During a Press Conference on Wednesday, December 16th, Governor Cuomo announced that the State’s COVID-19 positivity rate is now 6.21%. This comes after the Governor previously announced that the State’s rate of transmission is 1.3. Due to the increase in COVID-19 numbers and an anticipated continued increase due to the holiday season, earlier this month, the Governor announced the State’s Winter Plan to combat the virus. The five-point plan includes:
Strengthen New York’s Targeted Micro-Cluster Strategy While Managing Hospital Capacity.
Under Part One of the Governor’s plan, the administration and State Department of Health (DOH) have begun to incorporate more factors when determining Yellow, Orange and Red Zones. The new metrics for zone designations are as follows:
- Yellow Zone: A region has a 3% positivity rate (7-day average) over 10 days and is in the top 10% in the State for hospital admissions per capita over the past week and is experiencing week-over-week growth in daily admissions.
- Orange Zone: A region has a 4% positivity rate (7-day average) over 10 days and it is determined that regions will reach 85% hospital capacity within 21 days.
- Red Zone: It is determined that, after cancellation of elective procedures and a 50% increase in hospital capacity, a region will reach 90% capacity within 21 days.
Along with new zone metrics, the Governor also announced several new restrictions for indoor dining. Most notable, indoor dining in New York City has been stopped, but outdoor dining and delivery/pick-up service is still available. The statewide 10:00 pm curfew for restaurants and bars also remains in effect. For regions outside of NYC, the Governor has said that, “if after five days, we haven’t seen a stabilization in a region’s hospital rate, we’re going to clamp down on indoor dining” by reducing it within a region from 50% capacity to 25% capacity. Lastly, for indoor dining, the Governor has said that his office is still looking into data to determine whether to allow indoor dining in Orange Zones. Gyms and salons will still be allowed to operate within Orange Zones, but will be subject to stricter guidelines. Specifically, they will have their capacity reduced to 25% from 33% and their employees will be required to be tested weekly, rather than the currently bi-weekly requirement.
The other major portion of Part One includes requiring hospitals around the state to implement various emergency procedures, such as:
- Identifying retired nurses and doctors to prevent a possible staff shortage in the case of an increase.
- Stopping elective surgeries in Erie County only. This could be extended to other regions based on that region’s numbers.
- Initiating individual hospital network load balancing.
- Preparing emergency field hospital plans.
- Preparing to implement “surge and flex.”
- Preparing to staff emergency field hospitals.
- Confirming PPE stockpiles.
Increase and Balance Testing Resources
Part two of the plan aims to prioritize COVID-19 testing for health care workers, nursing homes, schools, and essential workers. Some percentage of testing will also be available to other population groups.
Keeping Schools Open
This part of the plan puts an emphasis on keeping children in physical classrooms, rather than forcing them to take classes remotely. Schools in micro-cluster zones will remain open, however, school in Orange and Red Zones will be required to conduct extensive weekly testing of students and staff.
Prevent Spread at Small Gatherings
Recently, Governor Cuomo has stated that small, residential gatherings are now the largest source of new COVID-19 cases, at 74%. He has referred to this as “living-room spread.” The fourth part of the Winter Plan seeks to discourage individuals from participating in residential gatherings by launching a new public education campaign. Also, the 10-person limit for residential gatherings put in place before Thanksgiving will remain in effect.
Plan for Safe and Fair Vaccine Rollout
Late last week, the State received their first delivery of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. In all, the State’s first delivery will include 170,000 doses. The Governor has said that the first people to receive the vaccine will be nursing home residents and staff, with any leftovers going to “high risk” hospital workers, which include individuals who work in intensive care units, emergency rooms, and/or pulmonary care. Once all nursing home residents and staff and “high risk” health care workers have received the vaccine, future doses will be allocated as such:
- Long term care workers, staff and residents, along with EMS workers.
- Essential workers.
- General population.
During his press conference on December 16th, the Governor announced that ten hospital and health systems across the State have been chosen to lead the regional distribution and administration of the vaccine to essential workers. This plan means that local hospitals will serve as regional hubs for vaccination. They will be required to work with their community officials to develop plans for how to administer the vaccine. The plans developed will need to be submitted to and approved by NYS DOH by early January, so that they are in place when the State begins Phase II of the vaccination process, which they anticipate will be in late January. The hospital and health systems chosen, and the regions they will serve are:
- New York City: The Greater New York Hospital Association
- Long Island: Northwell Health Systems
- Capital Region: Albany Medical Center
- Western New York: Catholic Health System
- Central New York: SUNY Upstate Medical Center
- Mid-Hudson: Westchester Medical Center
- North Country: Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital
- Mohawk Valley: Mohawk Valley Medical Center
- Southern Tier: United Health Services
- Finger Lakes: University of Rochester Medical Center
Governor Cuomo has directed the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to ensure that the cost of the COVID-19 vaccination is covered by health insurers. The Governor also announced that the State has established 90 regional distribution centers that have the capability to store the vaccine in the deep-cold temperatures that are required.
Lastly, it was announced that the State will be partnering with CVS and Walgreens to begin a federal vaccination program for nursing homes, much like what is done with the flu vaccine. The program will begin on December 21st, and the State will be dedicating part of its initial allocation to this program, which they expect to cover all nursing home residents in the State.
Also, in response to COVID-19, the State has extended the commercial eviction moratorium, and the Governor has announced that, due to uncertainty regarding federal aid to fill the State’s $15 billion budget gap, the State will advance $1.5 billion to agencies that will have cash flow needs to get them through next February/March.