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
- In New Jersey, the increases have been less stark as of late; weekly hospitalization and death averages are up 2 percent and 1 percent respectively over the last 14 days, New York Times data shows
- The CDC says two COVID-19 variants, one identified in the U.K. and one in South Africa, both appear more transmissible than the earlier strain; there's no evidence either causes more severe infection
Coronavirus hospitalizations have climbed to nearly 8,000 in New York for the first time since May 7 and Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported a new single-day high in cases Wednesday, both threats to the healthcare system with the full effect of the feared holiday "surge upon surge" still yet to play out.
At the same time, two new, more contagious viral strains have emerged, the CDC said in a telebriefing Wednesday. While evidence to date does not indicate either appears to result in more severe infections or higher death rates, the CDC's COVID-19 incident manager, Dr. Henry Walke, did warn that the heightened ease of transmission could translate to many more cases.
New York has been struggling to contain the ones it has as it is. Cuomo reported more than 13,000 positive COVID tests in a single day Wednesday for the first time -- and with no equivalent record number of tests as he did the previous time.
Hospitalizations climbed by 78, bringing the total to 7,892, the highest total since May 7. Concern has mounted to the point that, out of an abundance of caution, Cuomo is setting up plans to reactivate the Javits Center as an emergency hospital if needed, officials said.
Meanwhile, more is expected to be learned in the coming days about whether the "dramatic" jumps, as Cuomo described them, in New York state and regional positivity rates over the holidays is a result of more spread or less testing.
The increase in new statewide cases has largely leveled off the last two weeks, with New York Times data showing an 11 percent increase in new cases reported over the last week compared with the average two weeks earlier. Total hospitalizations are up 32 percent over the same period, a more notable spike but one significantly less than where that metric stood a few weeks ago.
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
Deaths, which are the slowest to climb, are up 36 percent over the last few weeks, Times data shows. New York state will eclipse 30,000 confirmed virus fatalities at some point this week if Cuomo's daily triple-digit reports continue.
They did continue on Wednesday (144 more fatalities reported).
While acknowledging the ongoing tragedy, Cuomo has prioritized shoring up hospital capacity over the last month to ensure no single facility is overwhelmed as some so devastatingly were at the height of the pandemic in the spring.
As a layer of protection, he has tied regional hospitalization rates to new potential restrictions. Thus far, no hospital has notified the state it is on pace to hit 85 percent capacity in 21 days, which would get the shutdown wheels churning.
Despite pleas for and insistence from Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month that a new shutdown was necessary, Cuomo has said re-closure is not inevitable. Ahead of the holidays he said the future would depend on New Yorkers' actions.
So what did they do? It's still not exactly clear yet.
New York City reported a seven-day rolling positivity rate of 7.93 percent on Wednesday, topping the charts on city data that only goes back through Sept. 27. That metric has climbed daily since it surpassed 7 percent for the first time in months over the weekend. Hospitalizations are up double-digit percentage points this week over the previous month's weekly average, and new daily admissions topped the mayor's 200-threshold again on Wednesday. The statewide positivity rate was at 8.66 percent.
Early post-Christmas weekend data was jarring across the board, Cuomo acknowledged. He described the holiday weekend increases as "dramatic," but said Monday they didn't necessarily signify an initial surge upon surge in cases.
By Wednesday, the governor was willing to call the latest increases an "apparent" post-holiday effect. Testing numbers have yet to climb to the volume they've seen in recent months, though, so he wants more time to study the data.
"We're still not seeing the testing volume we did have," Cuomo said Wednesday, referring to the days of 200,000-plus tests more common recently. He said additional analyses need to be done to determine any potential trends.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
In New Jersey, the increases have been less stark than New York's as of late. Weekly hospitalization and death averages are up 2 percent and 1 percent respectively over the last 14 days, New York Times data shows.
New daily case averages are down 16 percent over the same period. Testing may account for that, too, to some degree.
At his last 2020 COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the ban on indoor organized sports in New Jersey that he implemented late last month at the youth, high school and adult recreational levels would be permitted to expire on Saturday. Interstate sports at those levels remain prohibited for another month.
Safety protocols, including masks and capacity limitations, remain in effect when indoor youth sports resume, Murphy said. Should allowing that become problematic in terms of increased viral spread or ongoing lack of cooperation with contact tracers, the governor says he reserves the right to reevaluate the call.
Later in the briefing, Murphy took time to reflect on a few of the nearly 19,000 lives New Jersey has lost to the virus this year, as he has done at each update.
"In 10 months, this virus has cut a deep scar across countless families, entire communities and indeed our entire state," he said. "The scale of infection and death in 2020 that it would bring is not anything any one of us could have imagined at this time a year ago."
Meanwhile, both his attention and Cuomo's has turned to detecting the more contagious COVID variant from the U.K. that both feel is already in their states.
Identifying the variant requires exhaustive genetic sequencing of individual samples. Cuomo has ordered hospitals across the state to begin testing for it. As of Wednesday, the state and private labs had analyzed genetic sequencing of more than 4,300 specimens since early spring. Three-hundred-fifty were done just last week, Cuomo said. The U.K. strain has yet to be confirmed in New York.
2 More Contagious Variants Emerge; 1 Detected in U.S. So Far
It's not just one variant to be concerned about, the CDC said in a telebriefing with reporters Wednesday. The one that prompted the U.K.'s latest lockdown and was just detected in the U.S. has been widely reported on.
The CDC said the U.S. case, a Colorado man in his 20s with no history of travel, suggests person-to-person transmission of that mutation has already happened. Colorado is already investigating a second suspected case, meanwhile the strain has already been found in southern California as well, in a 30-year-old man. That mutation likely was spreading in England as early as September, the CDC said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said he was not surprised at all that the virus strain is here and spreading.
"So if you're ill, instead of only making two or three other people sick, you might actually spread it to four or five people," he said.
The other variant is one the CDC says may have been circulating in South Africa since October and also appears to be more transmissible. That variant has yet to be detected in the United States. Vaccines are expected to work on both."
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
While vaccination programs, which many have dubbed the "light at the end of the tunnel," are well underway, tri-state officials acknowledge the goal of "herd immunity" is likely at least half a year away, if not longer.
An NBC News analysis shows at the current rate, it would take nearly 10 years to inoculate enough Americans to get the pandemic under control.
The race to large-scale vaccination of the general public couldn't be more urgent, with the economic and human tolls of this nearly year-long pandemic in the U.S. already incalculable and still mounting by the day.
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.
To date, more than 337,000 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.