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Cuomo: 'The numbers are going up' for COVID-19 spread, as vaccine issues loom

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday unveiled a

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday unveiled a multistep plan to wage "war" on COVID-19 through winter, modifying criteria for restricted microcluster zones, increasing testing and planning to keep schools open. Credit: Don Pollard

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Michael Gormley, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.

New York's COVID-19 infection levels continued to rise in test results from Monday in a trend Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he expects to last through the holidays, while Suffolk's county executive said there is "no doubt" the region is in the midst of a second surge.

The statewide rate of new positives was 4.96%, including the microclusters where the infection level is higher, leaving the state effectively at a 5% rate that nears coronavirus figures not seen since mid-May.

The number of hospitalized patients due to the virus grew by 242, bringing the state's total to 3,774 — 718 of them in intensive care units.

"The numbers are going up," Cuomo said Tuesday during a telephone briefing. "We expected the numbers to go up. My projection is that the numbers will continue to go up through the holiday season" and into mid-January, at which time he hopes they stabilize, albeit at higher levels than now.

He said he doesn't expect the pandemic to be largely under control nationwide and in New York until the summer or September, according to what he called projections from experts as vaccines finally reach large swaths of the population.

Two manufacturers say they hope to start administering vaccines in the United States sometime in the second half of this month, though at a pace that will take months to reach the vast majority of Americans.

On Long Island, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday expressed alarm over the increasing numbers. Suffolk had 609 new confirmed cases in test results from Monday, compared with 50 or less during much of the summer. Nassau registered 461 new cases.

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"The numbers are surging in Suffolk County," Bellone said, adding: "We know that the toughest months are going to be ahead of us."

He said the positivity rate from testing in Suffolk was 5.2%. "We’ve not seen that level, that rate, above 5 percent, since May 17," he said. "The numbers are alarming, to say the least."

There were 248 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Suffolk, he said, noting the figure had not been above 200 since June 3.

According to Bellone spokesman Derek Poppe, in results returned between Nov. 13 and Nov. 26, there were 7,300 positive cases of Suffolk residents testing in the county. Of those, 144 refused to isolate, provide contacts or otherwise cooperate with contact tracers. He said that if a person says they have no contacts to give, the county takes the person at their word.

There is "no doubt" the county is in a second wave of the virus, Bellone said.

Bellone said officials are investigating an Airbnb party on Hawkins Lane in Brookhaven that was said to have attracted between 300 and 400 people. The party, which was not fully underway when authorities arrived, was advertised on social media, Bellone said.

Long Island above 1,000 cases

Long Island as a whole surpassed 1,000 new confirmed cases last week for the first time since late April during the pandemic's peak. It did so again on Monday, with a total of 1,070 cases, illustrating Cuomo's fears about the rising numbers amid the holiday season and fall weather.

New York City had 2,569 new confirmed cases in test results from Monday. For weeks, the city had remained below 1,000 new cases a day.

The positivity rate on Long Island was 3.9% for the latest test results, higher than New York City's 3.1%.

The state hit a high of nearly 19,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in April, and Cuomo said this week he is working to avoid a situation in which hospitals become pushed to the breaking point. That crisis in the spring led to scenes such as the one at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens in which doctors and nurses were overwhelmed and refrigerated trucks were parked outside to hold bodies of COVID-19 victims.

Cuomo on Monday announced a five-point plan aimed largely at ensuring hospitals are prepared for the rising numbers of cases.

Sixty-six people died in the state of causes related to COVID-19 on Monday, Cuomo said. During the summer, the daily toll was typically in single digits. At the pandemic's peak in April, deaths hit a high of nearly 800 a day.

"The light at the end of the tunnel is the vaccination," he said. "That will end this epidemic. The question is when does the vaccination hit critical mass."

Waiting for the summer or slightly beyond "is a relatively long period of time, although we can see the goal line," he said.

But the state faces significant obstacles that he termed "gross omissions that are going to effectively impede effective vaccination," if plans developed under President Donald Trump are carried through.

"The vaccination process has to work to end the pandemic," Cuomo said, but the state faces "serious obstacles" with funding for its distribution; the need for outreach in minority and poor communities; and the prospect of information sharing with the federal government potentially discouraging immigrants in the country illegally from getting the shots.

Cuomo said he's sending a letter to the Trump administration, President-elect Joe Biden, New York's congressional delegation, and the Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific-American caucuses in Congress raising those concerns about funding and safeguarding immigrants' status information.

He called those impediments part of "a pattern of discriminatory acts" by the Trump administration.

The current plans "will dissuade the undocumented community from going near the vaccine … but it will also impede the effectiveness of the entire vaccination program" if no critical mass of people opt to be vaccinated to build up immunity, Cuomo said.

Meanwhile, the United University Professions union on Tuesday called on the State University of New York to do more stringent testing of students and to improve air filtration as a precaution against spread of COVID-19 when students return to campuses for the spring semester. The union calls for students to get two mandatory COVID-19 tests four to seven days apart at the start of the semester and for students to be quarantined until they test negative twice.

Students with documentation of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test within 72 hours of returning to campus would only have to be tested once, four days after they return to campus."Until a vaccine has been widely distributed, UUP will continue to push for measures that we believe will protect our students, our members and our communities," union president Frederick E. Kowal said.

Schools close in Floral Park, Elmont

The Massapequa school district said multiple students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19, including 12 students at the high school’s main campus, since buildings closed Nov. 24 for the Thanksgiving break. The schools, however, remain open.

Superintendent Lucille Iconis said a pattern of positive cases are connected to outside events.

"As we continue to work in partnership with you to navigate the waters of educating our students during this health crisis, we NEED your help," she said in a letter to parents. "There is a pattern of positive cases being brought into our schools from outside activities, particularly events held over the weekends. Please be respectful of everyone’s health. The only way to keep our buildings open and our students in their classrooms is if we ALL do our part!"

In Floral Park, Sewanhaka High switched to remote learning Monday and Tuesday because of one student testing positive. The district also reported that a staff member at Elmont Memorial High tested positive, and the school switched to remote learning for Tuesday and Wednesday.

In New York City, the health commissioner is urging people who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus — including those older than 65 or with underlying health ailments — as well as others regularly around them, to stay home for the foreseeable future, except where necessary.

Necessary activities include traveling for work or school, or for medical care, pharmacy visits or grocery shopping, according to the advisory issued by Dr. Dave Chokshi. The commissioner’s notice recommending caution is different from an order, which requires compliance under the law.

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