Politico

Cuomo unveils 5-point ‘winter plan’ to combat Covid-19 in New York


ALBANY, N.Y. — With more than 3,500 New Yorkers hospitalized for Covid-19, health systems across the state must begin preparing to increase their bed capacities, balancing patient loads and identifying staff — including retired nurses and doctors — to work at emergency field facilities if they are needed, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

The governor announced the actions as part of a new five-pronged “winter plan” that seeks to combat Covid-19 through a new Department of Health initiative on hospital capacity, enhanced testing, K-8 in-person learning, a public education campaign on small gatherings and vaccine distribution.

Pointing to lessons learned when Covid-19 swept through the state this spring, Cuomo said his administration will now focus on the number of coronavirus hospitalizations and hospital capacities. Yellow, orange and red zone designations under the state’s “micro-cluster” approach will now include death rate, available hospital and ICU beds and available staff, among other things, he said.

The state is also adding an emergency stop provision, which would allow for further restrictions in the event of a hospitalization crisis.

“We lived this nightmare, we learned from this nightmare and we’re going to correct for the lessons we learned during this nightmare,” he said during a late-morning news conference.

As part of the new effort, DOH is asking all hospitals to immediately identify retired nurses and doctors who could be called upon to help fill staffing shortages, as well as prepare staffing plans for emergency field facilities.

Hospitals must also begin balancing patient loads within their individual networks to ensure one facility is not overwhelmed; plan to add up to 50 percent capacity; confirm their personal protective equipment stockpiles; and prepare to implement statewide “surge and flex” plans to move patients across systems.

Beginning Friday, meanwhile, hospitals in Erie County — where Covid-19 cases have been surging — must end elective surgeries. Other regions of the state could also soon see elective procedures halted, Cuomo said.

Greater New York Hospital Association President Ken Raske, who joined Cuomo’s news conference virtually, said he’s confident about addressing the rising number of coronavirus patients as part of a continued “team effort.”

Cuomo said the state will launch a hospital capacity emergency tracking system to help monitor the situation at facilities. It will also investigate any hospital that is “overwhelmed” by patients. If a hospital is found dodging the mandate to share the patient load, it would be “malpractice on their part,” he said.

“This was a serious issue last time, it was a case of first impression last time. This time it’s not a case of first impression. I don’t mean to be difficult, but difficult is when people die because they didn’t get the right health care,” Cuomo said. “So preparing for that is important.”

The governor also said the state is advising districts to keep schools open for younger children, particularly in kindergarten through eighth grade, “where safe.” He issued some changes to the testing protocols in microcluster zones, saying 20 percent of students and staff in orange zones must be tested over the course of a month. Thirty percent of school populations must be tested in red zones.

Cuomo did not rule out another statewide pause, similar to the shutdown he ordered this spring and a scenario states such as California are now reliving in response to autumnal surges.

But rather than further restrictions on restaurants and bars, he said will continue to pursue his increasingly complex color-coded microcluster strategy. An orange zone designation, for example, can impose moderate restrictions on public spaces where outbreaks have been identified “before you get to hitting the pause button and closing everything,” he said.

The governor also backed up that action by saying 65 percent of positive cases now stem from smaller gatherings rather than business activity — an issue he said he believes can only be resolved through public education. He said he doesn’t believe that closing the “valve” on economic activity would have as much impact.

Cuomo’s administration had focused heavily on specific positivity rates for opening and closing schools and businesses in certain regions. But Cuomo says that as those rates surge past previously set thresholds — the statewide positivity rate reported Monday was 4.57 percent, for instance — the state is shifting focus back toward hospitals.

Officials point partly to increased testing in hot spots for the higher numbers, but the governor also says he doesn’t believe any state could meet some of those previously set metrics — such as the 3 percent rate that officials had said would be cause for keeping schools closed in New York City.

“They were all best-case scenario and artificially low,” he said.

Michelle Bocanegra contributed to this report.

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