As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in New York, restaurants and non-essential businesses could face closure or additional restrictions if hospitalization levels fail to stabilize and trend toward critical levels.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned on Monday a new initiative will place a particular region into a shutdown, similar to what happened in the spring, if its seven-day COVID-19 average indicates that within three weeks area hospitals will hit critical capacity. He said that would equate to 90 percent of a hospital’s volume.
“If hospital capacity becomes critical, we’re going to close down that region, period,” Cuomo said. “We will manage the hospital system as well as it can be managed, but if you’re going to overwhelm the hospital system, then we have no choice to go to close down.”
If restrictions are implemented, indoor dining would be prohibited in New York City, with the rest of the region restricted to 25 percent capacity. Any restaurant located in an area labeled an orange or red zone would only be allowed to serve via takeout or delivery, Cuomo said.
Currently, restaurants in New York City are restricted to 25 percent indoor capacity, with the remainder of the state allowed up to 50 percent.
To mitigate the recent uptick in hospitalizations, the state Department of Health has called for a 25 percent increase in all hospital beds and is imploring retired nurses and doctors to return to service. Those who return will have their registration renewed for free, Cuomo said.
He added that while New York still has one of the lowest positivity rates in the nation, the rapid rate of coronavirus spread is concerning, especially with the holidays approaching. More than 70 percent of the spread stems from small indoor gatherings, Cuomo said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, joined Cuomo during his press briefing and explained that the effects of Thanksgiving have yet to be seen, noting that a surge in cases will likely happen around Christmas. He characterized it as a surge upon a surge.
“If those two things happen and we don’t mitigate well, and we don’t listen to the public health measures that we need to follow, we can start to see things get really bad in the middle of January,” Fauci said. “Without substantial mitigation, the middle of January can be a really dark time for us.”
On Monday, cases of coronavirus increased by 516 in Westchester, bringing the total number of positive cases to 55,187 since the start of the pandemic. The new data comes after Westchester tallied over 700 daily cases for three consecutive days.
There are currently 7,925 active cases, with a 6.09 percent daily positivity rate on Sunday. That number is based on 8,468 tests administered.
“We have more than doubled the amount of active cases in the last three weeks,” County Executive George Latimer said on Monday. “It’s safe to say we are in the second peak of the disease.”
The county reported five more deaths on Monday, raising COVID-19-related fatalities to 1,534 since March. There were 19 deaths reported in the last week.
Latimer added that while the county has not reached its hospital capacity, there were just over 300 virus patients in Westchester hospitals. There are about 3,000 hospital beds in the county.
Statewide there were 7,302 new positive cases on Monday, with total COVID hospitalizations now 4,602. The state recorded 80 additional COVID-19-related fatalities, bringing the death toll to 27,229 since March.
“We’re coming into Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s and we will not see our population vaccinated before that happens,” County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler told The Examiner. “Unless people listen and change their behavior, the numbers are going to continue to climb, both the number of cases and deaths.”
Of the 29 areas labeled COVID-19 hotspots throughout New York, Port Chester and Peekskill continue to report the worst infection rates, a trend that has remained consistent over the last week.
On Sunday, the seven-day rolling average of those tested in Port Chester rose to 11.42 percent, an increase from 11.27 the previous day. Peekskill’s rolling average increased slightly to 10.59 percent.
Currently, portions of Ossining, Peekskill, Tarrytown, Yonkers and New Rochelle are designated a COVID-19 yellow zone. Port Chester is still in an orange warning zone.
The zoning designation is part of a three-tiered, color-coded system imposed by the state to reduce high infection rates and target micro-clusters. If labeled a hotspot, with yellow the lowest and red the highest, additional restrictions are implemented to mitigate spread of the virus.
While Ossining and Tarrytown reported lower infection rates on Sunday compared to previous days, Yonkers and New Rochelle saw a slight increase, state data showed.
Ossining has a seven-day average of 8.68 percent, with Tarrytown reporting 5.70 percent. Yonkers is 5.76 percent, a rise from 5.13 percent on Saturday, and New Rochelle is now 5.94 percent.
“It’s just sad, and it’s sadder because most of these things could be prevented if people just listened,” Amler said. “Unless people start getting serious and do what they need to do, we won’t see a decrease.”
COVID-19 Vaccine Update
New York State will receive an initial delivery of COVID-19 vaccine doses for 170,000 residents. Upon approval by the FDA, the state expects to receive the vaccines created by Pfizer on Dec. 15.
Additional allocations of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are expected to arrive later this month, Cuomo said. Cuomo has indicated vaccines would be prioritized to frontline workers and nursing homes, with an emphasis placed on disenfranchised communities.