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'A new phase in the war against COVID'

Cuomo announces new steps as NY braces for holiday surge

Cuomo declared the state is entering a new phase in the fight against COVID-19 and on Monday he announced a plan of new strategies to stop the spread, as officials brace for a holiday surge.

"It’s a new phase in the war against COVID," Cuomo said at a news briefing Monday. "I think of this as a war. It’s a war of attrition … COVID is an enemy that we’re dealing with. It’s attacking people. It’s killing people."

Cuomo emphasized five strategies the state will take to control the virus, which include:

  • Strengthening the hospital system
  • Bolstering testing, and making sure it's done equitably
  • Keeping schools open as long as it is safe
  • Combating "living room spread" at small gatherings
  • Ensuring New York has the best vaccination program in the nation

Cuomo said his biggest fear is hospitals becoming overwhelmed by caseloads like Italy and a hospital in Elmhurst had this spring. He ordered hospitals to prepare to increase their capacity by 50% and ordered them to "balance" their caseloads by transferring patients within their systems to prevent from becoming overloaded.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday new tools to post updates for the public on wait times at virus testing sites throughout the city. He urged New Yorkers to get tested whether they traveled for the holiday or not.

The number of new positives reported today: 520 in Nassau, 658 in Suffolk, 2,504 in New York City and 6,819 statewide.

The chart below shows the number of new cases identified in the state and in New York City each day this month.

Search a map and view charts showing the latest local trends in testing, hospitalizations, deaths and more.

State officials: New field hospitals available if needed

Two Long Island field hospitals built in the spring for hundreds of millions of dollars would open in phases over weeks if another surge presents the need, state officials said.

The SUNY Old Westbury and Stony Brook hospitals were not completed until late April, after COVID-19 patient numbers had declined.

There's more than 460,000 square feet of climate-controlled space in nine tents built at both locations, plus a converted gym at Old Westbury, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which spearheaded the construction projects. The hospitals could serve more than 2,000 patients.

The gym could open within 10 days if permanent hospitals become overwhelmed, with the tents opening after that in phases, if needed, state officials said.

A Staten Island field hospital — a converted psychiatric center — reopened Tuesday after a rise in hospitalizations there.

Vaccine resisters could derail LI's recovery, experts say

Delivering an effective vaccine is only part of the equation for the region's recovery from COVID-19 — it also depends on Long Islanders' willingness to take the shot, experts say.

Americans overall are split on the vaccine, according to polls. A September survey by Pew Research Center found that 49% of U.S. adults said they definitely or probably would not get a vaccine when it becomes available. The number of vaccine skeptics dropped to 42% in a Gallup Panel survey conducted in October, a number that still would leave broad swaths of the population without immunity.

And skepticism runs particularly high in Long Island's "very vocal" anti-vaccine community, said Kevin Law, CEO of the Long Island Association business group.

Meanwhile, Moderna Inc. said Monday it would ask U.S. and European regulators to allow emergency use of its vaccine as new study results confirm the shots offer strong protection.

Health officials: COVID-19 survival rates higher now than in spring

As the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Long Island rises, doctors and nurses see a bright spot: Patients they’re treating today are more likely to survive than the ones they cared for during the spring surge.

Doctors said death rates have declined thanks to improved treatments, a better understanding of the disease and months of experience caring for these patients.

A New York University study of 5,121 hospitalizations at the three NYU Langone hospitals, including in Mineola, found mortality dropped from 25.6% in March to 7.6% in August, even when adjusted for age and other characteristics. Researchers can’t be sure which factors were most important, but experience was key, said Dr. Leora Horwitz, lead author of the study and director of NYU Langone’s Center for Healthcare Innovation and Delivery Science.

"In March, we had no idea what to expect," Horwitz said. "We had never seen this disease before. We didn’t know COVID caused blood clots. We didn’t know it caused kidney failure. We didn’t know we didn’t need to rush people onto ventilators, which we thought we had to do … . Now we can watch for and prevent complications earlier."

Some LI schools are closed a bit longer after Thanksgiving

Several Long Island school districts are staying closed for the week starting Monday, switching instead to remote instruction to help reduce the risk of virus exposure after the holiday, officials said.

Students traditionally return the Monday after Thanksgiving, but some medical experts said any possibility of kids and staff interacting with people outside of their homes can increase the chances of them bringing the virus back to school.

Hauppauge, Wyandanch, South Country, Central Islip, Hempstead, Westbury and Nassau BOCES systems are among those closing buildings for the week. Students are following remote instruction schedules while the buildings are closed, according to district notices.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, said a person becomes infectious five to seven days after exposure. That would mean a student or staff member exposed on Thanksgiving would start to be infectious around Tuesday, she said.

More to know

New York City’s youngest students will return to schools beginning Dec. 7, although officials have yet to determine when high schools and middle schools will resume in-person learning, de Blasio said Sunday.

You'll need a ticket to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, according to de Blasio, in an attempt to limit crowds.

Top U.S. health officials on Sunday warned the country could see a virus "surge upon a surge" in the next few weeks after millions traveled and gathered for Thanksgiving. Dr. Anthony Fauci pleaded to those who traveled this weekend to take all precautions when they return home.

Black Friday online sales hit a new record during the pandemic, with consumers spending an estimated $9 billion on U.S. retail websites — a 22% increase over the previous record set in 2019, data shows.

For Small Business Saturday, holiday shoppers crowded some Main Street storefronts to support the small businesses that had suffered from the shutdowns.

And, retail experts also projected U.S. consumers would shop in record numbers on Cyber Monday.

News for you

Socially distant toy store shopping. Long Island toy stores have expanded customer service for holiday shopping during the pandemic. More than a dozen mom-and-pop shops are offering shopping by appointment or FaceTime, phoning in orders, or ordering online for curbside pickup, and/or delivering to out-of-town recipients. See a list of local stores participating.

Cut down your own Christmas tree. Many are turning to real Christmas trees this year, seeking a bright spot during the pandemic. And more Americans appear to be getting fresh-cut evergreens and picking their own instead of getting them pre-cut. If you're going that route on Long Island, there are plenty of places you can go to cut your own.

Get crafty with a virtual art class. You can learn how to make holiday crafts like embroidered ornaments, bath bombs and wreaths from the comfort of your own home, with these DIY virtual classes this month. You'll get a package of materials and video instruction to get started.

The ultimate guide to winter dining. Long Island restaurants have been coming up with ways to preserve outdoor dining even as it gets colder — and are preparing for the holiday season, too. From igloos, greenhouses and fire pits, here's a guide for everything you need for dining options, where you can get a hot chocolate, gift ideas and more.

Plus: Join educators and experts on Tuesday afternoon during Newsday's next free webinar, as they discuss the challenges and inequities school districts and students face, and how the pandemic exposed and deepened a gap in resources and achievement. Register here.

Sign up for text messages to get the most important coronavirus news and information.

Commentary

A shot in the arm. A Newsday editorial asks: Are you waiting for the opportunity to take a vaccine that could prevent a deadly disease that seems to spread easily through our most vulnerable populations?

You don’t have to wait.

Even as so much attention is focused on the potential for a safe and effective vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus, we must not forget there are other deadly diseases we can prevent right now.

Start with the flu vaccine, available at your doctor’s office, pharmacy and local clinic. Get that flu shot — now. And update your vaccinations — and your children’s vaccinations — for other diseases, including the measles, which spiked in 2019 around the world.

Want an added incentive? A small study shows the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine might even help to protect individuals against COVID-19. And getting the flu shot now will help build immunities, making your body stronger when it’s time for the COVID-19 vaccine. Keep reading.

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