Two months ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a new plan for controlling the spread of COVID-19: a “micro-cluster” strategy that imposed tougher restrictions on virus hot spots.
Unlike the sweeping shutdowns of the spring, the micro-cluster strategy aimed to contain outbreaks at the community level, identifying places where COVID-19 was on the rise and limiting activity there.
By suppressing these smaller, localized outbreaks, New York would prevent coronavirus from surging all over the state.
“We have what we believe is the most sophisticated COVID detection and elimination system of any state because we’ve spent time, we’ve invested and because New Yorkers are invested,” Cuomo said, while explaining his new micro-cluster metrics in mid-October. “What’s the best you can do? Detect the smallest outbreak as soon as it happens. Trace it back to where it starts, find a small outbreak or cluster, and jump on it.”
It sounded good.
But the governor’s strategy hasn’t worked.
It hasn’t stopped COVID-19 cases from rising, hospitalizations from increasing or deaths from ticking ever upward.
Cuomo hasn’t come right out and said it, but his complex, sometimes confusing, system of color-coded micro-cluster zones has been a failure.
On Sunday, 80 New Yorkers died of coronavirus. When the governor detailed his micro-cluster strategy on Oct. 21, just seven New Yorkers died of COVID-19 the day before. Statewide, hospitalizations are now at their highest level since May. In the Capital Region, new cases and hospitalizations are the highest they’ve ever been.
The spiking numbers are bad news.
They beg for a new, more effective plan of action for a virus that has been spreading like wildfire throughout the entire country.
On Monday, Cuomo belatedly pivoted to a new approach, one that mostly abandons the micro-cluster strategy’s emphasis on test positivity rate (“not that relevant anymore,” according to the governor) to focus on how many New Yorkers are hospitalized.
At his press briefing, the governor warned that if hospitalizations don’t stabilize within the next five days, indoor dining in New York City will be shut down, and restaurants outside of New York City will be forced to reduce capacity to 25 percent, down from the current 50 percent.
These restrictions are going to happen.
Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator – they occur some time after the virus has been transmitted. Officials have warned that we still haven’t seen the impact of Thanksgiving get-togethers on COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, and that these metrics will likely worsen over the next week or two.
Even if we shut everything down and send everyone home, it will still be awhile before we see any improvement in our coronavirus numbers.
There are no good solutions to the situation we now find ourselves in.
Drastic reductions in indoor dining are necessary, as studies show that eating indoors at restaurants presents a big COVID-19 risk. But without monetary aid to keep these struggling businesses afloat, many of them won’t survive another shutdown.
Alas, if the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, another shutdown looms.
Nobody wants that.
But it’s where we’re headed, because the governor’s micro-cluster strategy failed to flatten the curve.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.