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Covid-19 rocks NY and California hospitals, as Fauci warns that even 10 people may be a lot for Christmas gathering

If hospitalization rate does not stabilize, indoor dining will be closed in New York City, while it will be reduced to 25% in the rest of the state
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As the US nears 15 million coronavirus cases, the governor of New York has sounded an alarm about the spiraling public health crisis. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that if a region’s hospitalization rate does not stabilize in the next five days, additional restrictions will be applied to indoor dining. The new rules stipulate that indoor dining will be closed in New York City while it will be reduced to 25% in the rest of the state if hospitalizations do not stabilize during the specified period.

“If after five days we haven’t seen a stabilization in a region’s hospital rate, we’re going to clamp down on indoor dining. Five days, if the hospitalization rate doesn’t stabilize in New York City, we’re going to close indoor dining. We’re now at 25% in New York City. In the rest of the state, any region where the hospitalization rate doesn’t stabilize — they’re now at 50% capacity indoor dining — we’re going to go to 25%. We have zones that are called orange zones where it's already closed. That wouldn’t apply here,” explained Cuomo at a briefing on December 7. 

The governor added, “Bottom line for us: I see it as hospital capacity versus vaccination critical mass. Can your hospitals handle the increase until you start to see a reduction from the vaccinations? On the hospital capacity, do everything you can do to slow the spread and then at the same time, accelerate the vaccines. We estimate over 70% of the spread is coming from small gatherings and that's a problem. We’re going to go through the holiday season. I think there's going to be more small gatherings.”

About 14,949,229 coronavirus cases have been reported from across the US and more than 283,700 Americans have died in the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data posted on December 8. 

At the same briefing, Cuomo asked National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director Dr Anthony Fauci for his view on New York’s emergency rule, implemented in November, capping private in-home gatherings at 10 participants. Cuomo also acknowledged that “compliance is very low on that.”

Dr Fauci cautioned that 10 people gathering indoors over the holidays may be too many. “I feel 10 may even be a bit too much. It’s not only the number, governor, but it’s the people that may be coming in from out of town...You want to make sure you don’t get people who just got off an airport or a plane or a train and came in from wherever. That’s even more risky than the absolute number...Make sure that when people come in, that they’re not people who have no idea where they’ve been or who they’ve been exposed to. You want to be friendly, you want to be collegial, but you really got to be careful about that,” he emphasized.

Dr Fauci warned that January could bring even more alarming numbers of new coronavirus infections unless Americans engage in substantial efforts to mitigate spread. The infectious disease expert said the US would likely see the effect of the Thanksgiving surge in the next week-and-a-half, after many Americans gathered in person to celebrate the holiday, despite public health warnings against doing so. 

Dr Anthony Fauci cautioned that January could bring even more alarming numbers of new coronavirus infections unless Americans engage in substantial efforts to mitigate spread (Getty Images)

“It’s usually two weeks from the time of the event. The problem is, that’s going to come right up to the beginning of the Christmas and Hanukkah potential surge. So, you have a surge upon a surge, and then before you can handle that, more people are going to travel over Christmas, they’re going to have more of those family and friend gatherings that you accurately said are an issue,” noted Dr Fauci. He added, “Without substantial mitigation, the middle of January can be a really dark time for us.” 

Cuomo, meanwhile, directed the New York State Department of Health to begin implementing the state’s “surge and flex” protocol and mandate all hospitals begin expanding their bed capacity by 25% to further prepare hospitals for a future Covid-19 surge. Hospitals had previously been preparing plans for this action as part of New York’s winter coronavirus plan. 

Regions that reach critical hospital capacity will be designated as a red zone under New York’s micro-cluster strategy. Specifically, if a region’s 7-day average hospitalization growth rate shows that the region will reach 90% within the next three weeks, the region will be designated as a red zone. Additionally, the governor issued a call to all retired doctors and nurses urging them to return to service if they can do so. Registration will be renewed at no cost for an individual who completes the questionnaire through the volunteer portal, set up by the state health department.

Hospitals across California have also continued to fill rapidly. On December 3, California health officials announced a regional stay-at-home order, which it explained will be triggered if the intensive care unit (ICU) capacity drops below 15% in a given region. On December 5, ICU capacity in Southern California and San Joaquin Valley dropped below 15%, triggering the mandate issued by Governor Gavin Newsom that aims to bring down the soaring number of Covid-19 hospitalizations.

“The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) today (December 5) announced the most recent statistics on Covid-19, including data on ICU capacity across the state. Based on current ICU data, two regions, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, have dropped below 15% capacity. The regional stay-at-home order will take effect in those two regions at 11.59 pm Sunday and will remain in effect for at least three weeks. Regions will be eligible to exit from the order and return to the blueprint for a safer economy on December 28 if ICU capacity projections for the following month are above or equal to 15%,” said a statement.