I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving weekend. We are entering a new phase in the war against COVID, and therefore a new strategy is required. We need to ensure that hospitals have enough capacity and enough staff to deal with the fall and winter surge that is upon us. Tonight's update will be longer than usual, so bear with us, as the details are significant.
The Winter Plan to combat the COVID surge is multi-tiered and puts to good use the hard-won lessons we learned from the spring. First, we will manage hospital capacity to enhance and equalize care. Second, we will increase and balance testing resources and availability. Third, we will keep schools open safely. Fourth, we will try to prevent viral spread that stems from small gatherings. And fifth and finally, we will operationalize an equitable and safe vaccination program. (You can read more about the plan here, but many key aspects of it are included below.)
A vaccine is coming and this crisis will end. But until that happens, we must not overstress our hospital systems so we can save lives. That is the point of the Winter Plan, but it's also a mission we all must get behind. We've been through the worst but we're not done yet.
Charts of the Day: The rise in COVID hospitalizations is not limited to one area of New York. In fact, we can see it in every region of the state.
Here's what else you need to know about the Winter Plan: 1. The State Department of Health is implementing new emergency hospital measures to manage capacity. Hospitals are directed to identify retired medical staff, prepare to add 50 percent bed capacity, and confirm they have the mandatory 90-day stockpile of PPE, among other measures. 2. The State will refine the criteria for Yellow, Orange and Red Zones. The refinement will take into account important factors including the rate of hospitalizations, available hospital and ICU beds, and hospital staffing, and is part of our larger strategy of protecting hospital capacity. These changes will be implemented after experts evaluate any "post-Thanksgiving effect" in the COVID numbers. 3. If a hospital system is overwhelmed, we can pull an "Emergency Stop." In addition to the three existing micro-cluster zone levels (Yellow, Orange and Red), New York will add a new "Emergency Stop" level, which will effectively put that area under the NY on PAUSE guidelines from the spring. This new level would be used if a hospital system in that area was at serious risk of becoming overwhelmed. 4. The State will encourage school districts to keep schools open, particularly K-8 schools. Our efforts will be focused on keeping K-8 and Special Education open as long as it can be done safely—using sustainable, ongoing testing. While local school districts are able to close at levels under the State's mandatory closure rule, they are urged to keep K-8 schools open whenever it is safe. 5. Small gatherings have now been identified as the number one spread of COVID-19. At least 65 percent of all cases come from these settings and sixteen states, including New York, have already limited gatherings to no more than 10 people. While the government's ability to monitor small gatherings is limited, public education on the safety concerns of small gatherings is crucial. Help us spread the word on the danger these gatherings pose. 6. It will likely be months before a critical mass of vaccinations becomes available. Even though a vaccine is expected to be released in the coming weeks, we're still a while away from having a vaccine that is widely available. As the State operationalizes vaccine distribution, we continue to base our plan on three pillars: Fairness, Equity and Safety.
Here's what else you need to know tonight:
1. The statewide positivity rate was 4.57 percent yesterday. There were 6,819 positive cases from 148,974 tests reported yesterday. The positivity rate in the micro-cluster focus areas was 6.22 percent. Excluding these areas, it was 4.02 percent.
2. Total hospitalizations rose to 3,532. There were 681 patients in ICU yesterday, up 14 from the previous day. Of them, 325 are intubated. Sadly, we lost 54 New Yorkers to the virus.
3. Elective surgeries in Erie County will be temporarily halted on Friday. Currently, the region has the most critical hospital situation in the state. Stopping elective surgeries will free up hospital beds. Elective surgeries consist of surgeries that are scheduled in advance.
4. Contact tracers allow people to know if they've been exposed. This is important for the safety of the individual and the greater community. If you are contacted by a NYS contact tracer, please pick up the phone—if you have caller ID, it will read "NYS Contact Tracing." Help them do their jobs and keep all of us safer.
Tonight's "Deep Breath Moment": Iron Chef winner Peter Kelly cooked up gourmet Thanksgiving meals for seniors living in public housing in Yonkers, NY. On Thanksgiving, Chef Kelly delivered 300 to-go meals, full of Thanksgiving favorites, to residents who were homebound and unable to see their families over the holidays. Chef Kelly, who owns the restaurant X2O in Yonkers, wanted to give back to the community where his culinary journey began.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo