COVID-19

Cuomo Ups NYC Indoor Dining Limit, OKs Nursing Home Visits; New Mask Guidance Issued

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio's top officials are now encouraging "double-masking;" he says wearing at least one is "paramount" amid vaccine supply woes that left fewer than 6,150 first doses on hand citywide Friday

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What to Know

  • New York City officials are encouraging people to "double-mask" in accordance with the latest CDC recommendations, which come as the vaccine rollout faces challenges and new variants threaten
  • The vaccination program, which has faced supply issues from the start, was stymied further this week by a winter storm system that crippled deliveries and forced appointment cancellations and delays
  • COVID numbers locally and nationally continue to descend from their latest post-holiday peaks; Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday NYC indoor dining capacity could increase to 35% in one week

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says indoor dining capacity in New York City can increase to 35 percent next Friday, mirroring the limit in place in neighboring New Jersey and reflecting ongoing declines in new COVID cases and hospitalization rates.

While a welcome sign of what many hope is a trend regarding reopenings, some restaurant owners said that the jump from 25 percent to 35 percent won't make a different for their business, and they need to hit 50 percent in order to be able to stay afloat.

The governor also said nursing home visits can resume, even as he faces ongoing criticism -- and a federal probe -- over his administration's handling of the pandemic as it relates to those facilities over the course of the pandemic.

"We are getting past this, but it is still dangerous my friends," Cuomo said. "And remember it."

As COVID restrictions continue to be relaxed in New York City, winter weather across the country hampered efforts to open vaccination sites. Of those that have stayed open, many continue to face supply problems. NBC New York's Andrew Siff reports.

It was only one week ago that Cuomo allowed indoor dining to resume across the five boroughs -- at 25 percent capacity -- for the first time in mid-December. In a news conference Friday, he said the numbers supported the move. The rest of the state has had dine-in at 50 percent capacity since it resumed.

"Obviously we're more sensitive to New York City because of the density, the concentration, the history, but we're headed in the right direction. The numbers continue to be good, we'll continue to make progress," Cuomo said.

The FBI and U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn have begun a preliminary investigation into the Cuomo administration's handling of data on COVID-19 nursing home deaths. NBC New York's Ray Villeda reports.

On the nursing home front, the governor said the state Department of Health will allow visits in accordance with CDC and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines. Rapid testing for visitors is recommended, and the state will provide rapid tests to nursing homes to supplement their efforts.

Federal and state guidance only allows nursing homes to offer visits if they been COVID-19 free for at least 14 days, and many have kept their doors closed amid New York’s winter surge. Cuomo said his administration will provide guidance for visits Monday.

It was the guidance of both those federal agencies under the former Trump administration that Cuomo blames for a late March health department order that required those facilities to accept COVID-positive patients after they were discharged from hospitals if they had the capacity to do so.

That order, and later, the state's accounting of nursing home virus deaths, have become the subject of mass criticism against the Cuomo administration and the foundation of an ongoing federal investigation.

Under fire over his management of the coronavirus’ lethal path through New York’s nursing homes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted Monday the state didn’t cover up deaths. NBC New York's Jonathan Dienst reports.

"With the facts that we had at that time, it was the correct decision from a public health point of view," State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker reiterated Friday regarding that March 25 order. "We were running out of ICU capacity."

Cuomo didn't give a specific date for when nursing home visits could resume but the change appears to be immediate, since it relies on federal guidelines. The CMS approved nursing home visitation with core safeguards in September. It did not require COVID testing for visitors, but New York state recommends it.

"I've said from the beginning I believe reopening is going to be accelerated by testing and we've been moving down that path," Cuomo said Friday. "If a person is tested and is negative, then you can reopen."

It's the latest major step in the road to recovery for New York, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing large arenas and stadiums can reopen Feb. 23 with testing and other COVID-related requirements. News 4's John Chandler reports.

That testing concept, exercised in concert with additional COVID precautions, has guided a number of major reopening steps in New York over the last month.

Next week, large New York venues and arenas, including Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, will be permitted to reopen under strict testing and other COVID protocol requirements. In mid-March, limited wedding receptions resume. On Friday, he also set new guidance for reopening college campuses in person.

The governor also announced that a rapid test program had been launched Friday, a public-private endeavor that Cuomo said will help more businesses and catered events reopen safely. Eleven initial sites opened in NYC, which have the capacity to conduct more than 5,000 tests per day. More sites will open in the city and across the state in coming weeks, the governor said.

The latest reopening developments come exactly one month to the day that New York state hospitalizations hit their latest peak -- one near 9,300 -- following the post-holiday surge. Since that Jan. 19 high, hospitalizations have declined by more than 3,000 (now at 6,155) and the daily positivity rate remains at late November lows.

"We like to think we're getting past this and we are getting past it but it is still dangerous, my friends," Cuomo cautioned Friday.

The governor's announcement comes a day after New York City health officials issued new guidance encouraging people to "double-mask" in accordance with the latest CDC recommendations. Those new federal guidelines dropped last week as the U.S. battles the increasing prevalence of highly contagious variants and challenges in its unprecedented vaccination rollout.

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

Source: ny.gov

Researchers found that one mask — surgical or cloth — blocked around 40 percent of the particles coming toward the head that was breathing in. When a cloth mask was worn on top of a surgical mask, about 80 percent were blocked. If two people double-masked, the percentage was even higher (up to 95 percent).

"Two are better than one," Mayor Bill de Blasio said as he and Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi announced their update to the city's mask guidance Thursday. Chokshi, who recently revealed his own COVID-19 diagnoses -- a product of household transmission -- said people should also go for a snug fit.

New study finds wearing a surgical mask under a cloth mask can reduce COVID-19 transmission by 95 percent.

Masks with two or three layers and tightly woven fabric are better at preventing unfiltered air from passing through, the city's new guidance said. Higher-grade masks, such as a KN95 mask, are best (and especially recommended for people 65 and older and people with underlying medical conditions) but you can also use a cloth face covering over a regular disposable mask, city officials said.

Chokshi emphasized that double-masking be deployed in concert with the other proven COVID mitigation methods.

"Particularly with the new virus variants, our public health precautions are that much more important, both to protect ourselves and others," he said.


See the full list of underlying conditions that qualify NYers for vaccine eligibility


New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers

Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC

The three main variants of interest -- the U.K., South African and Brazilian strains -- have all extended their reach across the U.S. in recent weeks. The U.K. strain, which the CDC has warned could predominate in America by next month, is by far the most prevalent to date, with more than 1,500 detected cases in 42 states.

New York accounts for 82 of those, with 11 of the newest 12 reported this week coming from New York City, while New Jersey has confirmed at least 50 U.K. strain cases and Connecticut has found 42. Only one South African variant case has been detected locally -- in a Connecticut resident hospitalized in New York City -- while no cases of the Brazilian variant have been found (yet) in the tri-state.

At the same time, the vaccine rollout has encountered a series of weather-related challenges that officials say could ultimately extend the length of the pandemic. Disruptions to U.S. shipments have forced appointment cancellations and postponements nationwide, including tens of thousands in New York City.

A total of 6 million vaccine doses affecting every state in the U.S. were delayed by the storms, the nation's top health officials said Friday. Senior advisor Andy Slavitt said many states had been able to cover some of the delay with existing inventory, though that's not the case in New York City, where fewer than 6,150 first doses remained on hand as of Friday morning. It's awaiting this week's allocation.

The five boroughs administered more than 55,000 doses in one day last week, a single-day record -- and de Blasio has said has the capacity to do a half-million vaccinations a week. It doesn't have the supply.

As one caller into de Blasio's weekly WNYC radio segment said Friday, "I just want to get a place in line and wait and not play dodgeball with these people. My grandson could design a system that could take care of my problem. These games and losing out, not being lucky, just give me a number and I'll wait."

If only it were as simple as a universal system, the mayor said. He did, however, say the idea of a "waiting list" was intriguing and he pledged to look into that.

Despite the challenges, city and state health officials predict the weeks ahead will get better in terms of vaccine rollout, as the pharmaceutical companies ramp up production. On Friday, the mayor and governor were again at odds about whether New York City was getting its fair share.

"The state government has got to stop interfering with vaccinations — it has slowed up down repeatedly," de Blasio said. "We need the State of New York to cut the red tape and give us the freedom to do what we do."

Cuomo said that the mayor is "confused," and that he should complain to the federal government that the shipment is late.

Statewide, New York's healthcare distribution sites had administered 96 percent of all first doses received to date by 11 a.m. Thursday, with Cuomo saying that 12 percent of all state residents had received at least a first dose. Nearly all doses that were set to be delivered to the state between Feb. 12 and Feb. 21 are delayed because of the ongoing winter storms walloping the country, Cuomo said.

"Every dose that should have shipped on Monday was held back, and only a limited number of Pfizer vaccines left shipping facilities on Tuesday and Wednesday," Cuomo said. "This delay will undoubtedly pose a logistical challenge for New York," where state-run sites are all almost fully booked through mid-April. The governor said that shipments of the Pfizer vaccine are scheduled to arrive by Monday, while delayed Moderna shipments should arrive by the middle of next week.

Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor on the COVID-19 response, said on Friday there are delays in vaccination distribution due to the weather conditions across the United States. Slavitt announced that despite the weather conditions, five new vaccination sites would be opening.

The headaches -- from weather, to supply to confusion over how and where to book appointments and computer glitches -- continue to mount for the millions of tri-state residents eager to get their initial vaccinations. At the same time, the pool of eligibility continues to rapidly expand as officials hope faster infusions in arms will lead to quicker economic and public health recoveries for their states.


Not sure how the process works? Or when you might be able to get an appointment? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs 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

Source: ny.gov

New Jersey has experienced similar shortages and delays in vaccine deliveries in the past few weeks. Despite scheduled appointments being pushed back for days in parts of the state, Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli said the state continues to make great strides since the rollout began in December.

The Garden State hit its own single-day dose administration record of more than 13,000 this week, Persichilli said. On Friday, state officials said 1,700 approved providers had registered to be vaccine access points. The state currently has enough vaccine supply to provide doses to about 300 of those. And that was before the latest winter storms delayed vaccine shipments across the country.

Those shipment delays forced Monmouth County to push four days of appointments into next week. The latest tri-state storm that hit Thursday further hampered efforts, closing four of the state's six mega-sites for the day.

"The doses we have been allocated will eventually be delivered," Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday. "We simply ask everyone for a little patience considering the latest kink Mother Nature has thrown into the works – here and nationally."

With new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus circulating, health experts are adjusting their recommendations for face masks. NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres joined LX News to explain why you should make sure your face mask is well-fitted and double up.

The emerging variants have been one of those kinks as well. Murphy sported a double mask for the second time this week, following guidance by his health department similar to the suggestions released by New York health officials.

Like the weather, those variants remain a "wild card," Murphy says. If not for them, the governor has said he would likely have made more reopening steps, including raising indoor dining capacity higher and earlier than the 35 percent cap he upped it to (from 25 percent) earlier this month. New Jersey is proceeding with caution.

"I think we would be planning right now, a much more, I'm going to use the word aggressive, but a much more fulsome series of steps to reopen over the next few weeks, but the variant sort of hangs over our head," Murphy said this week.

Efforts to detect variants have gained momentum at the local and national levels, with states and cities increasing their capacity to do so along with the feds. Until recently, the U.S. has only mapped the genetic makeup of a tiny fraction of positive samples, a situation some experts have likened to flying blind. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has said the downward trend in U.S. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations could reverse itself if new variants take hold.

Dr. Anthony Fauci highlighted preliminary studies which indicate that coronavirus vaccines will have a positive impact in slowing the spread of COVID-19. “Vaccine is important not only for the health of the individual to protect them against infection and disease… but it also has very important implications from a public health standpoint for interfering and diminishing the dynamics of the outbreak.”

Overall, vaccines are expected to protect against the variants that have emerged and the new ones that will over time. Despite the unknowns, President Joe Biden's prediction that the United States could return to some semblance of normalcy by Christmas is "reasonable," a senior advisor on his COVID-19 team said Thursday.

Over the past two weeks, the daily averages for both coronavirus cases and deaths have dropped by about half in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of the CDC's latest data, more than 41 million — about 12% of Americans — had received at least one dose of a vaccine.

The U.S. is now teetering on the edge of a half-million COVID deaths, reporting more than 494,000 -- a world-high -- as of Friday. The nation surpassed 28 million confirmed infections on Thursday, according to an NBC News tally.

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