Cuomo Says Shutdown Can Be Avoided if Behaviors Change

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NEW YORK NOW – Gov. Andrew Cuomo is dialing back on statements that New York State could be headed for a second pandemic shut down, saying if people control their behavior, it could be avoided. Meanwhile, the governor says he’s advancing funds to cash strapped state contractors that are providing essential services.

Cuomo said Monday that if the trajectory of the rising infection rate does not change, the state is headed for a lock down similar to one last spring, when the virus also spiked.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 Credit: Gov. Cuomo’s Office

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also urged city residents to prepare for a shutdown in the coming weeks.

By Wednesday, though, the governor, citing negative news headlines, emphasized that a closure of all but essential services can be avoided- if New Yorkers follow all of the safety recommendations from state and federal health officials.

“There’s a big B-U-T ,” Cuomo said. “No one knows, because it is up to us.”

Cuomo says he hopes that people learned that some Thanksgiving gatherings led to the current surge, where the positivity rate has been above 5% statewide for several days, and that they will limit social gatherings over the upcoming holidays.

Hospitalization rates are also steadily rising. More than 6000 New Yorkers are in the hospital with COVID-19, and more than 1000 are in intensive care.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker issued a letter to the state’s hospitals Wednesday, asking them to work together to prevent any one hospital from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Zucker is also requiring every hospital to be able to boost bed capacity by 15% within three days, if the numbers in their region are surging.

The governor updated the numbers of vaccines that the state has received. New York received 87,750 from Pfizer and is scheduled to get 80,000 more next week.

The Moderna vaccine, expected to be approved within days, will yield another 346,000 doses. The first round is reserved for front line health care workers and nursing home staff and residents.

The state is already gearing up for phase two of vaccine distribution, which is hoped to begin in late January, and major hospitals in each region of the state have been tasked with coordinating the effort. The governor says he’ll make sure every vaccine is free of charge.

“In New York State, no person will have to pay a penny for a vaccination,” Cuomo said.

In a statement, Eric Linzer, President of the New York Health Plan Association, agreed. He says the major health insurers represented by his group are “committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers receive a vaccination at no cost”.

“Making sure residents are immunized against the coronavirus is a public health imperative that will save lives,” Linzer said.

Cuomo also announced that, despite the state’s $15 billion dollar budget deficit, he’s advancing $1.5 billion dollars to human service organizations that contract with the state. The money had been held back, along with 20% of some funds owed to schools and local governments, as a means of managing the budget gap.

Budget director Robert Mujica explained that the groups need the money to carry out essential services related to the pandemic.

“What we are going to do is make sure that those agencies that have critical needs, that we’ll be able to give them those monies,” Mujica said. “So that they have a level of certainty through the end of the fiscal year.”