ROCHESTER — State officials are focused on developing a winter plan to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus to prevent overwhelming statewide hospital systems and the death of thousands of Americans as virus hospitalizations have nearly tripled in parts of the Finger Lakes Region over the past three weeks.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Monroe County, which includes the spiking city of Rochester and surrounding areas, increased 257% over the past three weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. The part of the Finger Lakes Region that borders surging Western New York has 268 virus patients in area hospitals — up from 75 on Nov. 3.
“We know what these numbers mean — we’ve been here, we’ve seen this movie,” Cuomo said Wednesday during a COVID-19 briefing at Baber African Methodist Episcopal Church in Rochester. “People get COVID, they’re home for a few days, they get worse and go to the hospitals, they go to the ICU, they’re intubated and they pass away.
“...The experts have advised us to prepare a plan for the winter, and that’s what we’re going to be doing,” Cuomo said, adding the state’s plan will focus on pandemic response through December, January and February — especially available hospital beds. “Those are the fears: Overwhelm the hospital system and people die.”
Coronavirus Task Force officials will prioritize areas of the state with the highest COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates by persisting with establishing yellow precautionary and orange and red warning focus zones.
A temporary COVID hospital in Staten Island reopened this week adjacent to Staten Island University Hospital at the defunct South Beach Psychiatric Facility as increasing virus hospitalizations threaten the community. Similar field hospitals opened in Massachusetts as cases soar.
“This is reminiscent of the bad, old days where you had these emergency field hospitals that looked like something you would see in a World War II movie because the hospitals were overwhelmed,” Cuomo said.
Members of the National Guard prepared multiple temporary overflow COVID hospital facilities across the state earlier this spring, but only the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan was used.
The governor, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and Gareth Rhodes, deputy superintendent and special counsel at the state Financial Services Department and leading aide on the state’s Coronavirus Task Force, completed three coronavirus briefings in Long Island, New York City and Western New York this week — three regions with the highest new COVID-19 infections and population density — ahead of Thanksgiving to urge New Yorkers to celebrate with fewer than 10 people in accordance with the state mandate, or ideally with only the members of their legal household.
“The restrictions are great and we saw moments through this that the restrictions have worked,” DeRosa said Wednesday. “You’re seeing in the areas that have spiked there’s a greater prevalence of community spread. When there’s greater evidence of community spread, yes, these things are helpful, but they’re not bulletproof.”
Cuomo, DeRosa and Rhodes each expressed concern about the anticipated increase after Thursday’s holiday and the impending Christmas and larger holiday season compounded with the state and nation’s elevated case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths. Scientists and health experts predicted cases would spike throughout the fall and winter as college students and people travel across state lines and congregate indoors.
“We’re going to see an increase post-Thanksgiving — we expect that,” Cuomo said. “The airports are reporting travel that is way up. ... The more social activity, the more the infection rate goes up. We know that.
“That is going to take a bad situation and make it worse because the numbers were already going up.”
Officials estimated an additional 20% increase in infections from holiday travel and activity, but remain uncertain how significantly cases will rise.
“It depends on how people perform,” Cuomo said.
Heightened restrictions in designated microcluster focus zones are a warning for communities to work together and slow the spread in their neighborhoods, Rhodes said.
“If precautions are not taken, the restrictions will get tighter,” Rhodes said. “It’s about the hospital system and saving lives and if we don’t take action now, we know with this projection what’s coming ahead.”
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released guidance this week discouraging Americans from celebrating Thanksgiving with people they do not live with.
“There’s a period where the virus is growing in your body and it can be seven to 10 days before you actually see the symptoms,” the governor said. “That’s why this disease is so insidious. They don’t have to know. You can’t just assume because you have not developed symptoms that you’re safe. ”
About 24% of people who give COVID-19 to someone else never developed symptoms, according to a CDC report released Friday. Thirty-five percent who transmit the virus to another person are presymptomatic, or too early in the incubation period to have symptoms and know they have the illness.
Cuomo was scheduled to speak Wednesday afternoon with President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID advisory team to prepare states for fair vaccine distribution. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved a vaccine at this time.
“I can tell you, it’s going to be much harder than anticipated,” Cuomo said, adding each person is slated to need two doses of the immunization.
Cuomo expressed the critical need for Congress to pass additional coronavirus relief with provisions to specifically fund equitable vaccine distribution in poor, minority and rural communities with outreach and supplemental distribution efforts. Cuomo has criticized President Donald Trump and the current administration’s plan to distribute the vaccine using big-box pharmaceutical companies such as CVS or Walgreens.
Black and brown Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than whites, Cuomo said, and are 67% more likely to have a shortage of primary care doctors.
“A lot of places don’t have the same access to health care facilities, that’s what caused the disparity in the death rate to begin with,” he said. “Why? More Blacks, browns and poor people had underlying health conditions because there are health disparities in this nation ... and now you’re going to go to the same health care apparatus to do the vaccinations after you know it is uneven and discriminatory in this nation. It makes no sense.
“This is social justice, racial justice and economic justice issues,” Cuoo added. “It has to be done fairly and equitably and it has to correct the mistakes that we have made so far.”
Cuomo thanked New Yorkers for their hard work for the past nine months to remain socially distanced or 6 feet from others, wear face masks in public and avoid unnecessary travel.
“Who took us from the highest rate to one of the lowest? New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “It’s a pure function of social responsibility. What a community does is the infection rate in that community and New Yorkers have done an incredible job.”
New York has the fourth-lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the United States at an average 2.9%, behind Vermont, Hawaii and Maine, which each have infection rates below 2.1%. Wyoming reports the nation’s highest infection rate at 57%, with South Dakota in second at 43.56% positive.
“I give thanks for the intelligence and action of New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “This Thanksgiving, we have to stay smart. We can’t let our guard down. We have to work together to keep the infection rate down through the Thanksgiving holiday.”
Microclusters in Western New York, the Mid-Hudson Valley, in New York City and Long Island increased to 5.28% positive Wednesday, up from 4.13% Tuesday.
The state reported a 3.62% infection rate including microclusters of 173,085 conducted coronavirus tests, or 3.04% without the oversampled focus zones.
Forty-one New Yorkers died from virus complications Tuesday, down from 47 the day before.
“That number has been going up steadily again in this new phase,” Cuomo said.
Statewide hospitalizations increased 126 patients Wednesday to 2,982 people.