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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Payne Horning / WRVO News (file photo)

Onondaga County officials announced another 202 positive cases of the coronavirus Sunday, with 102 residents currently hospitalized. There’s one big concern as hospitalizations related to the coronavirus, have reached their highest numbers since the pandemic hit central New York.

Upstate University Hospital CEO Dr. Robert Corona said there are enough beds for COVID-19 patients. The facility has long had plans for creating space. The thing that worries him at this point is whether there is enough staff to take care of them.

Hospitals are making plans to deal with the current surge of COVID-19 cases in central New York, expanding their ICU capabilities, according to Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon.

"In the event that you have 84 people in the hospital, some of them get sicker and you gotta be ready.”

Payne Horning / WRVO News (file photo)

Halloween weekend combined with testing delays allowed the coronavirus to spread among students on the Syracuse University campus, forcing it to move to remote learning.  As students leave campus this week, officials are looking back at how things went wrong.

SU Vice Chancellor Michael Haynie said keeping thousands of students mostly COVID-free for nearly four months was actually a pretty impressive feat, creating a bubble around students. But that bubble burst on Halloween weekend, in part he believes, because of coronavirus fatigue.

luluinnyc / Flickr

Onondaga County is streamlining the contact tracing regimen that’s used to try and corral the coronavirus. This comes as the county continues to report large numbers of positive cases every day.

Numbers in the last few weeks have hovered between 150 and more than 200 new cases every day and Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon says that’s a lot of work for county staff doing case investigations.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

Onondaga County has started testing children for COVID-19 in schools in the state designated “yellow zone,” created after a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

County Executive Ryan McMahon announced another 178 cases Thursday. There have been more than 500 cases this week. Being designated a yellow zone means added restrictions, like limited gatherings and earlier closing of bars and restaurants. 

Ellen Abbott / WRVO Public Media

Upstate Medical University in Syracuse is ramping up its COVID-testing regimen to help SUNY’s plans for mandatory testing of students in the coming weeks and months.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

Onondaga County officials reported another 107 cases of COVID-19 Sunday, bringing the number of cases in just the last four days to nearly 500. 120 cases were reported Saturday, and 149 on Friday.

County Executive Ryan McMahon said Sunday that two county residents have died from the illness in the last 24 hours, a 91-year-old woman and a 65-year-old man. That brings the total number of deaths in the county to 214 since the pandemic began.

McMahon said in a tweet Sunday that Monday’s number will likely be high again.

Onondaga County’s COVID 19 infection rate is over 2% for the first time since early summer, and recent daily case numbers have officials concerned.

After a record 99 new infections were reported a week ago, numbers started dropping a bit. But now the number of positive tests has returned with a vengeance. There were 94 cases reported Wednesday and 98 Thursday.

County Executive Ryan McMahon said Friday’s numbers are likely to be the highest since the pandemic began.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Onondaga County lawmakers begin working on a coronavirus pandemic-related budget this week. County Executive Ryan McMahon presented a spending plan Wednesday that reflects dramatic cuts in revenue, and what will ultimately be a smaller government.

The budget weighs in at $1.25 billion. That’s $84 million less than last year’s spending plan.

“It’s a budget that reflects the reality of our new normal,” McMahon said.

WRVO News File Photo

Republican Reps. Tom Reed (R-Corning) and Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) both won their reelection races Tuesday, and John Katko (R-Camillus) holds a large lead over his Democratic Challenger Dana Balter with absentee ballots still to count.

Katko all but declared victory in the race for the 24th Congressional District late Tuesday. After results gave him a 55,000 vote lead over Balter, the three-term Congressman issued a statement saying “As the outstanding absentee ballots are counted in NY24, it’s clear our campaign has prevailed.”

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media

No parties, no balloon drops, and in some cases, no winners or losers. All the usual trappings of election night will be missing because of the coronavirus pandemic. This will be an election night like no other.

Jason Smith / WRVO News (file photo)

The second year of early voting in New York has been a resounding success. In Onondaga County alone, nearly 60,000 voters cast ballots during the nine day early voting window that ended Sunday.

“This is amazing and it’s a great problem to have,” Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny said. “It’s obviously showing the popularity of early voting, it’s showing the need for more sites, it’s showing the need for more investments by Onondaga County for this program because 60,000 people want it.”

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

Onondaga County will be cracking down on local bars and restaurants not following coronavirus guidelines this weekend, as part of a strategy to tamp down increasing numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 in the community.

WRVO News/Ed Weber

Central New York’s longest serving state lawmaker is facing a challenge from a Town of Geddes official in this year’s election. Democrat Bill Magnarelli is hoping to win his 12th two-year term in the State Assembly this year, but hoping to stop Magnarelli’s streak is Republican Ed Weber. 

Weber is a deputy supervisor in the Town of Geddes and a retired sheriff’s deputy. He’s also worked for the Syracuse University Department of Public Safety. He said he’s running because of one issue, bail reform, which eliminates bail for someone arrested on certain crimes.

joelip / Flickr

Onondaga County election officials are taking action to try to ease the crush of early voters who have been heading to the polls in droves the last four days.

Like many other locations in New York state, central New York voters are choosing to cast their ballot early this presidential election year, and it’s created long lines and waits. Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny says the county will expand the hours at its six election sites this weekend in order to move things along.

Jason Smith / WRVO News (file photo)

Early voting begins in New York state this weekend, and while elections officials are prepared, they aren’t sure how many voters will choose to cast a ballot in a relatively new way to vote in New York.

U.S. House of Representatives/Julio Urrutia

The first debate in the race for New York’s 24th Congressional District was held Monday in Syracuse. Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) and Democratic challenger Dana Balter crystalized key campaign points in a debate held by syracuse.com.

photo courtesy of Onondaga County

Getting a flu shot is taking on added urgency during the coronavirus pandemic, especially as the weather gets colder and cases of COVID-19 start to tick upward again.

Onondaga County reported 53 new cases Wednesday. That concerns Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, because many of those cases involve people who have been going to work while sick. He said they’re not doing it intentionally, they just think they have allergies or a cold. So he’s pleading with residents to stay away from work and get tested for COVID-19 before going back.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Mail-in ballots are getting more scrutiny than ever before this year. More people than ever are expected to use the option to cast an absentee ballot by mail so they don’t have to go to potentially crowded polling places during the pandemic, and elections officials and candidates are taking steps to make sure every vote gets counted.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

Italian Americans in Syracuse will gather in Columbus Circle Monday, to pay tribute to the Italian explorer, possibly for the last time. And they're not happy about it.

After years of controversy and discussion, Mayor Ben Walsh made the final decision on the future of the controversial statue last week. The statue will be coming down.

Payne Horning / WRVO News (file photo)

Syracuse University officials are optimistic they have contained a coronavirus cluster spread during an off-campus party last weekend. Vice Chancellor Mike Haynie said at this point, 65 students have tested positive for coronavirus, and dozens of others are monitoring symptoms in quarantine. 

U.S. House of Representatives/Julio Urrutia

The latest poll looking at the race for central New York's 24th Congressional District race shows Democrat Dana Balter with a slight lead over incumbent Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus). Each candidate sees advantages in the poll, but Katko's support of President Trump is a clear liability.

WRVO News (file photo)

Friday is the deadline for any new voters in New York to register to vote in this year’s election, and Onondaga County reports a surge in new voter registrations.

Much of the uptick according to Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny, is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

Onondaga County officials got some good financial news Monday for the first time in months.  The county's latest sales tax payment is up $10 million over last year. The $37.8 million payment was so high, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said he called state officials asking if it was a mistake.

He said the boost in revenue means the county will not have to lay off or furlough any employees this month.

A program to test symptomatic school children in Onondaga County for the coronavirus has been so successful, parents have run into major delays trying to make appointments. But the county hopes streamlining the process and expanding capacity will help.

Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties

The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties is asking the community for help with its racial equity and social justice initiative. Earlier this summer, the foundation approved a $10 million initiative to invest in programs that fight inequality.

Now, the group is asking residents to take the Mohawk Valley Equity Pledge to build support for programs that create more equity and fairness for everyone in the community.

Decaseconds / Flickr

A series of public hearings has started which will help the New York State Public Service Commission decide whether to grant National Grid a rate increase. 

The company is proposing 4% increases in electric service and 6% increases for gas service to start in July 2021. According to the utility, the rate hikes would allow it to make needed upgrades, modernize infrastructure, and integrate clean power sources into the power grid.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Supporters of a law that would end suspension of driver's licenses because of overdue traffic fines are pushing for action from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The Syracuse City School District will open its doors to students and staff next week, to kick off a hybrid model of instruction that mixes remote and in-school learning.  It will be a shift from the total remote learning that’s been going on in recent weeks.

Photo courtesy of Symphoria

Symphoria is starting its 2020-21 season this weekend, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, concerts will be live-streamed, and will look a little different.

Getting several dozen musicians together on a stage is not a simple thing during a pandemic.  Instruments often spew droplets, there’s a lot of hand waving and moving around. So when Symphoria officials decided to move ahead with a season, they had to figure out a way to protect musicians from each other.