ALBANY — The state is on war footing and is working to expand hospital capacity as coronavirus cases are expected to skyrocket throughout the holiday season.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday acknowledged the state has entered a new phase in its fight against the virus and announced a five-point winter plan designed to combat its spread.
In addition to managing hospital capacity, components include bolstering testing, safely keeping schools open and ensuring equitable distribution of vaccines once one becomes widely available.
A key strategy is monitoring patient loads and ensuring hospitals don’t get overwhelmed, which could prompt another shutdown like in the spring.
“You will see serious stress on the hospital system,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo likened the fight to a war.
“It’s a war of attrition,” Cuomo said. “It’s a war in terms of preparation and mobilization. It’s a war in terms of mindset. COVID is an enemy that we’re dealing with. It’s attacking people. It’s killing people. So, I talk about it and think about it in terms of a war. And the war has changed.”
Cuomo didn’t indicate that any shutdowns were imminent or if any new locations would be added to the state’s cluster zone strategy, the localized color-coded system governing restrictions.
But the state will add hospitalization metrics — including number of people hospitalized and staff availability — to the formula.
More details will be announced later this week.
“We’re waiting for Thanksgiving results,” Cuomo said.
As of Monday, 3,532 people were hospitalized statewide — roughly the same as on March 23 as cases began to mount.
Numbers hovered in the 400s for much of late-August and September, when they began to steadily increase.
Fifty-four New Yorkers died overnight and the statewide positivity rate is at 4.57 percent.
Hospitals will also be required to start planning for field hospitals and increase capacity by 50 percent, as well as develop plans for internally moving patients between their networks in order to accommodate patient loads.
Failure to do so could result in a state probe and possible malpractice charges, Cuomo said.
“If a hospital gets overwhelmed, there will be a state investigation,” he said.
While officials have a better understanding of the virus now than in the spring and are more prepared, Cuomo said he’s more concerned about staff shortages than beds because the state can no longer lean on bringing in outside medical staff to reinforce operations.
Unlike the spring when New York was the epicenter of the virus, cases are now surging both nationwide and across the state, reducing the number of available outside experts.
“Literally every region is dealing with a hospital issue now,” Cuomo said. “And you look at those curves, they’re all going up at an alarming rate.”
Cuomo’s plan received high marks from Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association.
“I think the plan as outlined, sir, makes a lot of sense to the hospital community,” said Raske on Monday, one of several officials Cuomo brought in virtually to comment during his press briefing on Monday.
The state’s winter plan also aims to boost testing for essential workers and first responders.
Additional components include a public service announcement urging people against small group gatherings, which now result in 65 percent of positive cases, Cuomo said. He also noted efforts to ensure vaccines are distributed in an “equitable and safe” way, and will focus on communities of color.
Locally, Schenectady County announced one new death on Monday, a woman in her 80s, bringing the number of county residents killed by the virus to 58.
The county reported 38 new cases and 36 hospitalizations, up 9 from Wednesday, the most recent date for which data was provided.
Saratoga County reported 48 new positives, according to the state’s COVID tracker.
Albany County reported 105 new cases overnight Monday, 80 of which couldn’t be traced to a clear source of transmission.
Seventy-two residents are now hospitalized with the virus, including 10 overnight, the county’s highest total to date.
As a result, the county could potentially skip over yellow zone status and go directly into orange, which carries a more stringent set of restrictions and could require some high-risk businesses to close, said county Executive Dan McCoy on Monday, including gyms and nail salons.
McCoy acknowledged he was frustrated, and that people shouldn’t let down their guards because they believe a vaccine is imminent, he said.
“This is going to be the worst we’ve ever seen,” McCoy said. “Everyone feels like we’re at the end and they’re going out and doing bad things.”
The threshold for entering the yellow zone in Albany County is logging a positivity rate of 3 percent for 10 straight days. Orange is 4 percent, and red, 5 percent.
Officials pleaded with residents to avoid all unnecessary travel and to get tested if they interacted with anyone outside of their immediate family over the holiday weekend.
Several producers have applied to the Food and Drug Administration for vaccine approval, including Pfizer and Moderna Inc., who made the announcement Monday.
County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen said while the developments are a “light at the end of the tunnel,” it’s unlikely vaccines will immediately be made available to the general public.
In the meantime, cases will continue to sharply mount without the proper safeguards, she said.
“Testing can save us from getting into those large numbers of exponential growth,” Whalen said.
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