What to Know
- The first vaccine shot was administered to a critical care nurse in Queens on Monday; New Jersey is expected to dole out its first doses out of University Hospital in Newark a day later
- Widescale vaccination isn't expected until late next spring or summer at the earliest; in the meantime, officials are facing severe viral resurgence. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has closed indoor dining in NYC
- More restrictions are on the table as well; the governor debuted new yellow zones in parts of the state and warned, "We could be headed to shutdown" if the current trajectory doesn't change
A New York City nurse received the first coronavirus vaccination in the state and purportedly the nation Monday, a beacon of hope for the pandemic-ravaged U.S. mecca nearly 300 days after its first confirmed case. At the same time, indoor dining is shuttered once again and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is debuting new cluster zones, both stark reminders that the crisis at hand is still far from over.
The governor has faced extensive criticism for shuttering indoor dining in New York City despite contact tracing data that shows restaurants and bars contribute to fewer than 2 percent of statewide exposures. He also has been questioned over the move given the city's hospitalization and positivity rates, both of which are lower than most of the state's 10 regions and the vast majority of U.S. cities.
To those critics, Cuomo delivered his harshest rebuke -- and warnings -- in weeks on Monday: "The virus spreads much faster in New York City. Anyone who doubts that wasn't here in the spring or has the shortest memory imaginable."
"If we do not change the trajectory, we could be headed to shutdown. That is something to worry about," the governor added. "We go back to where we were."
Hospitalization rates have increased almost across the board in New York state, a consequence of the latest national flood in cases. Cuomo reported more than 300 new admissions Monday, bringing the statewide total to 5,712 (highest since May 18). Daily deaths are also on the rise, though those and hospitalizations are much lower than they were in April. Admission length has also been profoundly reduced.
While that's good news, New York is hardly impervious to the national trends, which are exceedingly alarming. Cuomo and others, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, agree that the numbers locally and nationally will continue to increase well into January. Cuomo's goal is to lessen the blow -- hence a revised winter plan that prioritizes hospitalization rates but also factors positivity rates, risk level of economic activity, transmission rates and population density into the equation.
"The percent of positivity leads to the percent of cases leads to the percent of hospitalizations, leads to the percent of deaths," Cuomo said. "It is a linear equation. It's just a difference of whether you're measuring it earlier or later."
"You tell me the positivity rate, I'll tell you what the death rate is going to be four weeks from today," he added. "It's just that simple."
That's what Cuomo is trying to avoid. To that end, he revised the standards for red, orange and yellow cluster zones late last week, incorporating hospitalization rates to a level they had not been considered before along with positivity rates.
Those new standards weigh hospitalization rates and other factors not against New York regions or against other cities and states; they consider a singular region's singular ability to avoid further increase, whatever the level. That has not been the case in New York City, Central New York, Monroe or Erie, Cuomo said.
Under the new cluster rules, if a region is projected to hit 90 percent hospital capacity within 21 days, Cuomo will impose a red zone shutdown. That closes nonessential businesses, schools and restaurant table service close in a given region for an indefinite period of time, a measure akin to strict spring lockdowns.
Cuomo said Monday no region warranted red zone designation at this point. He made no modification to orange zones but did make two yellow zone changes Monday, expanding the one in Niagara County and adding new yellow zones in Rome, Utica and Oneida counties. (See more on the cluster rules here.)
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
Meanwhile, the indoor dining uproar continues. For his part, Mayor Bill de Blasio has supported the new restrictions. He warned Monday that new rules could come "quite soon" and said all levels of restrictions needed to be on the table given the current trends in numbers locally and nationally.
"You have to be ready now for a full shutdown, a pause like we had at the end of the spring," de Blasio said.
The mayor also said he sympathized with restaurant owners and workers, but noted the rising number of cases and hospitalizations. More than 1,700 patients were hospitalized in the city this weekend with COVID-19 infections, almost triple the number a month ago.
“We’ve got to bring this industry back. We’ve got to bring back the restaurants we love. But it’s going to take time, and meantime we’ve got to stay safe because this second wave is very, very real,” de Blasio said during his press briefing.
As the state and city work to stave that off, restaurant owners and staff find themselves increasingly desperate once again. They are left only with takeout/delivery and outdoor dining as revenue-generating options, though the latter is going to become more difficult as winter progresses. The first major snowstorm in well more than a year is expected to hit the city on Wednesday.
This one could bury al fresco chairs under a foot of snow. And it could also remove the outdoor dining option entirely. The city's sanitation department said in a snow alert issued Monday that outdoor dining set up in roadways will be suspended starting at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and all electrical heaters must be removed along with the tables and chairs. If more than a foot is forecast, which is the situation here, restaurants have to remove or consolidate their outdoor setups. Some of those have grown especially elaborate over the last two months as struggling eateries sought to fortify their outdoor options in a battle to survive.
For the rest of the state, the status of indoor dining remains unchanged for now.
The matter has become the subject of increasing controversy both within New York state and across the river, where Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly said closing dine-in is not on his agenda despite soaring increases in COVID metrics.
New Jersey set another new single-day COVID case record of the weekend and its hospitalizations are also at their highest totals since mid-May. Intensive care unit bed usage topped 700 Monday for the first time since May 8, Murphy said.
Pressed on the indoor dining issue in a series of briefings last week, Murphy reiterated his intent to move ahead with what he describes as a surgical approach to high-risk infection sources as the state focuses on its vaccine distribution plan.
But that vaccine, which is expected to be administered to the first New Jerseyans Tuesday out of University Hospital in Newark, "won't magically" return these numbers to zero, Murphy said Monday.
"These are numbers we're probably going to keep seeing for the coming weeks and that's why we can't let our guard down," he added, as he urged people to step up their protective actions. "The share of new infections continues to skew toward younger residents, while the share of deaths continues to skew toward older ones. Let that sink in ... You could be passing this on to your parents or grandparents and, essentially, I hate to say it, killing them."
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Seventy-eight percent of people aren't cooperating with contact tracing efforts, up from the whopping 74 percent in noncompliance as of Murphy's last update on that metric. That will prolong COVID restrictions even amid hope over the vaccine.
"We have to travel more before we are through this darkness. Even though we can now point to have a vaccine, we cannot give up on the practices that will help us through -- social distancing, wearing our masks, staying at home when we don't feel well and using common sense in going out at the right moment in time for the right reason, Murphy said. "This is how we save lives."
Both New Jersey and New York expect additional allocations of Pfizer's shots in the coming weeks as well as initial allocations from Moderna. The FDA is expected to decide on whether to grant emergency use for that vaccine this week.
The developments come as the U.S. battles a crisis that appears only on track to intensify over the course of the next month or so. To date, the country has confirmed more than 16 million coronavirus cases and surpassed a 300,000 world-high death toll Monday, according to NBC News data.