Tom Magnarelli

Reporter, Syracuse

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York. 

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media

SUNY Oswego had another jump in cases of COVID-19 over the weekend. 32 new cases reported in the last two days brings the total number of cases to 235, most coming in the last two weeks. The college announced Friday it would switch to 100% remote instruction for the next two weeks, and students who leave campus during the pause may not be allowed to come back. 

College president Deborah Stanley said Friday the college does not have the facilities or staff to monitor students who go home and then come back to campus and would have to quarantine for two weeks.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is requiring board of elections across the state to have ballot drop-off locations at all polling sites. In Onondaga County, ballot drop boxes will be available at every early voting and Election Day poll site, during polling hours, as well as at the Board of Elections, during normal business hours.

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Some parents, religious leaders, former teachers and activists are voicing anger at what they say is a lack of proper resources, technology and scheduling as online classes begin in the Syracuse City School District. Students Pre-K through 12th grade in the district are all doing remote learning through at least Oct. 2.

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As schools and colleges get a lot of attention on reopening, elected officials and business leaders in central New York are also focusing on hospitality as the next industry where New York State needs to take action. Hotels have taken a big economic hit.

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Onondaga County has come to an agreement with its largest union, CSEA, to furlough workers in order to minimize layoffs. This comes after the county legislature voted last week to give the county executive’s administration the power to lay off up to 250 workers, in an effort to fill a $6 million hole, caused by the economic shutdown, by the end of the year. 

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media

There is “no cause for alarm” at SUNY Oswego according to SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras. Forty-three students tested positive for COVID-19 this week. That brings the total up to 64 cases since the beginning of the semester. Malatras visited campus Wednesday, met with the SUNY Oswego president and discussed the college’s reopening plan.

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Some operators of live music and theater venues in central New York say it’s time for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to let them reopen, even if it is just partially. Sen. Charles Schumer is pushing for legislation in a new Covid stimulus bill that would give these businesses some financial support to stay afloat.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media File Photo

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon is asking the county Legislature to give his administration the flexibility to make up to 250 layoffs, amid an ongoing fiscal crisis of $80-100 million, due to the pandemic. The layoffs could save the county $6 million by the end of the year.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media

Teachers and school staff in Onondaga County have been getting tested for COVID-19 at some of the mobile test sites being brought to different school districts. The testing is voluntary and teachers say they’re going through it so it’s safe for them and students to return to school. 

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The City of Syracuse is raising the fees for parking violations, but it’s also offering an amnesty window next month for people to pay parking tickets back without any additional late fees. It’s a way for the city to generate some money after losing tens of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue, due to the coronavirus.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO Public Media File Photo

Former central New York Republican Rep. Jim Walsh is among a list of more than two dozen former Republican members of Congress who are endorsing Democrat Joe Biden for president. Walsh represented the Syracuse area in Congress for two decades.

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The coronavirus pandemic has not slowed construction of a new food hall and grocery store in downtown Syracuse, the first of its kind for the area. The Salt City Market will feature culturally diverse food entrepreneurs, and some of them have been just as busy, gearing up for the opening. 

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media File Photo

The Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency is offering $500,000 in grants to small businesses and nonprofits, to offset the cost of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and other health and safety measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chairman of the county IDA, Pat Hogan, said there is a ton of interest among small businesses to get some of this money, which comes in the form of reimbursements up to $10,000.

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Family members in central New York are telling their stories about how they’ve been negatively impacted by the state’s response to nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. A candidate for State Senate is amplifying those voices and criticizing one local state senator.

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The Onondaga County Board of Elections expects a large amount of voters will apply for absentee ballots for the general election. Mail-in voting made up about 65% of the total vote for the June primary in the county. That’s about 10 times the amount of absentee ballots they would normally receive. And it was the largest turnout for a primary the county has on record. But election commissioners do have concerns.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that every region in New York state is below the 5% threshold of the COVID-19 transmission rate, and schools in the state can open in the fall. How often kids go to school, or if they go to school, depends on each of the states 700 school districts, which have been submitting their reopening plans to the state Education Department and Department of Health. 

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Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh is responding to the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to end all counting efforts for the 2020 census a month earlier than previously announced. The bureau’s director said it’s part of their plan to accelerate the completion of data collection by the end of the year. Walsh said cutting off the census count on September 30 is very troubling, undermines all the works that’s been done, and will hurt the city for years to come. 

Aspen Athletic Clubs Facebook

Indoor gyms are some of the few, last remaining businesses that have had to stay closed in New York state, and there is no word yet from Gov. Andrew Cuomo as to when they can reopen. Gym owners continue to suffer from the closures, but health experts say gyms can pose a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission.

WRVO News (file photo)

The Syracuse Common Council is holding its spending items until Mayor Ben Walsh comes up with a plan to fill the city’s $20 million budget gap. One councilor said the lack of a bailout from the state or federal governments, to make up for the revenue losses from the coronavirus shutdown, is expediting the need for action. 

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The New York State Department of Transportation has submitted its draft environmental impact statement on the I-81 reconstruction project, through the city of Syracuse, to the Federal Highway Administration for review. It's a project state officials have been working on since 2013. The federal agency needs to sign off on the document, so it can be released to the public. 

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media File Photo

School districts across New York State have to submit their plans for reopening to the state Education Department by Friday. Central New York superintendents are explaining to school boards what a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning would look like.

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Several police items will not be on the agenda for Wednesday’s Syracuse Common Council meeting, because one councilor blocked them in protest for not having Right to Know legislation come out of committee. Right to Know is a law passed in New York City, which requires police to identify themselves to citizens during certain interactions, provide a business card and obtain and record consent to searches. The Right to Know legislation is being held to allow lawyers to weigh in.

Onondaga County Health Department

There were 41 opioid-related deaths in Onondaga County in the first quarter of 2020, nearly one-third of the total amount of opioid deaths last year. That number has continued to rise over the past three years. Treatment providers say the COVID-19 pandemic is only making things worse.

New York State is offering a rent relief program to low-income renters who lost income during the COVID-19 crisis. But some local activists say that’s still not good enough and they’re calling for New York to cancel rent payments for the entirety of the pandemic.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media File Photo

The Syracuse Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards investigates complaints against the police. But Syracuse also has a Citizen Review Board, made up of members nominated by the mayor and Common Council, which conducts its own investigations and makes recommendations for disciplining officers. A backlog of 89 outstanding cases from 2017-2019 still needs to be completed by the CRB. And of that number, 44 cases have fallen outside of an 18-month window an officer has to be disciplined.

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Visual artist and Syracuse resident Carrie Mae Weems started a public awareness campaign in the city in May, focused on the impact COVID-19 has had on black, brown and native communities. Since then, the campaign has expanded across the country to places like New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. Weems uses giveaway items to spread messages on how people can protect themselves.

Shinichi Sugiyama / Flickr

The New York State Education Department issued guidance this week on how schools can reopen, including a more than 100-page document with detailed requirements and considerations. School districts across the state have been working on reopening plans and need to submit those plans for approval by July 31. If schools do reopen, there will likely be social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting protocols and daily health screenings of students and staff.

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Protesters are continuing to demand that Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh make changes to the city’s police department. It’s been more than a month since protests against police brutality started locally, following the death of George Floyd and nationwide protests. Stakeholders and protesters have a list of nine demands called “The People’s Agenda,” that they want the city to accept. 

Wayne Marshall / via Flickr

After years of effort, the Syracuse Common Council has finally made the presence of lead a code violation in rental housing in the city. The Council voted unanimously on the ordinance. It will allow the city to take a proactive approach to addressing lead poisoning in children.

Councilor Joe Driscoll has been working on this issue since 2017.

“When we started this journey, we didn’t think it would take this long,” Driscoll said. “As the legislation developed, we realized how complicated it was.”

Ellen Abbott / WRVO Public Media

Malls in Phase 4 regions, including central New York, will be allowed to reopen on Friday, so long as they have enhanced HVAC filtration systems that can take COVID out of the air.