New York is on the precipice of a grim holiday season, as coronavirus hospitalizations reach levels not seen in months.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday that hospitalizations in the state topped 3,500 over the weekend, the most since May. He also said that 54 coronavirus-related deaths were reported across the state on Sunday.
Nearly 1,000 people in died in November, according to The New York Times’s tally, the deadliest month since June.
Mr. Cuomo announced new measures to help stem the second wave of the outbreak, focusing more on hospital capacity and pinpointing problem areas than on a broader shutdown. He also noted the importance of keeping elementary schools open, if possible, and outlined a plan for increased and balanced testing across the state.
“Covid is shifting the battlefield dramatically, and we have entered a new phase."
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More than 34,000 people have died in New York since the first case was discovered in March, more than in any other state. Mr. Cuomo said that over the weekend, the state’s daily rate of positive tests for the coronavirus topped 4 percent for the first time since May.
When infection rates accelerated in the spring, hospitals were flooded with coronavirus patients, and doctors and nurses were exhausted.
“We are not going to live through the nightmare of overwhelmed hospitals again,”
Mr. Cuomo said.
The holiday threat
The governor said that over 65 percent of the current spread was caused by small gatherings of people, which proliferate during the holiday season. He cautioned that he expected infection rates in New York to keep climbing until at least mid-January.
“Covid is the Grinch. The Covid Grinch sees this as the season of viral transmission.”
Mr. Cuomo said at a press briefing on Monday, adding that.
He said that a widespread shutdown of businesses and schools would probably not be the best way to tackle the virus this time. He said it would be more useful to continue the state’s current system of targeted restrictions, updated with new metrics — like hospitalization rates, available hospital beds, and death and case rates — to forestall hospital overcrowding and the chaos it could cause.
Mr. Cuomo asked hospitals to begin identifying retired doctors and nurses to help relieve medical workers and prevent burnout. He said he hoped to maximize capacity by dusting off plans for field hospitals and asking hospital systems to try to spread patients between different locations and increase the number of beds by 50 percent. Patients could also be moved between hospital systems, if necessary.
If hospitals do become overwhelmed, Mr. Cuomo could impose a regional shutdown.
The governor’s plan also emphasized the importance of allowing elementary schools to stay open, because they have largely shown low rates of transmission.
Mayor Bill de Blasio closed schools in New York City last month after the city’s seven-day average positive test rate passed 3 percent, a threshold he set before he began reopening schools about two months ago.
Mr. Cuomo has questioned the efficacy of that number, pointing out that positive test rates in elementary schools tended to be much lower than in their surrounding neighborhoods. Activists, parents and educators have criticized the mayor for closing schools while officials allowed restaurants and other businesses to stay open.
Mr. de Blasio announced on Sunday that city elementary schools could reopen starting Dec. 7, and students with the most complex disabilities could return on Dec. 10.
The mayor said the city would abandon the 3 percent test positivity threshold. Instead, testing in schools would be increased, and those found to have multiple confirmed virus cases would be closed.
On Monday, Mr. de Blasio said the city’s seven-day average test positivity rate was 4.03 percent.