Indoor dining in New York City will be shut down if the region’s Covid-19 hospitalisations do not stabilise in five days, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday, as officials warned the surge in cases is set to accelerate even faster in the weeks to come.
The new strategy, unveiled on Monday, comes as hospitalisations for Covid-19 across the US have hovered at record highs for days, raising alarms about whether enough hospital beds will be available for sick patients.
Mr Cuomo described the move as a “clamp down”. Since imposing stricter restrictions on restaurants when the pandemic first battered the north-east earlier this year, New York state has allowed regions to reopen indoor dining at a reduced capacity over the past few months. New York City reopened indoor dining in September.
But the case numbers have been climbing relentlessly higher as cooler weather has set in and “Covid fatigue” has beset people weary of social and economic restrictions.
In New York state, 4,602 people were in hospital for coronavirus as of Sunday, according to state data, including 1,416, in the New York City region. While far below the peaks seen during the pandemic’s early months, it is still the highest level in months.
Mr Cuomo said regions within the state would enter a more restrictive “red” zone if the availability of hospital beds fell to critically low levels. “If our hospital capacity becomes critical, we’re going to close down that region, period,” he said. He also ordered the state’s hospitals to expand their bed capacity by 25 per cent.
With US coronavirus cases, fatalities and hospitalisations all reaching record highs in recent days, officials in New York and other states are braced for the pandemic to worsen, after millions of Americans travelled and gathered with family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday at the end of November.
Appearing via teleconference at Mr Cuomo’s briefing, Anthony Fauci, one of the top officials in the White House’s coronavirus task force, said the effect of Thanksgiving surge on cases and hospitalisations would be “another week, a week and half from now”.
That would bring it right up on the Christmas holiday, when people will probably socialise again. Unlike earlier stages of the pandemic, small gatherings are said to be the main source of coronavirus infection.
“We could start to see things really get bad in the middle of January. Not only for New York state but for any city or state,” warned Dr Fauci, who will be staying on in his role under the incoming administration of president-elect Joe Biden.
California — the most populous US state — last week unveiled a new system that tied new coronavirus restrictions to hospitalisation levels. Under that state’s system, regions would be compelled to issue “stay at home” orders if intensive care unit capacity dips below 15 per cent of available ICU beds.
Stay-at-home orders began Sunday night in large portions of the state affecting an estimate 33m residents. The Bay area adopted the measures voluntarily as a precaution, as did the central San Joaquin Valley area and the broadly defined Southern California region, which had breached the ICU threshold.
The US has tallied 14.5m coronavirus cases as of Sunday, with 273,374 deaths. About 101,487 patients are in hospitals with the virus, including more than 20,000 in intensive care units.