Is a statewide COVID crackdown inevitable in NY? What you need to know
These COVID-19 survivors wanted to share their stories — and advice — now that they're on the other side. New York State Team
New York’s COVID-19 cluster containment strategy is being tested as coronavirus cases rise in more communities and threaten to trigger some version of the spring's economically devastating statewide shutdown if things continue to get worse.
The new pandemic-response alarm bells linked to rising infections and hospitalizations prompted restrictions on activity in large swaths of upstate New York this week, spanning much of Erie, Monroe and Onondaga counties.
The move came as positive coronavirus cases statewide nearly hit 4,000 on Monday, the highest level since early May, and authorities urged people to forgo gatherings during the upcoming holidays to help curb the virus’ spread.
Meanwhile, outbreak trajectories in some entire regions, including the Finger Lakes, Central New York, Mid-Hudson and New York City, were headed toward hitting metrics that would require varying levels of restrictions on businesses, schools and houses of worship.
Amid the growing danger, local and state officials addressed questions surrounding the complex system involved in deploying new COVID restrictions, as well as the dire push to avoid widespread shut downs.
“We have to make that turnaround quickly,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press briefing Monday, calling on New Yorkers to help slow the virus’ spread via social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions.
“I think the simple answer is no, it's not yet time for those broader restrictions. I pray it will never be that time, but if we don't act very quickly, then those restrictions could become a reality,” he added.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the surging COVID-19 numbers as undeniable with the U.S. reaching 10 million cases, but he credited New York’s cluster strategy with keeping the state's current infection rate among the lowest in the nation.
“The micro-cluster approach is inarguable. Do more testing, more targeting. As soon as you see any increase, be more aggressive,” he said, adding “that's everything that you can do.”
On Wednesday, however, state officials moved closer towards broader restrictions, announcing a statewide 10 p.m. curfew for bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses with a liquor license. Food pickup will still be allowed after 10 p.m.
Gatherings at homes statewide will also be capped at 10 people, down from the current 50-person limit.
The new rules take effect on Friday.
"If that doesn’t work, if these (COVID) numbers keep going crazy, you have some scientists who believe we’re going to go back to a close down," Cuomo said Wednesday. "I’m just praying it doesn’t happen."
How a NY statewide COVID shutdown would unfold
The path from current localized COVID-19 cluster restrictions to some form of statewide shut down follows a complicated system of metrics that vary by location and population density.
For example, the Finger Lakes region is seemingly on the cusp of a regional shutdown based on its recent test positivity rate of 3.5% and new case count of about 22 positive tests per 100,000 people.
While the new case tally far exceeded the metrics for a regional shutdown, the test positivity rate only warranted limited restrictions in an isolated area, according to the cluster strategy overseen by the state Department of Health.
As a result, only the city of Rochester, Monroe County, and its surrounding communities were placed on the least stringent yellow zone COVID restrictions, as other neighboring counties remained fully open.
In other words, coronavirus case surges could eventually require shutdowns of cities and suburbs while sparing some rural neighboring communities, despite effectively halting most activity statewide by banning gatherings and closing non-essential businesses and schools in population centers.
Cuomo, however, pointed to early examples of the cluster strategy reducing positive coronavirus tests in parts of Rockland and Orange counties, as well as Brooklyn and Queens, as proof it could prevent regional and statewide shut downs.
“People don't like the restrictions, I understand that. But it works. And as complicated as this is, it is as simple as this is,” Cuomo said Monday.
Yet New York City officials on Monday addressed the fact that many COVID-19 statistics were rising in many neighborhoods across the city.
“These numbers must serve as a warning to us,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi.
“The virus starts local, but, as we're seeing around the country and around the world, it doesn't stay local unless each of us takes the action that we need to, to protect ourselves as well as others,” he added.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer on Monday reported 2,048 active COVID-19 cases in his county, a more-than-500-case jump from a week ago. He said the county is facing a second wave of infections, though not as significant so far as the first one that occurred in March.
“I don’t think we’ve reached the point where we can call it a wave of similar intensity to what we saw in the spring,” Latimer said. “And if it becomes that, then it will indeed be a ferocious impact to us.”
David Propper of The Journal News/lohud contributed to this report.