Gov. Cuomo Announces Winter Plan to Combat COVID-19

Jennifer Korn

On Monday, Gov. Cuomo announced New York State’s plan for combatting COVID-19 this winter. To develop the plan, Cuomo and the state’s COVID-19 task force worked with global public health experts, local governments and other collaborators over the past week.

The plan includes five strategies that are focused on limiting the spread of the virus and assisting hospitals as they prepare for a surge in cases.

The strategies are:

-Manage hospital capacity to enhance and equalize care
-Increase and balance testing resources and availability
-Keep schools open safely
-Prevent viral spread from small gatherings
-Operationalize an equitable and safe vaccination program.

As of Nov. 30, the statewide positivity rate is 4.57 percent. Rockland’s positivity rate on Nov. 30 was 4.7 percent, with a seven day average of 4.3 percent in the county.

Cuomo warned that with the holiday season underway, there will be a surge in the positivity rate. “We are already in the holiday season, and that is going to have a profound effect,” said Cuomo. “It already has. It had an effect when people started to travel for the holiday season, when they started to travel for Thanksgiving, when students to go [sic] home, when people started to shop, and when they started to move around.”

To help prepare hospitals for the anticipated surge, the Department of Health began implementing new measures, including plans to increase bed capacity by 50 percent, utilize field hospitals, identify retired nurses and doctors to assist staff, balance patient loads, and confirm availability of resources.

The Department of Health will also use hospital data to identify micro-cluster zones. New York plans to add an ‘Emergency Stop’ level in addition to the yellow, orange and red levels to help preserve hospital capacity.

To increase testing availability, New York plans to distribute sufficient testing to healthcare workers, nursing homes, schools, essential workers, business professionals, personal services, travelers and the general population.

The state plans to establish ongoing testing in schools to help keep them open. Schools in orange and red micro-cluster zones will be required to conduct weekly testing. Orange zone schools will be required to test 20 percent of in person students, faculty, and staff over the course of a month. Red zone schools will have to test 30 percent of its in person population.

School districts in the yellow zone were given two weeks to test 20 percent of students, faculty and staff. The Rockland County Department of Health partnered with Good Samaritan Hospital to provide one week of testing for school districts in the yellow zone, which began on Nov. 30 and will end on Dec. 4. Districts have until Dec. 9 to meet this requirement.

If the positivity rate is lower than the yellow zone’s current seven-day positivity rate, testing at that school will no longer be required and in-person instruction can continue. If the results are higher, testing 20 percent of the in-person population must continue over the following two weeks.

As small gatherings have been identified as the number one spreader of COVID-19, the winter plan will include the launch of a public campaign which will highlight how small gatherings can spread COVID-19.

“While the holiday season often brings joy to many, the increase in social activity and mobility will also bring an increase of viral transmission,” said Cuomo. “We understand the cause and effect, and the effect is dramatic.”

The final strategy highlighted in the winter plan is the states preporation for vaccine distribution. The plan is founded on fairness, equity, and safety. Outreach to the Black and Brown communities hit hardest by the pandemic is critical to ensuring a fair vaccine distribution.

“We must adapt to this reality and have a plan in place that specifically addresses the challenges that come with it,” said Cuomo. “We’ve been through the worst, and while we’re not done yet, we are moving forward with the lessons we learned in the spring to come through this together.”