Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that New York is just days away from a second lockdown if coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to surge upward during the holiday season.
“If you overwhelm the hospital capacity, you will have to go back to shutdown,” Cuomo said during a Monday press conference in New York City. “There are no options.”
Hospitalizations across the Empire State have skyrocketed in the last month after frigid temperatures forced residents indoors, and New Yorkers gathered for the holidays despite warnings from health officials.
Cuomo has previously closed indoor dining in the state’s red and orange coronavirus cluster zones. But to combat the new wave, Cuomo revealed a series of new restrictive mandates that could go into effect as soon as Friday.
The governor said if hospitalization rates across the Empire State do not stabilize in the next five days, indoor dining will have a 25 percent occupancy limit across the state—and shut down entirely in New York City. And if cases continue to skyrocket, Cuomo said the state will shut down regions that have seven-day COVID-19 case averages that indicate “critical hospital capacity” within three weeks. The plan is similar to that of California, where a new stay-at-home order took effect on Sunday for Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley—after intensive care unit capacity dipped below 15 percent.
“If your seven-day average shows that within 3 weeks you will hit critical hospital capacity, we close you down. So, a little complicated,” Cuomo said, adding he doesn’t expect the numbers to stabilize anytime soon. “Overwhelming the hospital system means people die on a gurney in a hallway.”
To relieve medical facilities across the state already overrun by COVID-19, Cuomo on Monday ordered hospitals to increase bed capacity by 25 percent. He added that there is no singular hospitalization rate threshold that will trigger these shutdowns.
“Stabilization is stabilization,” the governor said. “Where you are now—stabilize, instead of going up. If your hospitalization rate is 4 percent, instead of going from four to five, you have to stay at four and stabilize. Right now it’s increasing.”
New York, which now has a test positivity rate of 4.79 percent, reported 80 COVID-19 deaths overnight, bringing the total death toll to 34,552. As of Monday, the state reported 4,602 total hospitalizations, its highest total since May 22.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during Cuomo’s press conference that the holiday season is likely to lead to another wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The White House Coronavirus Task Force member added that officials still don’t know the full impact Thanksgiving had on COVID-19 cases across the country—where new records of daily deaths and hospitalizations are being shattered daily.
“The problem is, that’s going to come right up to the beginning of the Christmas/Hannukah potential surge—so you have a surge upon a surge and then before you can handle that, more people are going to travel over Christmas, they’re going to have more of those family and friends gatherings,” Fauci said. “If those two things happen and we don’t mitigate well, we could start to see things really start to get bad in the middle of January. Without substantial mitigation, the middle of January can be a very dark time for us.”
On the bright side, Fauci noted that New Yorkers could start getting the coronavirus vaccine as soon as April—after health-care workers, nursing home residents, and other high-priority residents. If all goes to plan, Fauci estimated the country could be in “good shape” by the third quarter of 2021.
For now, New York restrictions will depend on how hospitals handle the influx of cases. On Monday, the governor asked all retired doctors and nurses in the state to return to service and said the state will cover any fees needed for them to re-register.
“Bottom line for us, I see it as hospital capacity versus vaccination critical mass,” Cuomo said during the briefing. “I think that’s the ultimate bottom line. Can your hospitals handle the increase until you start to see a reduction from the vaccination? … Do everything to slow down the spread and then at the same time accelerate the vaccines.”