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As COVID-19 vaccine arrives and rates rise, Cuomo warns of potential shutdown

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he will consider a shutdown if the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase. Credit: NYS Governor's Office

As a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center on Monday became the first person in New York and possibly the nation to be inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine, the statewide positivity rate grew to 5.66%, hospitalizations increased by more than 300 and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo warned that a shutdown could loom if the trajectory doesn't change.

The governor announced that the state expected to vaccinate 10,000 people Monday with the Pfizer vaccine as New York races to inoculate as many people as it can amid soaring case numbers.

"New York came out of the blocks very quickly and very aggressively, because the vaccine only works if we take it," Cuomo said at an early afternoon news briefing hours after Sandra Lindsay made history by getting the first shot and giving hope to millions that the nation may finally be starting the long path toward eradicating the deadly virus.

But he also warned that the vaccinations will not be enough to immediately halt the second surge of cases, which are rivaling the numbers the state saw in the spring.

On Monday, the United States surpassed 300,000 deaths from COVID-19, by far more than any other country in the world and five times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. The U.S. is averaging close to 3,000 deaths a day — more than the total number of fatalities from 9/11 attacks daily.

Cuomo cautioned New Yorkers that if they fail to stop holding indoor gatherings at their homes — which now account for about three-fourths of new confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to state data —- thousands more will be hospitalized and die.

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"At this rate if nothing happens, we could have 11,000 people in the hospitals and 3,500 deceased," in addition to the nearly 28,000 who have already died of COVID-19-related causes in the state, he said. "If you factor out these numbers, that’s what we’re looking at if nothing changes."

He added: "The increases in hospitalizations could overwhelm some regions if nothing changes by January. That’s the trajectory we’re looking at."

To stem the tide, the governor renewed his directive for hospitals to balance their patient loads and increase capacity by 25%, as well as calling for New Yorkers to cut down on the small gatherings.

"If we do not change the trajectory, we could very well be headed to shutdown, and shutdown is something to worry about," Cuomo said. "That is really something to worry about because all these businesses close. We go back to where we were. All nonessential businesses close."

Cuomo called on hospitals to prepare to balance caseloads now — that is, to make arrangements to transfer patients to other hospitals if theirs are coming close to being overwhelmed.

The hospitals must "do a better job than they did in the spring. We can’t go through Elmhurst again, which was totally avoidable," he said, referring to the hospital in Queens that became an emblem of the pandemic overwhelming hospitals as refrigerator trucks parked outside to store dead bodies.

Long Island's positivity rate was 5.70% over a seven-day average, Cuomo said, and there were 935 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on Long Island as of Sunday. There are 5,712 hospitalizations statewide, an increase of 302 over Saturday.

Under updated microcluster metrics, a region in New York would enter a "red zone" shutdown if growth in cases and hospitalizations indicates that hospital capacity would reach 90% within three weeks.

On Monday morning, Sandra Lindsay, of Port Washington, was vaccinated by Dr. Michelle Chester, director of employee health services at Northwell Health, the state's largest health system.

Hospitals throughout Long Island were receiving shipments of vaccines on Monday, with plans to begin their own inoculations as soon as later in the day and on Tuesday.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she was "urging all to remain vigilant to help our hospital capacity stabilize. By staying home and avoiding large gatherings, you will not only help save lives and protect first responders on the front lines, but you will help our businesses and schools stay open."

The number of new confirmed cases in test results from Sunday was 739 in Nassau, 1,087 in Suffolk and 3,029 in New York City. Eighty-three people died of the virus in the state on Sunday.

In the city, officials announced that five city hospitals would begin administering the vaccine Monday, followed by 37 more on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday.

The vaccine will be distributed to health care workers including respiratory therapists, ICU nurses and emergency room doctors that intubate patients, city officials said.

"The cavalry is on the way," said Dr. Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "It’s good news of course, but we must acknowledge it’s a slow and steady march."

Mayor Bill de Blasio said: "We are going to be distributing this vaccine quickly and effectively. We are also going to be doing it equitably. We are going to be doing it fairly for the people that need it the most."

While the city’s precise allotment of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — which could receive FDA authorization this week — is unknown, Chokshi said the city has been told to plan to plan for approximately 465,000 doses over the first three weeks of distribution.

With Lisa L. Colangelo and David Reich-Hale

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