Gov. Kathy Hochul has instituted additional steps in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19 fueled by the Omicron variant that continues to cause the state’s hospitalizations to balloon.
With a statewide positivity rate of just over 23 percent on Sunday, Hochul is asking hospitals to begin tracking this week how many patients are being hospitalized for COVID-related symptoms, not just those who have tested positive for the virus and might have been admitted for other reasons.
This is on top of halting all non-essential elective surgeries at hospitals that have hospital bed availability at less than 10 percent. As of Sunday, there were 21 hospitals in the state that had dipped beneath that threshold; however, that was down from 32 a week earlier, Hochul said.
“We’re not in a good place. I’ll be really honest with you,” Hochul said during her Monday briefing. “This is the winter surge we predicted. We know that particularly after families gathered Dec. 25 over that weekend, another weekend holiday we just completed with New Year’s, there’s a lot of human interaction. And what happens when humans gather? They spread the virus, and we fully anticipate on top of the surge that’s already ongoing that there’s going to be another wave that’s coming as a result of these holidays.”
While the number of hospitalizations is about half of what it was during the height of the initial wave in spring 2020, the 9,563 statewide number that was reported on Saturday has now surpassed last year’s fall and early winter surge of 9,273 on Jan. 19, 2021.
That is of concern because available hospital beds in some areas of the state are disappearing. Hochul said facilities could be under greater pressure unless the outbreak begins to dissipate soon.
What has been encouraging is that for the number of cases the state has seen, which included more than 85,000 on Dec. 31 alone, the hospitalizations have thus far been relatively manageable, she said. Whether that’s because of the state’s high vaccination rate, a less virulent Omicron variant or a combination of both, it is a hopeful sign, the governor said.
“These numbers are rather shocking when you think about where we are, but as we have to remind everyone, this is not the first strain of COVID-19, it is not the Delta variant,” Hochul said. “People are testing positive, which is a much higher rate, but the severity of the illness is far less than what we’ve seen before.”
She once again urged all those haven’t been vaccinated and are eligible to do so to arrange for their doses. For those who were fully vaccinated and it’s at least six months since their last shot, it’s time to get a booster, Hochul advised.
“We know what to do, but it’s about getting vaccinated, boosted and wearing our mask,” she said, “and again, people who are sick, please stay home.”
Last Friday, the governor cited the state’s statistics that New York’s hospitalization rate is 30 per 100,000 for those who are unvaccinated but just 2.1 per 100,000 for the vaccinated population. She said that while plenty of vaccinated people have tested positive for COVID-19, the likelihood of serious illness, hospitalization or death is significantly diminished if inoculated.
“That is why this situation is 100 percent preventable,” Hochul said.
Through Sunday, 95 percent of New Yorkers 18 years old and up had received at least one shot, with 83 percent having completed the series. For 12- to 17-year-olds, 76 percent have received one shot with 66 percent had two.
For children in the five- to 11-year-old category, 29 percent have received the first dose statewide.
Mask Mandate to Continue
On Dec. 31, Hochul announced that the statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces will continue until at least Feb. 1.
The governor put forth a mask requirement effective Dec. 13, and it was initially scheduled to last through at least Jan. 15.
Meanwhile, the state is now requiring that all SUNY and CUNY students receive their booster by Jan.15 to attend classes for the upcoming spring semester, Hochul said.
“We are putting on an additional requirement in order (for a student) to return to your college campuses,” Hochul said. “You need to be boosted.”
The state is also requiring all SUNY and CUNY faculty to be vaccinated for the upcoming semester as well.