‘We Don't Want to Do It Again:' Cuomo Leery as Nation Spirals, NY Youth COVID Spikes

New York City says it has prevented more than 5,000 potential COVID cases through its test & trace program; contact tracing will only become more important, given the record-breaking infection surges in many states

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What to Know

  • The entire state of New York is now in Phase IV, the final step of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's reopening; New York City has taken a modified approach to the last two phases as it relates to indoor activities
  • Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have opted to proceed cautiously on the reopening in NYC; the governor has recently threatened to roll it back if compliance and enforcement don't improve
  • COVID cases continue to rise in 39 states; 31 of them are now on the tri-state quarantine-restricted list

Gov. Andrew Cuomo re-upped his oft-repeated call for a country-wide face-covering order Thursday, tweeting bluntly, "There should be a national mask mandate," amid mounting evidence that shows it effectively fights the virus.

At the same time, he's issuing a renewed plea to New Yorkers, especially young ones, to stick with that precaution and others, citing a "significant' uptick in infections among people ages 21 to 30.

Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy were the first governors in the nation to enact statewide executive orders mandating masks, both outdoors and indoors in places where social distancing isn't possible. Recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested people in New York City wear them at all times regardless.

New York has gone from the worst COVID situation in the country to one of the most stable. While its progress has continued amid the phased regional reopenings, Cuomo wants to ensure the lessons learned stay top of mind.

"We're still having the same inane political discussions," Cuomo said Thursday. "We don't want to climb any more mountains. New Yorkers did it, but we don't want to do it again. And we're wary of new threats that are on the horizon."

One of those threats is the rise in cases among people in their 20s, some of whom have flaunted the safeguards that first bent the curve and then held the infection rate down. He said positivity rates ticked up 4 percentage points.

"That is a significant increase in a short period of time. To young people, this is not the time to fight for your right to party. You have the right to party, but let's be smart about it," Cuomo said Thursday. "You don't socially distance, you don't wear masks, the virus spreads. It's happening."

The governor announced a new advertising campaign that will urge young people to protect themselves from lingering COVID-19 symptoms and vulnerable New Yorkers from infection by staying 6 feet away from others and wearing masks. He said one upstate July Fourth party alone resulted in 30 positive cases.

Cuomo played an ad that includes audio of young people saying: “I’m partying outside. ... COVID won’t kill me. I’m 23. COVID won’t kill me.”

“Famous last words. Don’t let them be yours,” the ad’s narrator warns.

Cuomo said an increasing share of people hospitalized for COVID-19 are between the ages of 21 to 30, representing about 13% of patients over the last week. That’s up from 10% over the previous week.

New data shows up to 40,000 U.S. lives could have been saved if everyone wore masks, Cuomo says. He has repeatedly eviscerated the long mask-averse President Donald Trump over his stance on facial coverings. While he credited Trump for a shift in tone earlier this week, Cuomo wants a stronger commitment.

"The health experts that advise the White House have said 40,000 more Americans will die because we don't have a mask policy, I mean, as incredible as that is," the governor said Wednesday. "If you can sign a piece of paper that will save the lives of 40,000 Americans, why wouldn't you do that?"

The record-breaking surges nationally have only compounded the threat of an infection resurgence in New York, where Cuomo has said he is concerned about slipping compliance on the mask and social distancing fronts. Restaurants and bars have allowed that behavior, letting people congregate on packed sidewalks without facial coverings and repeatedly failing to abide by state guidelines to such a degree that Cuomo has threatened to shut them down again.

Since March, the state has suspended 27 liquor licenses and brought 410 charges against various establishments for not following the guidelines. Last week, he issued an executive order barring any establishment from serving alcohol to a customer who has not also ordered food. For those wondering, chips do not count as "food," nor do bowls of nuts or candy that bars may serve patrons.

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


It's the governor's latest effort to crack down on rule-flaunting, particularly in New York City. As he continues to push the envelope locally, Cuomo is asking, once again, for the federal government to step up the national game.

He repeated his months-long ask for the feds to ramp up testing Wednesday, saying delays are a "serious problem." From Day 1, Cuomo has preached the importance of testing: Find the positives, isolate and treat them. And the faster you do that, the better shot you have at containing virus spread.

New York City, for example, said Thursday city hospital labs have reduced the median testing turnaround time to two days by using a technique called pooling, which the FDA granted emergency approval for earlier this week. It has also launched the rapid, 15-minute test in hard-hit neighborhoods and plans to expand that option to Sunset Park and the Rockaways in the coming days.

The city also reached its goal of performing 50,000 coronavirus tests a day, the mayor said Thursday. De Blasio said four new clinics operated by the urgent care company MedRite will bring the total citywide daily testing capacity to 50,000.

“This is the number we’ve been wanting to get to for quite a while. We will now have that capacity,” he said.

Cuomo, who may be the strongest champion of testing and tracing through the entire crisis, has traveled to Savannah, Georgia, to help with that city's strategy and extended assistance to Houston, Texas and other cities. A number of states helped New York when it was in need. But his motives aren't solely altruistic.

"Unless you solve this everywhere, you don't solve it anywhere," the governor says.

More than half of America is now on the tri-state quarantine-restricted list, a joint effort by the three governors to mitigate the risk. Travelers to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from those hotspot states must isolate for 14 days.

At least 21 states have already paused or reversed their reopenings entirely amid the latest record-breaking surge devouring the nation. New York City and New Jersey have shelved indoor dining indefinitely, given evidence about heightened risk from enclosed spaces in other states. The city has also delayed the return of indoor activities like malls and museums for the same reason.

There's no new timeline for those reopenings -- and Cuomo says he believes some states need to fully shut down again now.

Out-of-state travel has already been linked to new clusters in various parts of the state and in New Jersey. With cases rising in 39 states, the tangled webs of connection stretch further and more intricately across the country than before. On Wednesday, the state of California surpassed New York in terms of diagnosed COVID cases and now leads the nation on that metric. Florida has reported more cases in a single day than New York ever did, even at the peak of its crisis in April.

New York still leads America in confirmed COVID-19 deaths by a long shot, more than tripling the number now confirmed in California, though its numbers have hovered close to 25,000 since it eclipsed that milestone earlier this month. Death is a lagging indicator, which means California and Florida will both likely suffer through some stretch of a devastating increase in the coming weeks.

To date, America has lost at least 144,000 people to the virus and topped the 4 million case mark Thursday. Both tolls are higher than anywhere in the world. New York City has lost at least 16,268 people to the virus and adds another probable 4,624 fatalities. According to the CDC, there are yet another 5,000 "excess" deaths not linked definitively or probably to the virus that may be attributable to it. With those included, the city's COVID death toll would be closer to 26,000.

Today, the five boroughs -- and the rest of the state --have made what Cuomo has described as unimaginable progress in beating back a disease that no one knew existed this time last year. New York City's daily test positivity rate has consistently held at 1 percent over a seven-day rolling average, a far cry from the 59 percent positivity rates it was regular seeing just a few months ago.

The Capital Region has seen a slight uptick as of late, Cuomo said Thursday; at least 30 new cases were linked to a single July 4 party.

Facial coverings and social distancing have helped sustain the progress through New York's regional reopenings. Also a key tenet of the strategy: Contact tracing.

New York City said Thursday it has potentially prevented more than 5,000 new COVID cases through its test and trace program, possibly saving thousands of lives, based on the number of symptomatic contacts found through interviews.

Could it have saved even more?

According to Dr. Ted Long, the head of the city's test and trace program, tracers have been able to identify and reach more than 2,137 symptomatic people it may otherwise not have known about and help them quickly isolate. Given the rate of transmission, that potentially prevents more than 5,000 new cases, Long said.

Considering New York City has confirmed more than 220,000 COVID cases, more cooperation may be needed in order to maximize the full potential of the program.

Last month, the city said it couldn't reach a third of all the contacts it had been given. Patients didn't give contact numbers for all the individuals with whom they had contact; in cases where they did, the city was able to reach 97 percent.

Long offered some new contact tracing goals on Thursday and shared where the city stands as far as reaching them. The goal, he said, is to reach at least 90 percent of all contacts and ensure 75 percent of them complete an intake form and isolate. As of now, Long says the city has reached 89 percent of all new cases across the five boroughs identified through the contact tracing program. Seventy-one percent of all new cases the city is able to reach complete the intake form.

New York City shared the latest stats on its contact tracing program Thursday.

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