NEW YORK – New York State’s new plan to combat COVID-19 during the winter season focuses on five main points that will strengthen the state’s micro-cluster crackdown and help hospitals deal with a surge in activity.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the strategy on Monday afternoon.
He says that with more than 3,500 people now hospitalized statewide for COVID-19 and more cases expected in the coming weeks, hospitals must draw up plans to redistribute patients both within health care networks and between networks so that no one hospital becomes overwhelmed, as happened when the pandemic first hit New York last spring.
The 3,500 figure is up from 900 people hospitalized in late June, Cuomo says, and cases will only rise as New Yorkers gather to celebrate the holidays.
“The cases are going to go up,” Cuomo said at a briefing in New York City. “I want to make sure our number one priority is hospital capacity. That has always been my nightmare.”
While much of the focus over the past several months has been on containing the virus through restrictions at bars, restaurants and other businesses, Cuomo said data from contact tracing shows that 65% of infections are now coming from small gatherings.
“The bad news? Family gatherings, the smaller social gatherings have exploded as places where the virus is spreading,” Cuomo said. “Government is not capable of enforcing what you do in your home. “It’s about people being smart.”
He says New Yorkers should be responsible and not host gatherings over the holidays, since law enforcers can’t monitor everyone’s homes.
Depending on how bad the situation in New York State gets, the Governor also says it’s possible that we could return to “NY on PAUSE,” where non-essential businesses are shut down.
The plan centers around these main points:
- 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
Strategy 1: Manage hospital capacity to enhance and equalize care
- 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.
Strategy 2: Increase and balance testing resources and availability
- Increase testing availability and ensure distribution is balanced with testing sufficient across different segments of the population, including:
- Healthcare workers
- Nursing homes
- Essential workers
- Business professionals
- Personal services testing
- General population, returning students and travelers, etc.
Strategy 3: Keep schools open safely
- New data shows that schools are safer than the surrounding community in terms of viral spread.
Strategy 4: Prevent viral spread from small gatherings
- At least 65 percent of COVID cases have resulted from small gatherings. New York has set a limit on gatherings to 10 people.
Strategy 5: Operationalize an equitable and safe vaccination program
- Although a vaccine is expected to be released in the coming weeks, it will be months before it’s available to the critical masses. The state’s vaccine distribution will be based on fairness, equity and safety.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.