Amid a worrisome increase in the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus across New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced new criteria for rolling back the state’s reopening and reintroducing shutdown restrictions by region.
Under Mr. Cuomo’s new plan, the state health department will use hospitalization rates as thresholds for a shutdown and for restricting indoor dining, which he said could be barred in New York City as soon as Monday, though it was not certain.
“If you’re going to overwhelm the hospital system, then we have no choice but to go to close down,” Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference in Manhattan.
For weeks, Mr. Cuomo has warned of rising cases, hospitalizations and rates of positive test results in every part of the state. On Monday, he announced that 4,602 people were hospitalized across the state.
In an attempt to avoid restrictions, the state’s health department will order hospitals statewide to increase their capacity by 25 percent, a strategy it used in the spring as hospitals in and around New York City began to fill.
Mr. Cuomo also warned that the state would move to restrict indoor dining in areas where the hospitalization rate continued to increase. His announcement followed new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said eating inside at restaurants was a high-risk scenario.
“If after five days, we haven’t seen a stabilization in a region’s hospitalization rate, we’re going to clamp down on indoor dining,” he said Monday.
The governor did not provide details on what numbers would represent “stabilization.” But he said that under his plan, restaurants in New York City could lose indoor dining as early as Monday, though it was not guaranteed. In other regions of the state, restaurants’ maximum indoor capacity would move from a 50 percent limit to 25 percent, he said.
Under his new plan, regions of the state will be forced to shut down if they appeared to be on track to hit a “critical” level of hospitalizations, which Mr. Cuomo said was 90 percent of their total capacity.
The state will look at the seven-day average rate of increase in a region’s hospitalization rate. If projections show that a region will hit 90 percent within three weeks, restrictions will be implemented that include the closing of non-essential businesses, limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery, and prohibiting nearly all gatherings.
None of the regions of the state had yet approached the threshold for a shutdown, Mr. Cuomo said.
“We don’t have a capacity criticality at this point,” he said.
In contrast with Mr. Cuomo’s approach, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said on Monday that the state was not ready to suggest indoor dining should shut down.
“If we saw explicit waves of transmission coming out of the indoor dining experience, obviously we would have a different approach,” he said.
But Mr. Murphy also said that 74 percent of people contacted by contact tracers were not cooperating.
Even as the average rate of positive test results and the number of cases in New York has risen in recent weeks, Mr. Cuomo had been resisting imposing the kind of widespread shutdowns that he implemented in March.
Instead, the state has since October imposed targeted restrictions on smaller areas, known as “micro-clusters,” where positive test rates had been relatively higher. These included parts of New York City and its suburbs, as well as major population hubs upstate.
Last week, Mr. Cuomo announced the state would focus on hospitalizations and warned of a “nightmare of overwhelmed hospitals.” The governor has also warned repeatedly that the spread of the virus could accelerate during the holiday season and into 2021, as New Yorkers celebrate at small gatherings.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, joined Mr. Cuomo’s news conference virtually on Monday and echoed the governor’s warnings.
“The middle of January can be a really dark time for us,” Dr. Fauci said.
As the holidays approached Mr. Cuomo stressed the risk of small family gatherings, limiting such affairs to 10 people or fewer.
“Ten may even be a bit too much,” Dr. Fauci said. “It’s not only the number, governor, but it’s the people who might be coming in from out of town.”
Mr. Cuomo also said the state would call on retired doctors and nurses to return to work to help fill anticipated staffing shortages, with Mr. Cuomo saying their registrations would be renewed without cost.
And as some of New York City’s public schools reopened in a reflection of changing public health thinking around the importance of keeping schools operating for younger students, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a change on Monday to the data the city would use to measure the spread of the virus.
“Our indicators need to be retooled to reflect what we’re seeing now, and to make sure we’re giving people the fullest picture of what we’re facing,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference.
Mr. de Blasio said that the city would no longer report a daily rate of positive test results, since the seven-day average rate is more accurate. He said that the seven-day average rate citywide was 4.98 percent.
The city will also report probable cases as well as confirmed cases, and will add the number of positive antigen test results to the number of probable cases it reports. Before Monday’s announcement the city had reported only molecular tests, which are more accurate but can take days to process, without including the results of antigen test results. Though antigen tests are generally faster, they are less likely to detect the infection in people with a low viral load.
Mr. de Blasio said Monday that the city had recorded a seven-day average of 2,180 confirmed cases and 616 probable cases.
And the city will now track the seven-day average number of people hospitalized per 100,000 city residents, which he reported on Monday was at 2.28 people, and which the mayor said he hoped would dip below 2.
“This gives us a more comprehensive picture, but also one that allows us to discern trends over time in a more stable and consistent way,” said Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner.
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