. 

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Onondaga County hopes the lure of free food and drink will compel people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Central New York, like much of the rest of the nation, has hit a plateau when it comes to COVID vaccinations.

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On Monday, Syracuse Common Councilors are expected to consider Mayor Ben Walsh’s plan to improve the city’s sidewalks.

The idea for a sidewalk maintenance plan has been around for a while; Walsh has been talking about it since he was elected and included it in his 2020 State of the City speech. But the pandemic forced the initiative to the back burner. Now, the pandemic could help move things along. Walsh wants to use part of the $126 million the city is receiving in federal stimulus funds, to start things off.

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Onondaga County is ready for state and federal approval to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds against the coronavirus. County Executive Ryan McMahon suggests vaccinating this age group will be a milestone in the fight against the pandemic.

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U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is promoting legislation she hopes will get the cost of prescription drugs under control. At a stop in Syracuse Monday, Gillibrand touted a package of three bills that attacks high drug prices from three different directions.

"One is letting Medicare negotiate in bulk, HHS, just like they do for the VA Medicaid, said Gillibrand. “One is to let New Yorkers and anyone else who wants to buy drugs in Canada to go ahead and do that, and one is let any pharmacy or bulk purchaser, buy in bulk from these other countries."

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The coronavirus pandemic has only intensified efforts to make internet service available to every corner of Onondaga County. Getting online is a real chore in parts of the county. Internet providers haven’t stretched fiber lines deep into the more rural areas, leaving spotty coverage at a time when many students and employees are forced to work from home. 

That’s why County Executive Ryan McMahon is proposing to use $15 million out of the county’s $89 million in federal stimulus funding to extend broadband to those hard to reach areas.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center is spearheading an initiative that focuses on the emotional abuse suffered by many Syracuse children, who live in a city where gun violence is a way of life. 

Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner said the ShotSpotter technology that tells police when gunshots are fired in Syracuse, has unveiled a disturbing statistic. One out of every three gunshots is not reported to authorities.

Upstate Medical University

Upstate University Hospital now has a centralized home to serve children with special needs. Streamlining services for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities has been a long time goal of Upstate, according to Dr. Henry Roane, director of the new Golisano Center for Special Needs.

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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has unveiled a plan he said will boost Syracuse’s tech economy.

Manufacturing, research and development, and STEM education and training would all get a boost from a $160 billion bipartisan plan, making its way through the U.S. Senate. Among the landing places for some of that cash according to Schumer; the vacant White Pine Commerce Park in Onondaga County.  Schumer said the 450-acre publicly owned business park, would be a great spot for a computer chip manufacturer.

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Religious leaders across central New York have a message on this Earth Day; everyone needs to cut back on fossil fuels to stop runaway climate change.

A statement signed by leaders of a broad spectrum of faiths, from Tibetan Buddhists to Muslims to Christians, urges central New York to start planning a transition away from fossil fuels, now.

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An Onondaga County program meant to offer a boost to local restaurants business has been a quick success. The “Keeping it Local” restaurant gift card matching program sold $500,000 worth of vouchers in five hours Tuesday.

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Officials say by the end of this week, two-thirds of eligible Onondaga County residents will have been vaccinated against COVID-19. That could mean a shift in the county's vaccination strategy.

Business at Onondaga County’s vaccine clinic at the Oncenter has slowed down. On Monday, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said 600 people got a shot, compared to 1,800 a day earlier in the process. The county is looking for different ways to get shots in arms of some of the more hard-to-reach populations.


Amazon is investing in central New York's workforce, as it gets closer to opening up a massive distribution center in the town of Clay. The company is expected to open up a five-story, $3.8 million fulfillment center by the end of this year.  It will be one of Amazon’s most automated distribution centers, relying heavily on robotics.

So it makes sense that the online retailer is investing $1.75 million in the new Syracuse STEAM school’s robotics and computer science programs, according to Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

After three years in the making, a full-service grocery store is opening its doors in downtown Syracuse Wednesday. 

The Syracuse Cooperative Market food store’s soft opening Wednesday brings everything you need from a full-service grocery store to a 2,500 square foot spot next to the new Salt City Market, according to co-op general manager Jeremy DeChario.

“We have meats, cheeses, dairy, bread, paper towels, napkins, ice cream, frozen pizza, canned tomatoes,” said DeChario. “I’ve got pet food, that’s a big one for folks downtown. The works."

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Onondaga County will begin going into schools this week and offering coronavirus vaccines to eligible teens. Officials are planning a pop-up clinic at the Baldwinsville School District on Thursday, according to County Executive Ryan McMahon. He said that district, one of the biggest in the county, was chosen after a survey showed the most interest from families and district officials, in getting shots in teens’ arms.

If the city of Syracuse’s proposed budget passes, it will use part of the $126 million it’s receiving from the American Rescue Plan stimulus package to bring city government back to pre-pandemic levels. Mayor Ben Walsh introduced a $265 million budget Thursday that returns City Hall to normal, and it couldn’t have happened without the federal help.

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Tuesday that tax breaks for families that were part of the recent COVID relief package will help cut child poverty in half. During a visit to Fulton, Schumer said it will put about $237 million into the pockets of central New York families.

Schumer went to Fulton, because almost of a third of the children in Oswego County live below the poverty level, one of the highest rates in the state. He said the expanded child tax credit, that’s part of the $1.9 trillion legislation, will mean $2,000 to $3,600 per child per family this year.

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Upstate Medical University in Syracuse is one of four sites in the world participating in a study to determine the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in children under the age of 12.

Upstate pediatrician Dr. Joseph Domachowske is leading the trial at the Syracuse hospital, which starts Monday with children between the ages of 2 and 5. He said the big question right now is dosage. Children will be given less of the vaccine than adults at first, to see how they react.

Payne Horning / WRVO News (file photo)

When the Biden administration unveiled a $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan this week, it included a mention of the I-81 project in Syracuse, and local officials hope that means support for the long-awaited project.

Central New York Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) says he talks up the $2 billion I-81 project every time he runs into an administration official. So he knows the plan, that is dependent on federal funds, is on their radar.

“We’re happy they’re recognizing it and I’m confident we’re going to get the funding,” Katko said.

Syracuse Catholic Diocese / YouTube Screenshot

This is one of a series of stories from WRVO on how the COVID-19 pandemic changed life in central and northern NY over the last year. Find all of the stories from our series here. 

Churches, temples and mosques have spent much of the last year empty, as the pandemic forced limits on gatherings. Despite that, the faithful have been able to maintain a sense of community.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon is looking at a post-pandemic world, as he outlines plans for the future. Helping the community recover, rebuild and heal from the pandemic was the theme of McMahon’s yearly State of the County address Wednesday evening.

McMahon wants to spend $142 million state, federal and local dollars on a cornucopia of projects, ranging from anti-poverty and economic development initiatives, to upgrades in neighborhoods and new roads. The biggest by far, is $25 million to create a sports complex along the shore of Onondaga Lake.

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More help is on the way in Onondaga County for children facing more mental health issues than ever before because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The county is committing more than $5 million to beef up mental health services in schools.

Cicero-North Syracuse sophomore Sydney Wright said it’s the isolation that is crippling many teens mentally during the pandemic.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News (file photo)

This is one of a series of stories from WRVO on how the COVID-19 pandemic changed life in central and northern NY over the last year. Find all of the stories from our series here. 

Onondaga Community College

Local colleges and universities are preparing to get back to normal as much as possible this fall, as the number of COVID-19 cases drop and immunizations rise. Unless something changes, most students will be on campus, learning in person.

Onondaga Community College President Casey Crabill said face-to-face learning will be the order for most students coming to campus next fall.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News (file photo)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is looking ahead to the next COVID relief bill, and wants to include money for community schools.

At an urban school in Syracuse and a rural school in St. Lawrence County Friday, Gillibrand touted the pluses of community schooling, which integrates social services into educational institutions.

“Anything that is a 360 degree view of what the student needs to succeed is what the schools need to focus on,” Gillibrand said in Syracuse.

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As the amount of COVID-19 vaccine continue to grow across central New York, officials are encouraging certain communities who are hesitant to get the shot to roll up their sleeves.

Initially, it was hard to get people in his community lined up for shots, according to Tucker Missionary Church Pastor Decarto Draper, because of the scarcity of the vaccine.

Danielle Volles

Farm workers in New York state are one of the populations waiting for the state to deem them eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. There’s growing concern that COVID could impact the food supply if those workers don’t get a shot.

Danielle Volles and her family own a dairy farm with 3,500 cows in southern Onondaga County. She is disappointed her employees and others who work in agriculture, can’t get shots yet.

"We were really thinking we were going to be in this rollout, and to not be in the rollout is kind of a slap in the face," Volles said.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon says he didn’t receive a call from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vaccine czar last weekend gauging political support for the embattled governor. But during a briefing Monday, McMahon said he does understand why at least one county executive filed an ethics complaint about such a call.

Upstate Medical University

A new state-of-the-art lab at Upstate Medical University will offer researchers in Syracuse ways to study infectious diseases that pose major public health risks. A prime focus will be on how ticks and mosquitos spread diseases.

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Health clinics in Syracuse, Watertown and Auburn are among 100 newly eligible sites across the state that are part of a “vaccine supercharge” from the federal government.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Thursday a huge influx of vaccines from the federal government will be part of the expansion of federally funded vaccine sites. The Syracuse Community Health Center, North Country Family Health Center in Watertown, and East Hill Family Medical in Auburn will be eligible to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to community members.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was in Syracuse Tuesday to tout the COVID relief package that is expected to pass in the House Wednesday.

Standing in front of Syracuse City Hall, Schumer said that all New Yorkers will get over $22 billion in direct payments. That includes just over 700,000 thousand central New York households that will receive almost $1.8 billion in stimulus checks. Schumer also came bearing funds for local governments.