“Winter Plan” Laid Out

Governor Andrew Cuomo held a press conference today to lay out a new winter plan to combat COVID-19 through five targeted strategies focused on mitigating the spread of the virus and bolstering New York State hospital preparedness. These five tenets include:

  • Continue and Strengthen New York’s Targeted Micro-Cluster Strategy while Managing Hospital Capacity to Enhance and Equalize Care;
  • Increase and Balance Testing Resources and Availability;
  • Keep Schools Open Safely;
  • Prevent Viral Spread from Small Gatherings; and
  • Operationalize an Equitable and Safe Vaccination Program

Through contact tracing data, the State estimates that over 65% of all virus spread currently comes from family gatherings and small social gatherings. Combatting this will not be as simple as “tightening the valve” as the Governor has previously done with restrictions on businesses.

Strategy 1 – Continue and Strengthen New York’s Targeted Micro-Cluster Strategy while Managing Hospital Capacity to Enhance and Equalize Care

Under New York’s Winter COVID-19 Plan, the existing micro-cluster strategy will be strengthened through the utilization of additional, hospital-related metrics to provide a clearer picture of where a particular zone stands and how each neighborhood, municipality, and other geographic area contributes to daily hospital admissions due to COVID. Under this strategy, the New York State Department of Health will include factors such as regional hospital bed capacity, ICU capacity, staffing ratios, and daily hospital admissions as part of the analysis and metrics used to determine which geographic areas qualify as micro-cluster zones. In addition to the 3 existing micro-cluster zone levels (Yellow Precautionary, Orange Warning and Red), New York will also add a new ‘Emergency Stop’ level, which will effectively put that area under the NY Pause guidelines, if needed to preserve hospital capacity. Hospital metrics associated with these zones will be identified in the next week to 10 days, once data from the Thanksgiving holiday is received and analyzed.

Additionally, the Department of Health today began to initiate emergency hospital measures to prepare the state’s hospital system for an expected surge in new admissions over the upcoming weeks. Specifically, these measures include:

  • Hospital systems must begin to identify retired nurses and doctors to bolster staff;
  • Hospital systems in Erie County must suspend elective surgeries to create new bed capacity for COVID patients;
  • Hospital systems must begin balancing patient loads across their individual hospital facilities;
  • Prepare plans to utilize emergency field hospitals;
  • Prepare plans to increase hospital bed capacity by 50 percent;
  • Prepare plans to implement statewide ‘Surge and Flex’ operations (similar to load balancing, but patient shifts would occur across all hospital systems, as opposed to within individual hospital systems)
  • Prepare plans to staff emergency field hospitals; and
  • Confirm availability of resources in existing stockpiles.

The Department of Health will also be launching a new, statewide hospital metric tracking system.

Strategy 2 – Increase and Balance Testing Resources and Availability

The State is looking to increase the amount of testing available statewide in a way that ensures distribution is balanced with testing across different segments of the population, including:

  • Healthcare workers;
  • Nursing homes;
  • Schools;
  • Essential workers;
  • Business professionals;
  • Personal services testing; and
  • General population, returning students and travelers, etc.

Strategy 3 – Keep Schools Open Safely

Under New York’s Winter Plan, efforts will be focused on keeping K-8 and Special Education schools open as long as it can be done safely. The first step will be to establish sustainable, ongoing testing in schools so that they can continue operating in the long term. As part of this, schools located in Orange and Red micro-cluster zones will be required to conduct weekly testing. Schools in Orange Zones will be required to test 20% of in person students, faculty, and staff over the course of a month and schools in Red Zones will be required to test 30% of in person students, faculty, and staff over a month. Pool testing will be allowed as well.

These protocols represent the minimum standard required for schools to stay open and the State may adjust requirements for specific districts based on any special circumstances which may arise. While local districts are able to close at levels under the State’s mandatory closure rule, they are urged to keep K-8 schools open whenever it is safe.

Strategy 4 – Prevent Viral Spread from Small Gatherings

Small gatherings have now been identified as the number one spreader of COVID-19, with at least 65 percent of all cases coming from these settings. Now that we are in holiday season, behavioral shifts must be observed by New Yorkers to mitigate the spread. As the State did with public campaigns urging mask compliance, New York State will be launching a public education campaign to highlight how small gatherings can lead to the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Strategy 5 – Operationalize an Equitable and Safe Vaccination Program

While a vaccine is expected to be released in the coming weeks, the Governor stated it will be months before a critical mass of available vaccinations for the general public will be available. As the State builds its plan to distribute vaccinations, it will be founded on three main pillars of fairness, equity and safety. These pillars will be coupled with outreach to Black and Brown communities who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

New York City Update

Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced again the need to double down on testing. Anyone seeking a test can do so by visiting www.nyc.gov/COVIDtest. Updates on wait times for testing can be found at www.testandtrace.nyc and will be updated every two hours.   

The Mayor also announced that schools are set to reopen on Monday, December 7th with in-person learning at pre-schools, 3-K program and elementary schools. District 75 schools that provide special education will open on December 10th and high schools will reopen at a date to be determined. 

New York State COVID-19 Numbers

The statewide positivity rate yesterday was 4.57%. There were 54 COVID-19 deaths in New York State yesterday.