What to Know
- NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is pitching a full shutdown akin to PAUSE for a two- to four-week period starting after Christmas to clamp down on soaring viral rates; any decision on that belongs to the governor
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put the responsibility squarely on New Yorkers' shoulders; he closed indoor dining in NYC again earlier this week but continues to say a larger shutdown is avoidable
- Despite that, all core metrics continue to rise in NY; it set a new single-day case record (12,697) Friday, the same day it set a single-day testing record. Daily deaths topped 100 3x in the last four days
Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to insist a new shutdown is not inevitable, even as the state set a new single-day case record Friday (along with a record number of tests) and Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to insist that another round of restrictions is not only necessary in New York City but needs to come soon.
De Blasio issued his latest plea Friday, citing ongoing increases in the city's hospitalization rate and cases. Vaccine distribution has begun, but it will be an agonizing months-long wait for large-scale access to these "vials of hope."
The mayor has pitched a post-Christmas start to a PAUSE-like shutdown, one he hopes would just be in effect for a few weeks to curb a level of viral spread that has "everybody really concerned." He acknowledges it is Cuomo's decision.
The governor, who shut down indoor dining in the five boroughs earlier this week, has put forth a more tempered response. He hasn't spoken of anything looming immediately post-Christmas, pushing any potential move at least into January. Unlike de Blasio, Cuomo says there's not an inevitable need for a shutdown -- yet.
"I understand local officials are warning of a shutdown if the growth increases. I understand why. The public needs to know the status and the consequences," the governor said Friday. "I have said, if we don't slow the spread we could be headed for a shutdown. But we can slow the spread. And the hospitals can manage it."
Asked point blank if he would bet on the likelihood of a new shutdown, Cuomo went as far as to theoretically wager $100 that it wouldn't happen. (He offered the same theoretical wager on the odds the Bills will make the NFL playoffs).
Cuomo puts the ultimate responsibility for shutdown aversion on the backs of New Yorkers themselves, saying it's their actions -- as far as masks, social distancing and holiday gatherings -- that will decide what happens. He is hopeful they will have learned lessons from the Thanksgiving surge and act differently.
Could there be another surge over Christmas and New Year's if they don't? It's too soon to tell. But at this point, it may also be hard to tell where one surge ends and another begins.
As de Blasio says, the numbers are all continuing to trend in the wrong direction in the city -- a consequence of the national flood in exposures, holiday travel and general pandemic fatigue that saw cases begin to increase in late September. Cuomo debuted his micro-cluster approach in response to those initial clusters and said they worked as far as reducing positivity rates in certain small areas.
The problems now, though, aren't isolated to a certain section of Brooklyn and Queens like they were in September and October. The increase in viral rates has been far more encompassing, both in the city and the state this time around.
New York City's seven-day positivity rate topped 6 percent for the first time Thursday and rose to 6.16 percent Friday, Mayor de Blasio said. It was almost exactly a month ago (Nov. 19) that he moved schools all-remote for two weeks when that number hit his controversial 3 percent positivity rate threshold.
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 city's rolling hospitalization rate per 100,000 residents is at 3.1, de Blasio said Friday, the highest it's been since he debuted the new indicator as part of his regular briefings earlier this month. Cuomo's decision to close indoor dining in the five boroughs hasn't appeared to have had an impact yet on rising trends. (In case you missed it, the city has unveiled new outdoor dining rules. Bathrooms are OK.)
The numbers are even starker for most of the rest of New York state. Seven-day rolling positivity rates are above 8 percent in two regions (8.31 percent in the Finger Lakes; 8.21 percent in Mohawk Valley. The Finger Lakes also have the highest hospitalization rate of New York's 10 regions, though the increases have been apparent statewide. Total hospitalizations statewide topped 6,000 for the first time in nearly nine months earlier this week and have sustained that level.
The state set a new single-day COVID case record Friday, the same day Cuomo reported it had conducted a record number of tests. The 12,697 new cases reported Friday mark a 9 percent increase over the previous single-day record of 11,571 from April 14. Daily deaths have topped 100 three of the last four days.
The current climate is remarkably and mercifully not the same as the nightmare of April, when 800 New Yorkers were dying a day. But for the former epicenter of the national COVID crisis, wounds from spring are still fresh; anxiety is high.
According to data from The New York Times, New York state has seen a 97 percent increase in COVID deaths over the last 14 days. Cases are up 30 percent, while hospitalizations are up 60 percent. Cuomo has tied regional hospitalization rates to new restrictions. If a region appears on track to hit 90 percent capacity within 21 days, that warrants a red zone shutdown, an essential PAUSE.
Hospitals are required by law to notify the state when they are 21 days from 85 percent maximum capacity. That's when the shutdown mechanism starts to kick in, Cuomo said. No hospital in the state has given that three-week notice yet.
Statewide, hospitals have 27 percent of beds and 33 percent of ICU beds available. New York City and Long Island, which had that first metric in the teens last week, both boosted capacity in line with Cuomo's mandates this week. They're up to 25 percent and 24 percent, respectively, of hospital beds available now and have 28 percent and 29 percent, respectively, of ICU beds available.
Some hospitals in southern California are reporting 0 percent ICU capacity. Cuomo says he's not going to let that happen in New York -- not again.
He has ordered hospitals to boost capacity by 25 percent, which NYC Health & Hospitals initially said they would do by suspending elective surgeries, but on Friday revised their guidance to say that because of their current available capacity (35 percent), elective procedures could continue. The city's Department of Health instructed that as long as hospitals were able to increase the number of staffed beds by 15 percent within 72 hours of a COVID spike, and had level loading procedures to move patients between hospitals if necessary, then elective surgeries could continue. Cuomo has told hospitals to statewide to shift to crisis management mode. That involves transferring patients as needed to ensure a balanced load and prevent any hospitals in the system from being overwhelmed.
Managing hospital capacity is also top priority in neighboring New Jersey, which also has experienced significant viral increases over the last month. According to the Times, New Jersey's increases have been less steep than New York's over the last two weeks -- 66 percent increase in deaths, 20 percent increase in hospitalizations and 14 percent increase in cases, by the paper's latest data.
Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday he believes New Jersey's latest surge is starting to level off. Daily cases, which topped 6,000 for the first time amid the pandemic this month, dropped below 4,000 as of Friday. Hospitalizations also dipped for the second day in a row. Murphy said that doesn't make a trend, but it inspires hope.
Unlike New York, Murphy has said -- even amid the highest increases in late November and early December -- he is not considering sweeping new statewide restrictions to curb the spread. While he often says "everything is on the table," he has opted to stick with what he describes as a surgical approach to attacking high-risk places and activities rather than employ a fuller shutdown.
The plea to his residents, though, is the same as the one coming from officials in New York: Hold on, hang tight, keep up with the protocol that works. We just have to wait until vaccine distribution hits critical mass. It'll just be a few more months.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Will it? Pfizer's distribution efforts have already hit a snag. It put out a statement Thursday saying there are millions of doses of the vaccine sitting in its warehouse as it awaits instructions from the federal government as to where to ship them.
In recent days, governors and health leaders in more than a dozen states, including New Jersey, have said the federal government has told them that next week’s allocation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be less than originally projected. New Jersey anticipates a 38 percent decline in its expected allotment, the state's health commissioner, Judy Persichilli, said Friday.
For the month, the state is now expecting 33 percent fewer Pfizer doses for the entire month of December than it had originally anticipated, she added.
Separately, New Jersey is now also expecting a reduction of about 20 percent in the Moderna allocation it anticipated for the month, Persichilli and Murphy said. Still, the intent is to vaccinate the entirety of the eligible population in New Jersey within six months, Persichilli said. Murphy said that Pfizer said "it's not us" as far as the reason for delays. As of Friday, he said his state has not received a "satisfactory" reason for the reductions in expected allocations. Persichilli agreed.
In Washington, D.C., two senior Trump administration officials told the Associated Press that states will receive their full allocations, but misunderstandings about vaccine supply and changes to the delivery schedule may be creating confusion.
One official said the initial numbers of available doses that were provided to states were projections based on information from the manufacturers, not fixed allocations. Some state officials may have misunderstood that, the official said.
Changes made to the delivery schedule, at the request of governors, may be contributing to a mistaken impression that fewer doses are coming, the officials said. The key change involves spacing out delivery of states’ weekly allocations over several days to make distribution more manageable.
The first U.S. doses of the vaccine were administered Monday. Already this week, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly healthcare workers, have been vaccinated. The pace is expected to increase next week when the Moderna doses can be administered. The FDA approved that vaccine for emergency use on Friday, the day after Cuomo launched a new website for all vaccine-related info in the state.
On Friday, Cuomo said New York State's independent Clinical Advisory Task Force had approved the Moderna vaccine, following the FDA panel's decision. He said the state expects to get about 346,000 doses of that vaccine next week.
The race to vaccinate the most vulnerable -- and the general public -- couldn't be more urgent. One of every 220 Americans was diagnosed with COVID in just the last week, Cuomo said.
The country surpassed 17 million COVID cases Wednesday and has reported well more than 300,000 deaths, according to NBC News data. For consecutive day on Friday, the U.S. once again set a record for daily cases, tallying more than 246,000, according to NBC News. Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has warned the U.S. could see its tragic toll near 450,000 by February at this rate.