What to Know
- The FDA is expected to formally clear Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use following an agency panel’s endorsement of its safety Thursday; it comes as the U.S. sets new hospitalization records almost daily
- In New York, state hospitalizations have topped 5,000 for the first time in nearly nine months; Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to outline a new hospital-focused post-Thanksgiving plan on Friday
- Hospitalizations are also at May levels in New Jersey; state projections show they could top April peaks by early next year if public compliance with masks and distancing doesn’t improve
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to outline an updated post-Thanksgiving COVID plan Friday, a day after New York topped 5,000 hospitalizations statewide for the first time in nearly nine months and the U.S. set a new single-day death record.
The 5,164 hospitalized as of Thursday is a total that pales in comparison to the near the 19,000 admitted at the peak of the crisis in April, but it is the highest total since May 20 and a steep increase over recent months for freshly beleaguered hospital staff and facilities. Cuomo attributed part of the surge to Thanksgiving gatherings and said he would debut a robust revised plan based on what experts have learned from analyzing the data from the initial post-holiday spread.
New daily cases have been on the rise, too, topping 10,100 in New York each of the last two days. Daily cases aren’t the core indicator for states this time around, given testing-related increases, but some portion of new daily cases do translate into hospital stays. Some of the admissions could be extensive, as was the case with ventilator patients in the spring. The numbers of people in intensive care units and intubations have been increasing to a lesser degree for now, and hospital bed capacity has slowly but surely been shrinking across the state.
Mitigating increases in the state’s hospitalization rate has become Cuomo’s top priority. The governor has said if any of the state’s 10 regions is projected to hit 90 percent capacity over a three-week period, he would authorize a total shutdown. That means nonessential businesses, schools and restaurant table service close in a given region for an indefinite time period, a measure reminiscent of spring.
As of Thursday, New York City and Long Island had the least bed availability of the state’s 10 regions, 19 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Hospitals across the state were ordered earlier this week to up their bed capacity by 25 percent.
Cuomo has also tied regional hospitalization rates to the availability of indoor dining. In his briefing Monday, he said any region outside New York City that fails to stabilize its hospitalization rate after five days — meaning no continued increase — will see heavy reductions in indoor dining capacity.
If the five boroughs, which had one of the lowest hospitalization rates in the state as of Cuomo’s last update, see continued increases, the governor will suspend indoor dining entirely. Right now, New York City only has 25 percent capacity. Cuomo says he could restrict indoor dining in the city as early as Monday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he expects that to be the case, given the city’s ongoing increases on all of its key indicators, including hospitalization rates.
Hospitalizations have also become the core metric in neighboring New Jersey, which has seen sharp increases on that measure as well over the last few weeks.
As Gov. Phil Murphy said in his latest briefing, “While the numbers of new cases are what provides the shock values for the headlines, and they should, it is the numbers in our hospitals which are of the greatest concern and the hardest numbers when it comes to determining the steps we need to take as a state.”
Those next steps do not include any plans to limit indoor dining anew in New Jersey as Cuomo is considering in New York. Murphy continues to say “everything is on the table” as far as new restrictions, but he has cited lack of significant evidence that indoor dining is fueling the current surge in his decision to date.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here’s the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
The governor has taken steps to improve compliance, including imposing a 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants statewide. Those late-night hours were when usually compliant spaces turned into unmasked, crowded spaces, Murphy said.
Public compliance can’t be underestimated as a weapon in the coronavirus fight; the worst-case and moderate projection models New Jersey debuted earlier this week underscore the point.
Under the nightmare scenario, which presumes no change in public behavior, daily case totals could double in a month and hospitalizations could climb to peaks not seen in April by mid-January. That level of strain could overwhelm the system.
Under the moderate outcome scenario, which presumes some increased level of public compliance with masks, social distancing and avoidance of gatherings, new daily cases would still climb but hospital levels would remain manageable.
The desperation to shore up hospital capacity and resources comes as state and local officials expect to get their initial shipments of the Pfizer vaccine within days, following an FDA panel’s endorsement of the drug Thursday. The agency is expected to grant the pharmaceutical company’s emergency use request.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
States could begin doling out shots next week and they expect additional allocations of Pfizer and then initial allocations from Moderna, which the FDA panel takes up next week, before the end of the month. While welcome news, officials acknowledge the initial rollout won’t help stem the COVID holiday tide.
And that tide grows more fearsome by the day. New U.S. cases per day are running at all-time highs of over 209,000 on average. The number of people in hospitals nationwide for COVID-19 is setting records nearly every day. On Wednesday, the country set a new single-day death toll, recording 3,124 fatalities.
The U.S. has already lost a world-high 290,000 people to the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins. Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has warned the U.S. could see its tragic toll near 450,000 by February without aggressive actions to contain the anticipated holiday surge on top of the surge that has been underway for weeks across the nation.