What to Know
- 10 p.m. curfews for service at bars, restaurants and gyms took effect in New York Friday; Gov. Andrew Cuomo also imposed a 10-person cap on gatherings within private homes starting Friday
- Even before those restrictions took effect, Cuomo said Friday afternoon he expected additional steps would be needed; he's meeting with five other northeast govs this weekend to discuss
- In NYC, the rolling positivity rate hit 2.83% Friday, on the brink of the 3% school closure threshold; Mayor de Blasio told parents to have a plan as early as Monday in the event schools switch all-remote
New COVID restrictions went into effect Friday night across New York state imposing curfews on restaurants and gyms and limiting gatherings in private homes to 10 people, while New York City is preparing to move schools all-remote.
Hours before the start of the new restrictions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday afternoon he believed additional measures will be necessary. He planned an emergency weekend summit with five other Northeast governors to discuss next steps and try to align strategies. The numbers will keep rising, he warns.
"We are in the midst of a sea of COVID rising around us. You look at the international numbers and they are frightening," Cuomo said Friday. "Look at states around the country and the numbers are all going up quickly. You cannot defy reality -- and reality is the virus transmits and the virus is mobile and we're in the holiday season. These are all elements that conspire to increase COVID. The numbers are going up. The numbers will go up. I take that as a fact."
Mayor Bill de Blasio told parents Friday to have a plan in place as early as Monday in the event the citywide rolling positivity rate hits the school shutdown threshold (3 percent) over the weekend. As of Friday, the seven-day rate had climbed to 2.83 percent, by city data, the highest number since June 8. The daily case average is at its highest level since mid-May, the mayor reported.
"This is not something any parent wants to have to deal with but we should get ready and parents should have a plan for the rest of the month of November," de Blasio said on WNYC. "Have an alternative plan for beginning as early as Monday for whatever will help them get through this month if school is not open."
For the last week, the mayor has emphasized a citywide school shutdown did not have to be inevitable, trying to empower New Yorkers to seize control of their fate and drive the positivity rate down. At this point, it seems a foregone conclusion.
Cuomo, who has intervened on closure matters in the past, opted not to in the case of New York City schools. He reiterated Friday that he had left local school decisions up to local school districts, provided any given district's thresholds fall within the parameters set by the state. De Blasio's 3 percent is well below the 9 percent mark Cuomo set for closure and the 5 percent mark he set for the initial reopening a few months ago. That said, he'd prefer to have them open for now, and urged the mayor and the teachers union to consider a higher threshold in the future.
"Schools are not the problem," Cuomo said as far as what contact tracing indicates to be key sources of spread. "I would hope that the mayor and teachers and parents work to open the schools, if you close them, as quickly as possible."
New York City Councilman Mark Levine agreed with the governor, saying that if schools are safe and there's instead spread ongoing at restaurants and bars, why is the former potentially closing down while the other stays open?
"The priority is totally backwards," said Levine, who survived COVID earlier this year. "I'm generally not thrilled about hard cutoffs. They don't take into account other factors ... a total stay-at-home order is on the table again. We could go back to March."
There are clear sources of spread, however, Cuomo has said: small household gatherings, restaurants and gyms. The series of new restrictions he announced this week, which take effect statewide at 10 p.m. Friday, target all three of those.
Effective Friday night, bars and restaurants must halt indoor and outdoor service by 10 p.m., though they may continue curbside food-delivery pickup. Gyms must also close at 10 p.m. Social gatherings at private homes are capped at 10 people.
Similar measures took effect in New Jersey Thursday, while Connecticut's governor moved on private residential gatherings a full week ago. In the city, small business leaders gathered in Queens as they argue that further restrictions should be matched with more financial relief from the government. One NYC bar owner argued that closing earlier will only create a bottlenecking of crowds earlier in the evening, thereby creating a more dangerous situation.
Cuomo hopes the new measures will help slow the viral resurgence in New York, but if they don't, he's prepared to take additional action. He has said he'd likely start with harsher capacity caps on indoor dining.
"We believe we're going to have to be taking additional steps, and to the extent we can share information and align action, we'll do that," Cuomo said.
In New York City, Mayor de Blasio said months ago he would reassess dine-in if the city's seven-day rolling positivity rate topped 2 percent, though he admits that's the governor's call.
What he intends to stick to, though, is the 3 percent-threshold he set to move all New York City schools remote again for a period of time. That threshold is near.
As of Friday, New York City's rolling positivity rate was 2.83 percent, up nearly 9 percent from the previous day and on pace to hit the shutdown threshold at any point. It has ticked up every single day this week, mirroring the daily increase in cases since late October. If it hits 3 percent, de Blasio says city schools would move all-remote the next school day. The city's Department of Education sent a letter to principals Thursday asking them to prepare for that potential reality.
"Out of an abundance of caution, and to keep our school communities safe, I am asking all schools to be prepared for a brief time of fully remote learning, system-wide," the letter from Chancellor Richard Carranza said. "And while no decision has been made about a system-wide transition to remote learning, as every great school leader knows, we must be prepared for every scenario."
Schools have been a bright spot for New York City in its ongoing war against coronavirus. Randomized testing shows a positivity rate of just about 0.16 percent, an indication that the hybrid learning experiment within the nation's largest school system has thus far been a success amid the pandemic.
De Blasio was asked Thursday whether he would increase the closure threshold from 3 percent, given those numbers. The mayor, after warring with the teachers' and principals' unions on in-person school safety over the summer, says he is sticking to that high standard regardless. It's out of an abundance of caution.
The head of the city's biggest teachers' union, Michael Mulgrew, said in a statement Friday that the union is "fully expecting" a switch to fully remote learning "if we continue on this trend of growth of infections in the city."
De Blasio has said he put out its 3 percent threshold rule early and clearly. If it comes to the point of closure, the mayor says he'll work to bring in-person back as soon as is safely possible.
As of Friday, there were no clear indications of exactly how the road to reopening would work. Would there be a positivity rate threshold? Would it stick at 3 percent? Will there be stricter testing mandates? Will the city have a phased reopening by age as it did when it initially returned to in-person in September?
Much remains uncertain. The numbers, though, are clear. And jarring.
The five boroughs' daily case average has soared since the start of November. Last week, it hit 600 for the first time since early June, according to data provided by the city, which varies from state reports. By Wednesday, it was 817. On Friday, it hit 916, a 12 percent increase in two days and the highest total since May 17. That daily case average has climbed every day since Oct. 30, city data shows.
A less measurable sign that the situation has worsened: Testing centers are now seeing long lines even into the evening hours, which they were not a month ago. CityMD, which operates more than 130 urgent care centers in New York, New Jersey and Washington state, wrote in a Friday email to patients that long lines "are a daily fact" at nearly all of its tri-state locations as "as we see a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases across the region."
Statewide, the numbers have boomed, though certainly not in the exponential way they did back in March and April. New York has averaged more than 5,000 new cases the last three days, which is half the number it was seeing at the peak of the crisis but more than double the daily totals it was seeing just two weeks ago.
The seven-day rolling positivity rate, which provides the most accurate picture over time, is at its highest level (2.7 percent) since May 29.
Cuomo has said for days that New York and the nation have entered a new phase of the COVID war, one defined by challenges associated with colder weather and holiday travel. He expects numbers to continue to rise and has warned the public as much. His micro-cluster strategy remains the main approach to hotspots, but at this point, the increases are sweeping the entire state to varying degrees.
While a vaccine is on the horizon, which the New York governor says is good news, it's not here -- and people should not start celebrating by any means.
"You cannot sustain a rising COVID rate until you have a vaccine. That is wrong. The vaccine is not here," Cuomo said. "The vaccine is on the horizon and you cannot take this rate of increase and survive pending the arrival of a vaccine. This level of infection rate is going to make vaccine distribution harder."
On Friday, President Trump held his first press conference since losing his reelection bid to President-Elect Joe Biden, using the time to promote vaccines. During his appearance, he singled out New York by saying that the state would not be getting the vaccine delivered by the federal government when the time comes.
He said Cuomo “will have to let us know when he’s ready for it because otherwise, we can’t be delivering it to a state that won’t be giving it to its people immediately."
“He doesn’t trust where the vaccine is coming from,” Trump added. “These are coming from the greatest companies anywhere in the world, greatest labs in the world, but he doesn’t trust the fact that it’s this White House, this administration, so we won’t be delivering it to New York until we have authorization to do so and that pains me to say that.”
On MSNBC shortly after Trump’s comments, Cuomo said, “None of what [Trump] said is true. Surprise, surprise.”
“I have been an outspoke opponent to many of Trump’s policies over the last four years,” he said, adding that Trump lost in New York in the presidential election by “huge margin” and state prosecutors are also investigating the president for tax fraud.
"The day they distribute the vaccine, we will be ready to start the distribution. Our review of the FDA protocol will me simultaneous, concurrent with their delivery. We're not going to have any lag in time,” Cuomo said. "But this is his issue. It’s his credibility issue. It’s the fear that he politicized the health process of this nation, which is a well-founded fear."
The New York Attorney General's office said that it is ready to sue the Trump administration if New York doesn't receive the vaccine with the rest of the U.S.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
The increases have been steeper in neighboring New Jersey, where, met with more questions on the impact of new restrictions Thursday, a frustrated Gov. Phil Murphy replied, "You know what's uncomfortable and annoying? When you die."
This is not the spring, officials say -- and the numbers certainly aren't there yet. But with new restrictions taking effect across the tri-state area and New York City schools poised to shut down, the anxiety is familiar to millions of people who once again find themselves concerned about their children and their livelihoods.
The numbers don't have to morph into the nightmare peaks of April but they most definitely could, officials say.
Let this latest round of rules, which are much looser than the spring shutdowns, serve as a wake-up call of the highest urgency, New Jersey's health commissioner pleaded Thursday.
"If we are lax, if we continue on this trajectory, our state will return to the situation we were in last spring," Judy Persichilli said. "This is a wake-up call. We need your help."
And after Newark's more intense restrictions, another city in the Garden State has gone beyond the state's new measures as well. East Orange is ordering all non-essential businesses to close by 8 p.m. as part of what the mayor is calling a "Tough Love" shutdown.
New Jersey reported its fourth straight day of more than 3,000 new cases Friday, marking the first time it reported back-to-back-to-back tallies so high since April. Hospitalizations are at their highest levels for all three tri-states since June.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
While treatment is generally much more effective than it was in April, and ventilator use remains much lower for hospitalized patients, it should be expected hospitalizations will continue to rise among vulnerable populations over the next few weeks. Those lag increases in cases. And deaths lag upticks in admissions.
Hospitals across the tri-state (and U.S.) have been stocking up on PPE supplies for months since the virus' first wave started to subside, and now are bracing for potentially having to access those stashes. Hospitalizations in the Hackensack Meridien Health Care system have increased six-fold in just two months.
At the current rate of spread, the U.S. is on pace to hit 20 million cases before Christmas, NBC News data finds. That's nearly double its highest-in-the-globe total now. No state has been untouched by the latest U.S. surge.
The country hit more than 100,000 daily cases Friday for the tenth day in a row. It also set a new record high in daily cases, with more than 170,000 confirmed infections, topping the previous record of 161,000 on Thursday. Two states, California and Texas, have each exceeded one million confirmed cases.