Cuomo: Shutdowns await regions if hospitals fill

Associated Press Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds empty packaging for a COVID-19 vaccine during a media conference at the State Capitol in Albany on Dec. 3

ALBANY — A second lockdown of New York's non-essential businesses will be imposed if hospitals face a shortage of beds due to rising COVID admissions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Monday.

"You can’t overwhelm your hospitals," Cuomo said in Manhattan. "If you are at a rate (of infection) that is going to overwhelm your hospitals, you must shut down."

The new threshold for putting region in "red zone" — putting the brakes on businesses defined as non-essential — will be if hospital admission statistics show they will reach 90% capacity within three weeks. In red zone areas, restaurants are restricted to providing takeout meals only and classroom education must be done remotely.

To help brace for expectation that admissions will increase for the next six weeks or longer, the state is requiring all hospitals to increase their number of beds by 25%.

The latest statewide data has shown coronavirus has spread rapidly despite the Cuomo administration's strategy of responding to "micro clusters" within communities and ordering that restaurants and bars close each night by 10 p.m.

The total number of people hospitalized in New York as a result of coronavirus infections stood at 4,602 — more than tenfold what it had been three months ago and twice the total from two weeks ago.

Restaurant trade groups warned their will be dire consequences for their industry if further restrictions are imposed in the absence of relief measures for the food service service sector in a congressional stimulus measure now being negotiated.

"I'm actually quite disgusted that members of New York's congressional delegation appear to be actively negotiating a COVID relief bill to get us from here to April 1 but without any relief for restaurants," said Scott Wexler, director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association.

Joining Cuomo through a livestream feed for the briefing was Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci predicted mid-January "could be a really dark time for us" if people ignore recommended measures for avoiding infections.

The physician warned that small gatherings in homes — even if they involve fewer than the Cuomo-imposed level of 10 people — could create danger because people don't always know if those in their company may have been unwittingly exposed to the contagion.

"Make sure that when people come in, that they’re not people who you have no idea where they’ve been or who they’ve been exposed to," Fauci said. "You want to be friendly, you want to be collegial, but you really got to be careful about that."

Fauci was evasive, though, when Cuomo invited the doctor to co-star with him in public service announcements, jokingly suggesting the two could come across as the actors Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

"We’re like the modern day De Niro and Pacino," the governor said. "You can be whichever you want. You can be the De Niro or Pacino. Fauci and Cuomo, I’ll give you a choice. Who do you want to be? De Niro or Pacino? Which one do you want to be?"

Fauci responded: "I love them both."

As Cuomo and Fauci joked about Hollywood celebrities, criminal justice reform advocates, along with Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-the Bronx, urged state officials to ensure that inmates held in prisons, jails, youth facilities and immigration detention lockups are included in the second round of vaccinations for COVID-19.

Gottfried and Rivera oversee the health committees in their respective chambers.

"COVID doesn’t distinguish or discriminate between different kinds of congregate settings, and neither should the state of New York,” Gottfried said.

Several groups, meanwhile, staged a vigil Monday night outside the state-owned Governor's Mansion, calling on Cuomo to use his executive powers to grant clemencies to vulnerable inmates held in prisons where nearly 1900 inmates have tested positive for the virus.

More than eight months ago, the Cuomo administration, at its request, was given the authority by the Legislature to close an undefined number of prisons as a money-saving measure. While the state faces a deficit of more than $10 billion, Cuomo has yet to signal which facilities he will order to close down.

The prison population stood at 35,353 inmates last Tuesday — a 51.3% drop from its level at the beginning of 2000, according to state data.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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