New Jersey

NYC Positivity Rate Soars; Nearly 8,000 Hospitalized Statewide, Most Since May 7

All in all, a virus that was just beginning to make global headlines this time last year has now killed more than 1 in every 1,000 Americans

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What to Know

  • New York's COVID hospitalizations have topped 7,800 and are at their highest level since May 7; early post-holiday data shows alarming positivity rate jumps, though Gov. Cuomo wants further study
  • NYC metrics have also climbed significantly; Mayor de Blasio echoed Cuomo's comments Tuesday, saying that could be a result of unusual testing patterns instead of a sign of increased viral spread
  • The U.S. has topped 19 million cases and 335,000 deaths; a virus that was just beginning to make global headlines this time last year has now killed more than 1 in every 1,000 Americans

Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers not to make too much of initial post-holiday COVID numbers in his first post-Christmas COVID briefing on Tuesday, which comes as the city faces the highest rolling positivity rate it has seen in months and hospitalizations and confirmed virus deaths continue to rise.

The seven-day rolling positivity rate hit 7.45 percent on Tuesday, topping the charts on city data that only goes back through Sept. 27. Hospitalizations over the last seven days are up more than 11 percent over the last month's weekly average. Deaths are up by 6 percent within the same timeframe, though increases in fatalities tend to lag increases in hospitalizations and cases.

With more than 17,400 confirmed lost to the virus in the five boroughs since March, by state data -- and likely thousands upon thousands more that may never fully be counted -- de Blasio took a moment Tuesday to reflect on the toll.

"Every one of these people we've lost are part of our lives, part of our families, part of our communities - and all lost to a disease that about a year ago we had never even heard of," the mayor said. "It's shocking, still. We can never get numb to it, just how horrible this has been."

These latest numbers do not even reflect any potential holiday effect, which may take weeks to fully materialize. Despite the increases, de Blasio cautioned Tuesday that the early post-holiday numbers be "taken with a grain of salt" given the unusual testing patterns. It'll take a few days at least to best assess the spike.

By Tuesday, the state's rolling positivity rate had topped 6 percent, a major leap as Gov. Andrew Cuomo added another 255 hospitalizations to the growing tally. A day earlier, Cuomo issued words of caution similar to the mayor's as he reported "dramatic" increases in state COVID metrics over the holiday weekend.

Could they be a sign of an initial surge upon surge? Sure, but not necessarily, Cuomo said as he cautioned against jumping to conclusions. The increase in positivity rate doesn't necessarily mean an increase in viral spread -- yet.

Increased positivity rates could be associated with lower testing numbers of a smaller population showing symptoms, he noted. For example, a flood of people got tested just before the holidays to ensure safety if they were visiting family or friends. After the holidays, the likelihood was higher that people getting tested were experiencing symptoms, and that fewer people were tested as a precaution.

New York City's probable cases, which are based on rapid tests that may be more likely employed in situations where people need a negative test to travel, for example, have declined slightly over the last seven days compared with the previous weeks. Confirmed virus cases via molecular test, which account for the vast majority of results, have increased by a higher but still marginal amount in that same timeframe. Overall, testing numbers have plunged since Wednesday.

Could Cuomo's theory that testing numbers artificially inflated the holiday numbers hold? Total tests bounced back up Tuesday and the state's daily positivity rate dipped a bit, from 8.33 percent to 7.14 percent. Time will tell.

NBC New York's Katherine Creag and Gaby Acevedo report.

The latest spike concerns come as New York state is poised to eclipse 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths this week, though the actual toll is likely much higher already. Brooklyn and Queens, once the deadliest COVID counties in America, have ceded that unenviable distinction to counties in California (Los Angeles) and Illinois (Cook), though still have reported the third- and fourth-most deaths, respectively of all U.S. counties, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

Cuomo has reported at least 100 new COVID deaths each day for nearly two weeks now. He did so again on Tuesday. Death is a lagging indicator; it follows increases in hospitalizations, which has been Cuomo's top focus as he sought to shore up capacity this month.

Nearly 7,900 (7,814) people were hospitalized with the virus statewide as of Tuesday, the highest total since May 7 and a harbinger of more potential tragedy

Nationally, December has been the deadliest and most infectious month of the pandemic in the U.S. to date, a fate that experts had warned of months ago amid concerns about colder weather prompting more indoor activity and holiday travel.

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

To date, more than 335,000 have died and confirmed infections have topped 19 million. All in all, a virus that was just beginning to make global headlines this time last year has now killed more than 1 in every 1,000 Americans.

Despite warnings from the CDC to stay home for the holidays, more than 10 million people traveled by air in the U.S. over the past 10 days, according to TSA data. Sunday was the highest air traffic day (1.28 million travelers) of all of them and marked an increase of nearly 100,000 from the previous post-pandemic high.

Cuomo updated state quarantine guidelines Tuesday to align with CDC recommendations issued earlier this month. Going forward, individuals potentially exposed to the virus can end their quarantines in New York after 10 days without any test as long as they've had no symptoms. They should still monitor themselves for potential symptoms in the days immediately following and contact their health providers if they notice a change, the governor says.

According to NBC News’ tally, December has already been the worst month of the pandemic, both in terms of overall case load and death toll.

The threat of a holiday spike has only been compounded by concerns about the U.K. variant, which evidence indicates could be up to 50 percent more transmissible and may more easily infect children. It was first identified in the U.S. on Tuesday, in a man from Colorado who hasn't been traveling — essentially confirming that it has already been brought into the country and spread. The strain has also now been confirmed in about a dozen other countries.

At least a half-dozen nations reported their first cases since Christmas Eve.

Finland, Ireland, Canada, France, Japan, Germany and South Korea all confirmed at least one case of the variant since Christmas Eve, adding to a list that includes Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia. A growing number of countries have implemented all-out travel bans or varying restrictions involving the U.K.

New York state, city and New Jersey have announced new testing mandates for flights originating from the U.K. in the last week and a half. Though the variant hasn't yet been detected locally, Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy both believe it's already here. Cuomo wants to know when and where it's confirmed; he likened that first case to a new sort of patient zero -- one who is more contagious.

U.S. health experts and the CDC have previously agreed that the new variant is likely already circulating in America. Identifying the variant requires exhaustive genetic sequencing of individual samples -- and testing capacity to that degree is limited.

Even though a new strain of COVID-19 is not proven to be more deadly, it can spread more quickly and has the potential to overwhelm the health care system more rapidly. Infectious disease expert Dr. Dena Grayson joined LX News with a grim warning as we enter a New Year with historic infection rates and a virus mutation she believes has already entered the U.S.

Murphy said Monday he believed the newly imposed requirements in New Jersey and New York would become national policy in short order. In the meantime, his Department of Health medical director, Dr. Edward Lifshitz, said Monday he expected the vaccines to work for that strain as well, echoing other experts.

In other virus-related news, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority approved an agreement Tuesday for the Atlantic City Convention Center to serve as a site for mass vaccinations starting next month. The vaccination site is scheduled to open by mid-January and will run through June with three, 30-day extensions available if needed, officials said.

The Atlantic City Convention Center was one of six New Jersey sites chosen to administer the COVID-19 vaccinations. Others include the Meadowlands sports complex in Bergen County; Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Morris County; the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Middlesex County; Moorestown Mall in Burlington County, and Rowan College of South Jersey in Gloucester County.

More New Jersey health care workers are getting the COVID vaccine, at places like the center established at an Ocean County high school gym. NBC New York's Brian Thompson reports.

The race to large-scale vaccination couldn't be more urgent, given the latest trends across the United States. Both New York and New Jersey continue to push their vaccine rollout plans. The Garden State took another step on that front Monday, launching the process in its long-term care centers, which have accounted for 40 percent of all its confirmed virus deaths since March.

Residents and staff of the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home began receiving vaccinations on Monday, and vaccinations are set to begin over the next week at the Menlo Park and Vineland Veterans Memorial Homes, state officials said Tuesday.

“Our veterans were there for us in our time of greatest need,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “Now it is our turn to protect them with the distribution of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines.”

With a new coronavirus strain spreading in England, there are concerns that the COVID-19 vaccines won't be effective against it. Public health physician, professor, and health policy expert Dr. Vin Gupta joined LX News to discuss why confidence is high that the FDA approved vaccines will fight the new variant of the virus.

New York launched that phase last week. To date, the state has administered 140,000 first vaccine doses, Cuomo said Monday. He expects to receive another 259,000 doses this week from Pfizer and Moderna as the state expands its priority populations to include urgent care center workers, people administering vaccines and residents of state addiction programs and support facilities.

Cuomo said he expects to open distribution to ambulatory care health workers and public-facing public health workers next week. Meanwhile, vaccinations continue for high-risk health workers and nursing home patients and staff.

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New York City has administered nearly 70,000 first doses over the course of this month, including a single-day high of 12,515 doses on Wednesday. De Blasio's office recently launched a vaccine tracker so people could check progress (above). No second doses have been administered yet in the five boroughs, but more categories are being approved and the process will expand, the mayor said.

The latest group to get the vaccine includes members of the FDNY, which as a group overall has state skepticism regarding the doses. The department said that initially only 45 percent of members said they wanted the vaccine, but that number is now above 60 percent.

However, there are some new questions regarding the pace of vaccination, and who is getting priority. The city's police unions on Tuesday wondered why the men and women of the NYPD have yet to learn when they would be getting their shots, which were expected this week but that is no longer happening.

"The lives of cops and the New Yorkers we serve are being put in grave danger with the delay of the available COVID-19 vaccine to the NYPD,” said DEA President Paul DiGiacomo. “Detectives have thousands of close-contact interactions daily with the public as we continue to keep people safe, provide medical aide, and respond to calls for help ... On the heels of the death of six Detectives and current rising virus numbers, DEA members need the vaccine before another family is tragically left behind — and they need it now."

The city said the schedule of vaccines must follow state guidelines, which made it clear that hospitals and nursing homes go first. In the next group could be senior citizens who live on their own, but no specifics have yet been revealed. De Blasio said that "clearly in a matter of weeks, we will get to the older population."

When could you get the vaccine? Check out the tool below to calculate your risk profile and estimate where you fall in your county's and state's vaccine lineup.

When Could I Get the Vaccine?

Answer the questions to calculate your risk profile and see where you fall in your county's and state's vaccine lineup. This estimate is based on a combination of vaccine rollout recommendations from the CDC and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

For a more detailed breakdown of who is included in each priority group, see this methodology.
Source: the Vaccine Allocation Planner for COVID-19 by Ariadne Labs and the Surgo Foundation
Interactive by Amy O’Kruk/NBC

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