Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday talked about the two variables for avoiding a shutdown: for New Yorkers to slow the spread and for hospitals to manage the increase. Credit: NY Governor's Office

New York State is unlikely to shut down again and its hospitals can likely handle the ongoing surge of COVID-19 patients, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday.

Still, the positivity level in testing results from Thursday on Long Island rose to 6.08%, and the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 surpassed 2,000 once again.

Cuomo’s relatively upbeat prediction contrasted with his recent dire warnings that New York might be forced to close down many businesses and activities as confirmed cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and deaths soar.

"I believe we can avoid a shutdown and I believe we will avoid a shutdown," Cuomo said at a news briefing. "I’ll go that far."

"Shutdowns are very, very harmful," he added. "They hurt a lot of people. They hurt businesses. They have mental health consequences. They hurt children. Shutdowns have many negative consequences, and this has been a long year, and the last thing anybody wants is a shutdown."

Cuomo announced that the state expects to receive 346,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week, on top of 167,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine it received this week.

A total of 19,000 New Yorkers have been vaccinated so far, he said, most of them front-line health care workers at high risk of being exposed to the virus.

"This is now a footrace between the vaccine and COVID," he said. "The faster we vaccinate people, the quicker COVID comes down."

Long Island is expected to get 69,600 doses of Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines combined, and New York City is slated to receive 215,600 in the short term, the state said. Those initial batches will be made available first to health care workers and residents and staff of nursing homes and congregate facilities. A second phase in late January will make vaccines available to essential workers.

The state’s clinical advisory task force on Friday approved use of the Moderna vaccine in New York, adding a second option to vaccinate against the virus, Cuomo said. Federal officials approved emergency use of the Moderna vaccine Friday evening.

The statewide positivity level was 5.09% in test results completed Thursday. The number of people hospitalized with the virus dropped by 66, to 6,081. Statewide, 120 people died of the virus on Thursday.

The number of new confirmed cases was 901 in Nassau County and 1,197 in Suffolk, for a total of 2,098. New York City registered 4,499 new positives.

Cuomo said hospitals are required to notify the state three weeks ahead of reaching 85% capacity for available beds to allow for emergency measures, "So basically it gives the state one-month notice at least, and at that point we would shut down the economy."

But that red flag has not been raised, despite a recent spike in new cases.

"That is very good news," he said. "Now, no hospital in the state has given that three-week notice," meaning the state is in the clear from shutting down businesses and other institutions, until at least Jan. 8.

Cuomo told a reporter he would wager $100 that the state will not have to resort to such drastic measures as it did in the spring.

"I believe hospitals are going to be able to manage this. We learned a lot in the spring," Cuomo had said earlier. "They worked together for the first time … and frankly they had more time to get ready … we’ve gone through this before, and I believe we can do it again."

Medical tents are set up outside the emergency room at UCI...

Medical tents are set up outside the emergency room at UCI Medical Center in Orange, California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed alarm about projections of hospitals overflowing with COVID-19 patients. Credit: AP/Ashley Landis

A New York City health official on Thursday said the city had opted to suspend elective surgeries at its public hospitals to make room for COVID-19 patients, but the city later reversed itself.

NYC Health + Hospitals said Friday it is, in fact, still performing elective surgeries. The city-run system said it had made the decision based on guidance sent from the state health department.

NYCHH said the state updated guidance "clarifying that hospitals do not need to cancel their elective procedures as long as they are prepared to achieve a 15% staffed bed capacity within 72 hours of a significant COVID surge," said Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of the health system.

The state's hospitals are going through a crisis management period, shifting resources to keep beds available for new coronavirus patients, with larger systems such as Northwell Health and the Greater New York Hospital Association backing up independent hospitals, the governor said.

'Celebrate, but be smart'

Cuomo, who had expressed concern about spread in homes since before the Thanksgiving holiday, said Friday that he trusts state residents can celebrate while taking measures to prevent exposure to the virus.

"New Yorkers defied all the odds and New Yorkers did it, so I believe New Yorkers are totally capable of celebrating the holidays … Open the gifts, enjoy, celebrate, but be smart, be smart. It’s a virus, we know how to deal with it," he said, adding that when it comes to holiday wishes, state residents should "focus on the healthy this year, focus on the healthy … I believe New Yorkers are capable of doing that."

Cuomo also said Friday that the state will waive interest and penalties for New York City restaurants on sales taxes due Dec. 21 to help those struggling because of COVID-19 restrictions on their businesses.

In our region, the rate of increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations at Northwell Health's hospitals has slowed. Northwell said it had 905 COVID-19 patients at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates, up from 888 on Monday.

At the height of the pandemic in April, Northwell was reporting an increase of about 300 patients each day.

"Our occupancy at this rate is pretty average," said Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer at Northwell. "We are in pretty good shape. In fact, the numbers are leveling off a bit."

Northwell said 16% of its COVID-19 patients are in an ICU, compared to the 26% of more than 3,400 COVID-19 patients who were in an ICU in April.

Northwell said its systemwide ICU occupancy was 72%. The ICU occupancy at the height of the pandemic was 87%.

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