What to Know
- The first vaccine shot was administered to a critical care nurse in Queens on Monday as indoor dining across New York City shuttered for the second time since the start of the pandemic
- 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
- 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
Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed for the second time in two days Tuesday that believes a full shutdown akin to PAUSE in the spring is needed to curb the current COVID surge. It's the latest indication that harsher restrictions may come soon.
De Blasio says he has been in close contact with the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who would make the ultimate decisions on any new COVID rules. But the mayor did offer up a suggestion -- one that involves a shutdown right after Christmas. It's not clear if Cuomo is on board with that idea or how long any such shutdown might last, but the mayor says he's hopeful it would just be a matter of two to four weeks.
"Clearly these numbers are going in the wrong direction," de Blasio said Tuesday. "Unfortunately, and I don't say it with anything but sorrow, but I do think it's needed. We're going to need to do some kind of shutdown in the weeks ahead, something that resembles the PAUSE we were in in the spring."
That would mean essential work only and no outdoor dining, though the mayor said there could be some minor differences to the early pandemic closures.
"If we implement that with some good luck and hard work and the vaccine starting to help us we could be out of that in a matter of weeks," he said. After 73 city health care workers were given the vaccine on Monday, another 41,000 doses arrived at dozens of city hospitals on Tuesday, allowing more frontline workers to be vaccinated.
De Blasio said in an interview on CNN later Tuesday that the primary reason behind a possible PAUSE would be to protect the hospitals to ensure they are not overrun, and said he suggested after Christmas in order to not interfere with holiday shopping — but if the state wanted to start even sooner, he would be on board.
"What our health folks always say is that it takes between two and four weeks to really see the effects of any kind of restrictions. The sooner we start, the sooner we will reap the benefit," de Blasio said. "Somewhere between two weeks and a month is typically is when you can have a real impact and knock down the infection rate substantially."
The mayor added that he would not want to see schools closed as part of any PAUSE shutdown, saying that the infection numbers show students are safest staying in school.
The mayor's comments came a day after indoor dining was shuttered once again in the city by order of the governor. While no decision has been made -- at least publicly -- at this time, an apparent alignment between the mayor and governor on the issue is enough to raise eyebrows about the immediacy of new closures.
On Monday, as he celebrated the first vaccine dose in New York and confronted critics of his indoor dining closure, Cuomo warned that the state (or various regions within it) could be headed to total shutdown if current trends hold.
"If we do not change the trajectory, we could be headed to shutdown. That is something to worry about," the governor said. "We go back to where we were."
Cuomo has said he would order a shutdown if any region in the state appears on track to hit 90 percent hospital capacity within 21 days. No region is there yet. He says he authorized the dine-in closure in New York City to try to prevent that worst-case scenario. While the city's hospitalization and positivity rates are lower than most other regions in the state, the density that makes it one of the world's most vibrant places also makes it more vulnerable to exponential spread.
"The virus spreads much faster in New York City," Cuomo said. "Anyone who doubts that wasn't here in the spring or has the shortest memory imaginable."
In response to the shutdown, more than 1,000 restaurant workers, owners and operators in the city, as well as trade groups and supporters, held a rally in Times Square urging the federal government to pass the Restaurants Act to help provide some relief. They also called on the city and the state to take steps to help restaurants, including an extension and enhancement of the commercial rent eviction moratorium through 2021, eliminating local taxes, and more.
"It's now or never," said Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, who spoke at the rally. "When considering the cost in terms of jobs and revenue, the impact of empty store fronts on neighborhoods and other local businesses, and the repercussions for tourism and spending from commuters and daily visitors, the government can't afford NOT to save the industry."
The numbers amid this latest surge aren't nearly as stark as they were in the spring by any means, but new daily cases have been on the steep incline for weeks. Hospital admissions have been rising more slowly, a consequence of the flood in cases. More than 1,700 patients were hospitalized in the city with COVID-19 infections as of this weekend, almost triple the number a month ago.
The city's positivity rate was at 5.51 Thursday, still above the 5 percent mark de Blasio said the city should be aiming for. The statewide rate was just below that at 5.33 percent, with nearly 6,000 hospitalizations.
Some patients will die, a tragedy the former epicenter of the national COVID crisis can least afford. The city has confirmed nearly 17,000 COVID deaths since March and likely has thousands upon thousands more fatalities that never were definitively linked to the virus but could be attributed to it in some way.
Cuomo reported more than 100 new COVID fatalities statewide Tuesday (128) for the first time in months. That put the state's total over 28,000 people who have died from the coronavirus.
This latest surge is expected to swell more before it ebbs. Cuomo and others, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, agree that the numbers locally and nationally will continue to increase well into January. The objective, Cuomo says, 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.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to battle a crisis that appears only on track to intensify over the course of the next month or so despite the promise of a vaccine. To date, the country has confirmed more than 16 million COVID cases and topped 300,000 deaths, according to NBC News data.
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 without aggressive actions to contain the anticipated holiday surge on top of the surge that has been underway for well more than a month across the nation.