ALBANY — The state will further restrict indoor dining if hospitalizations don’t stabilize within the next five days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.
Restaurants outside of New York City would have to reduce to 25 percent capacity, down from the current 50 percent.
And in New York City, where restaurants are already limited to 25 percent, indoor dining could be prohibited entirely as early as next Monday without a decrease in hospital admissions.
“That would take effect within a couple of days,” Cuomo said. “We’ll give restaurants a couple of days to reorient.”
Cuomo announced the pending new restrictions following the release of new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week that flagged indoor dining as a high-risk activity.
“The CDC has targeted indoor dining as a spreader,” Cuomo said.
The New York State Restaurant Association faulted the policy as one that would force restaurants to close regardless if positive cases were specifically tied back to them or not, and said the restrictions would result in layoffs during the holiday season.
“The confusing, patchwork system of micro-clusters, regional restrictions and blanket statewide rollbacks has made it virtually impossible for restaurants to continue indoor dining,” said Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO.
As the virus soars, gyms and spas haven’t been identified as significant factors for spread, Cuomo said, and would not be impacted by the new restrictions. (Restaurants in “orange zones” are already limited to 25 percent capacity for indoor dining).
At present, no localities in the Capital Region have been classified as a red, orange or yellow zone, which would carry business restrictions and require schools to increase testing.
Cuomo on Monday also introduced new metrics that would govern a regional shutdown approach.
While he stopped short of scrapping the state’s color-coded micro-cluster strategy, the governor said the state will no longer use positivity rates as its sole metric, but will pivot to monitoring increases in the hospitalization rate.
Regional shutdowns will be determined if the seven-day hospitalization average projects hospitals are three weeks away from reaching “critical” capacity, or 90 percent.
“If you are at a rate that will overwhelm the hospitals, you must shut down all but essential businesses,” Cuomo said. “We don’t want to do that again.”
Cuomo on Monday ordered hospitals statewide to boost bed capacity by 25 percent.
There are 2,334 hospital beds in the Capital Region, according to the state Department of Health, and 220 people are currently hospitalized, which amounts to 9.4 percent of the total beds filled as of Monday.
New York has a 58,000 bed capacity statewide. As of Monday, 4,602 New Yorkers were hospitalized, well short of the roughly 19,000 admitted at the height of the pandemic this spring, a situation Cuomo called a “circumstance reminiscent of an apocalypse.”
Yet the number has ticked up from an average in the 400s in late-August.
Cuomo last week ordered hospitals to prepare for a surge by boosting bed capacity and developing plans to rotate patients throughout internal networks if needed.
The state also asked retired doctors and nurses to return to duty, a measure the governor said could bolster personnel by as many as 20,000 people
Cuomo was joined on Monday by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert, who offered somewhat of an endorsement of the state’s winter plan after the governor delivered a lengthy rundown of the state’s efforts since March.
“It seems really sound, and you have a lot of backup contingencies, which I like,” Fauci said. “So you’re not going to get caught shorthanded on this, I’m certain.”
But the full impact of Thanksgiving-related infections likely won’t be felt for another week-and-half, Fauci said, and infections will begin to peak as Hannukah begins this week and the holiday season kicks into high gear.
“We could start to see things get really bad in the middle of January,” Fauci said. “Without substantial mitigation, the middle of January can be a real dark time for us.”
The best strategy, he said, would be to close bars and keep the schools open, “as long as you subsidize and help the restauranteurs and the bar owners so that they don’t go down and essentially crash because of the economic strain.”
“But if we can keep those things under control, subsidize those people, as well as keep the schools open, we’d be in good shape.”
Fleischut agreed federal relief is needed and that restaurants are on “life support and will die” without financial assistance from the federal government.
“We need our elected officials, including Gov. Cuomo, to be our biggest advocates,” Fleischut said.
New York is poised to receive an initial tranche of 170,000 vaccines as early as Dec. 15 pending federal approval
While doses could start reaching nursing home residents and staff by late December, average low-risk adults likely won’t be vaccinated until April, Fauci said.
Building trust in the vaccine remains a challenge, he acknowledged, particularly among minority communities.
Fauci stressed people should continue to mitigate the virus’ spread and avoid gatherings.
“Ten [people] may even be a bit too much,” Fauci said.
Data indicates 70 percent of the virus’ spread can be attributed to small group gatherings, Cuomo said, and 50 percent of infections are spread asymptomatically.
Eighty New Yorkers died overnight Monday, and the state now has a daily positivity rate of 4.79 percent.
Albany County on Monday reported the death of a man in his 80s, bringing the total number of deaths to 169.
The county reported 108 new cases overnight Monday, 87 of which could not be traced to a clear source of transmission.
The five-day average for new daily positives decreased to 150 from 161.8, and there were six new hospitalizations reported overnight, making 85 county residents currently hospitalized from the virus, including 13 patients in the ICU.
Schenectady County reported 49 new cases and 55 total hospitalizations on Monday, up 11 from Friday.
Saratoga County reported 53 new positives, according to the state’s COVID tracker. Schoharie and Montgomery counties each reported five, and Fulton, 21.
As a result of the uptick, Schenectady and Albany counties on Monday suspended all in-person services at county Public Library branches (curbside pickup and virtual services will still be available).
And at one least bar in downtown Schenectady, the Jay St. Pub, announced its temporary closure on Monday, citing the surging caseload.
“We have too many friends, family and patrons in the medical field and/or those that rely on them, and we feel that continuing to operate during these restricted times would be an insult to them,” wrote Jay St. Pub in a statement. “The pub is a place where friends gather and family meets. We look forward to seeing that again, but first, we have to make sure we do our part. In the coming months, things will ultimately get worse. We will do our best to keep fresh things coming your way virtually. So please don’t forget about us, because we are certainly thinking of you.”
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