Gov. Cuomo unveils winter COVID-19 strategy: ‘Hospital capacity is our top concern’

Coronavirus

NEW YORK CITY (WROC) – On day 275 since the coronavirus arrived in New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a briefing in New York City to give an update on the response efforts.

The governor announced a five-point strategy for combatting the virus this winter, broken down into the following:

  1. Hospitals
  2. Testing
  3. School testing
  4. Small gatherings
  5. Vaccine plan

A new phase

“It’s a new phase in the war against COVID,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “It’s a war in terms of mindset. COVID is an an enemy that’s attacking people, it’s killing people. It’s a war in terms of preparation and strategy. When the facts change, when the attack changes, change your situation and your defense or offense. COVID is shifting the battlefield dramatically.”

The governor again warned of the dangers of the looming holidays, which he says extends to beyond the specific holiday dates on the calendar.

“We talked about this before Thanksgiving; you are not just going into the Thanksgiving weekend you’re starting a 37 day holiday period,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We don’t need a holiday surge on top of the already smaller surge. COVID is the Grinch. Think of it that way, and the COVID Grinch is an opportunist and the COVID Grinch sees this as the season of viral transmission. All those things that the holiday season brings; they all increase social activity, they all increase mobility, and they will all increase virus transmission.”

The governor said that the virus is primarily being transmitted in homes and small-scale social gatherings.

“Our mask compliance is up near 98% — great. And all social actions, the school protocols and the school testing — great highly effective. It’s astonishing how low the level of infections are in schools,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Really bad news? Family gatherings and small social gatherings have exploded as places where the virus is spreading. So we understand the cause, we understand the effect, and we understand that the effect is dramatic.”

Monday’s numbers

New York state COVID-19 data update, according to the governor’s office:

  • 148,974 tests processed Sunday in New York state
  • 6,819 new COVID-19 cases statewide
  • 4.57% positivity rate overall statewide
  • 6% positivity rate in micro-cluster hotspots
  • 4% positivity rate outside of micro-cluster hotspots.
  • 54 New Yorkers died from COVID-19 Sunday
  • 3,532 hospitalized
  • 681 in ICU
  • 325 intubated

Each region’s percentage of positive test results reported over the last three days is as follows:

REGIONFRIDAYSATURDAYSUNDAYCURRENT 7-DAY AVERAGE
Capital Region3.4%3.4%3.7%3.24%
Central New York8.4%6.9%4.2%4.79%
Finger Lakes6.6%6.6%6.6%5.76%
Long Island3.4%4.1%4.5%3.76%
Mid-Hudson4.8%4.9%5.1%4.55%
Mohawk Valley4.7%5.1%4.6%4.42%
New York City2.9%3.4%3.9%2.92%
North Country3.1%2.4%3.0%2.80%
Southern Tier4.4%4.1%3.8%2.11%
Western New York7.4%7.2%7.4%6.94%

“We’re going to have a problem in the hospitals, I’m telling you right now. It’s going to be a serious situation,” Gov. Cuomo said.

Hospitals

The governor said that COVID-19 hospitalization rates are increasing “everywhere in the state.”

“This my friends is the problem,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We are seeing the rise in hospitalizations all across the state. It’s not a situation where it’s only happening in one part of the state and we can shift resources from one part of the state to another. It is statewide so we will have a limited ability to bring resources from upstate to downstate like we did in the spring or from downstate to upstate because literally every region is dealing with a hospital issue now.”

The governor laid out a plan for hospitals, who face resource and capacity issues.

“In the new battlefield, hospital capacity is the top concern,” Gov. Cuomo said. “First, we’re going to shift the focus to the number of hospitalizations and hospital capacity. The hospitalization rate, we know by address where people are coming from, who are going into the hospitals. The death rate, the case rate, the available hospital beds in that community, the available ICU beds, and the available staff.

“We’re going to add in — on top of yellow, orange, and red zones — an emergency STOP provision, where if we hit a real hospitalization crisis we could potentially do a NY PAUSE,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Today, New York State Department of Health is going to initiate emergency hospital measures. Every hospital also has to identify retired doctors and nurses now.”

For a portion of Western New York, the governor said elective surgeries would be temporarily suspended by the end of the week.

“Were going to stop elective surgeries in Eric County as of this Friday,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Erie County has the most critical hospital situation in the state.

The governor said that individual hospital systems will be required to disperse their patients evenly throughout the respective facilities.

“The individual hospital network load balancing is mandated as of today,” Gov. Cuomo said. “They are systems unto themselves and they can have seven, eight, 10, 11, 30 hospitals in their systems. It is mandatory as of today that they balance the load within their system. Forget how you operate, this is a mandate from the state department of health. You must distribute patients across your system so one hospital does not get overwhelmed.

The governor said there would be consequences for health facilities and systems that fail to balance the patient capacity.

“If a hospital get overwhelmed there will be a state investigation, and if the result of that investigation is they did not distribute the patience, that will be malpractice on their part,” Gov. Cuomo said.

The governor said that hospital systems should be preparing now for what’s to come, in regards to staffing, capacity, available beds, PPE, and more.

“For hospital systems, plan now for adding 50% capacity to your hospital,” Gov. Cuomo said.

Watch the full briefing:

Testing

The governor emphasized the importance of COVID-19 testing in targeting the viral spread.

“We do more testing than any state in the nation, we have the highest amount pro rata,” Gov. Cuomo said. “The more testing you do, the more you know, and the more you know the better you do. It is just that simple. There’s not enough tests to go around, I get it, but we have to be fair in the distribution.”

Schools

The governor said it’s important to do everything possible to keep schools open.

“Keep schools open,” Gov. Cuomo said. “All the testing says schools are safer than the surrounding community. The local district can exceed the minimum state testing level, but they have to make sure that they are meeting their other needs also. It’s not enough to test all students and not test essential workers. You have to fairly distribute the tests. We’ve talked to all sorts of experts, all across the country, no state has the testing school protocol that we have in place.

“We have a mandatory close level for school districts, but they can close lower than our level,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Our advise is you don’t. We believe in keeping schools open, especially K-8. The schools are safer than the surrounding community, and children get an education and parents can work.”

Social alternatives

The governor said that the increase in spread from small social gatherings is a function of the lake of alternatives.

“Part of it is reduced social options,” Gov. Cuomo said. “‘I can’t go to the bar and hang out, I can’t go to a restaurant and hang out, I can’t go to the movie theater and hang out. Come over to my house and we’ll hang out.’ It’s just an adaptation of social behavior to the circumstance. We have a rule in effect, no more than 10 people at an event.

“This is a nationwide problem,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I understand the people don’t like the restrictions, but this is not government being overly dramatic, these are just facts. Don’t expose people, and don’t ask people to risk your lives because you were behaving in a risky way. You want to be a tough guy? Guy being gender neutral — I tell you what a tough guy does: Go volunteer in a COVID hospital and help patients. That’s what a tough guy does. That’s how you celebrate Thanksgiving. Don’t create more COVID positive people, and then expect others to come to your rescue.”

Vaccine

The governor continued his wartime metaphor, saying that a forthcoming vaccine will be the “weapon to end the war.”

“Vaccinations will be the weapon to end the war,” Gov. Cuomo said. “The vaccine critical mass is still months away and until the vaccine hits critical mass, keep operating at the maximum safety level. We want the economy open and we want people working at the maximum level that is safe.”

Expecting what’s next

With the vaccine still not available for the immediate future, and the virus spreading further and further, the governor said New Yorkers need to be disciplined and diligent in the coming weeks.

“Person opinion? If I have to wager, you’ll see these numbers continue to increase all through the holiday season, probably until mid-January,” Gov. Cuomo said. “You have not yet seen the effect of Thanksgiving. There will be a lag and you’ll see the effect, week out probably from today.

“We have to settle in, but the good news is New York is doing better than almost any other state on the numbers,” Gov. Cuomo said. “New York is better prepared than any other state and it is all in our control. It’s not in our control, but its in our control. This is all a function of human behavior and social action. Its all what we do.”

Monroe County

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello was among a number of elected officials to Zoom into the governor’s briefing Monday.

Over the weekend, Monroe County reported 1,026 new COVID-19 cases after the two highest single-day increases to date. Active cases and hospitalizations are both at an all-time high locally as well.

Check back with News 8 WROC as we continue to update this developing story.

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