Cuomo: If hospitals are overwhelmed, state will begin shutdown by further restricting restaurants

What happens if Long Island hospitals hit critical capacity in the coming weeks or months due to the continued spread of COVID-19?

A further reduction of indoor dining would be the first course of action, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a media briefing Monday.

The governor made the announcement in a media briefing where he further outlined how the state will aim to stabilize the hospitalization rate across regions.

A shutdown would go into effect if a region’s seven-day average shows it will hit critical hospital capacity within three weeks. Critical capacity is 90% of the overall hospital beds, Mr. Cuomo said.

“If hospital capacity becomes critical were going to close down that region,” the governor said.

So far the shutdown is limited to just a reduction in indoor dining, where he said spread is more likely as people gather with friends and remove their masks to dine.

For Long Island, that would mean indoor dining would be reduced from its current 50% capacity limit to just 25%. In New York City, it would go from 25% to a shutdown of indoor dining.

The restrictions would go into effect if the hospitalization rate doesn’t stabilize within five days of the region showing it is on target to hit critical hospital capacity.

The Long Island region, which includes just Suffolk and Nassau counties, is currently a long way from 90% hospitalization. The governor shared data Monday that showed Long Island has a hospitalization rate of just .02% with 702 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. There are 4,602 coronavirus patients in hospitals statewide, he said.

“We don’t have a capacity criticality at this moment,” Mr. Cuomo said.

A previously announced mandate that would require hospitals to increase their capacity by 25% is being ordered by the State Department of Health Monday. That would allow for 58,000 COVID beds across New York.

The governor said ultimately, he sees the ongoing COVID-19 struggle as a battle between hospitalization rates and a rush to vaccinate the public.

“Bottom line for us, I see it as hospital capacity versus vaccination critical mass,” Mr. Cuomo said Monday. “Can your hospitals handle the increase until you start to see a reduction from the vaccination?”

In an apparent effort to reinforce his strategy and get an update on timelines, the governor was joined at Monday’s media briefing by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases and a leading voice on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fauci estimated we won’t see vaccinations reach critical mass until around mid-June, saying it will likely not be available to individuals without priority designation until around April.

Mr. Cuomo said a current concern is the reluctance of some New Yorkers and Americans to take the vaccine. He cited research that suggested as much as half the population might refuse a vaccine. In order to receive critical mass about 80% of the population would need to participate, the governor said.

Dr. Fauci said it’s critical people begin to change their minds.

“If 50% of the people don’t get vaccinated, than we don’t have the umbrella of immunity over us,” he said.

Dr. Fauci also said he anticipates the current spike in coronavirus cases presumed to be brought on by holiday gatherings to grow until mid-January.

“Without substantial mitigation, the middle of January can be a particularly dark period for us,” Dr. Fauci said.

On Monday, the state reported a COVID-19 positivity rate of 4.79%. In Suffolk County, it was 5.5%. On Sunday, the county reported 1,119 new cases, the fourth consecutive day over 1,000.

While the number decreased Monday, with a reported 696, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone cautioned that “there is no cause for celebration.”

“Today’s infection rate remains above 6 percent once again, and this week we saw four straight days of new cases over 1,000,” he said in a statement. “To put this in perspective, during the height of the pandemic this spring, Suffolk County only saw 12 days over 1,000 new cases.”

He urged people again to avoid small indoor gatherings.

“Just because you are in your home with people you trust does not mean you are safe,” he said. “If we don’t change our behaviors quickly our hospital system will be at risk of being overwhelmed and we will lose more lives.

“We did it once, we can do it again. While I know we are all tired, we have to do what we know works. Face coverings and social distance are our best tools in defeating this virus.”

Suffolk County is also now reporting cases by zip code with a daily breakdown on its COVID-19 tracker.

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