Cuomo wagers New York will avoid shutdown and flatten COVID-19 curve again

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker (l.) with Governor Andrew Cuomo at a recent press briefing in Albany.
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Even though both he and Mayor Bill de Blasio warned of imminent shutdowns amid the second wave of COVID-19, Governor Andrew Cuomo made a rather stunning prognostication Friday: New York wouldn’t get to that point this time around.

Citing better hospital readiness and lessons learned from the first wave in March and April, Cuomo told reporters at his Dec. 18 press conference that a shutdown, while still likely, is not fait accompli. What happens over the course of the next few weeks depends largely upon the people — and the governor seems to put his faith (and money) in New Yorkers.

In fact, during the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, Cuomo said he would wager a reporter $100 that New York would avoid a second mass shutdown — which would be triggered in a region where hospitals project hitting 85% capacity over the following three weeks.

At this point, there is no such indication of that happening — even as COVID-19 cases have spiked since early November.

“I do not believe we are destined to have a shutdown. There is no destiny here. Destiny is what we make of it,” Cuomo said. “It is totally within our control and a shutdown is totally avoidable. I believe New Yorkers can slow the spread, and that hospitals can manage the increase.”

The COVID-19 numbers have been grim of late; another 120 people died of the virus on Dec. 17, and the statewide positivity is now up to 5.09%. Yet Cuomo said the latest round of figures indicated a few signs of a possible turnaround. 

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 were 6,081 statewide, down 66 from the previous day. Intensive care hospitalizations were down 27 to 1,068, and intubations fell by 19 to 592.

In recent weeks, hospitals have expanded their bed numbers by 25% on the order of the state Health Department to handle the expected increase in COVID-19 patients. The state has also directed hospital systems to better coordinate with each other to handle the patient load and avoid capacity problems.

So far, that has worked to great success across New York, according to Cuomo. No region or state has reached a point where they could project hospitals hitting 85% capacity anytime soon, at least through the first week of January.

The holidays could make the difference, the governor noted. He encouraged New Yorkers who normally wish each other “a happy and healthy holiday” to focus on the healthy part this season to help not only flatten the curb, but also avoid another shutdown.

“Shutdowns are very, very harmful,” Cuomo said. “This has been a long year, and the last thing anybody wants is a shutdown. I’m working as hard as I can and hoping, and I believe we can stay hopeful and we will stay open. We need a new mantra: Slow the spread, stop the shutdown.”

Meanwhile, the vaccination process continues to kick into high gear. Already, Cuomo said, 19,000 New Yorkers — namely health care professionals — have received the Pfizer vaccine since vaccinations began on Dec. 14. 

This coming Monday, according to special counsel Gareth Rhodes, the COVID-19 vaccine will be coming to 618 long-term care facilities in New York, with staff members from Walgreens and CVS inoculating staff and residents. 

With impending FDA approval of the Moderna vaccine, New York can expect to received hundreds of thousands of additional doses, Cuomo said. The FDA has also authorized health care workers to administer the maximum amount of doses in each vaccine vial, which is about 6 or 7 doses; it was previously indicated that one vial would contain five doses.

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