ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled details of what he calls the “winter plan” for limiting the spread of COVID-19 in New York State. He says it’s aimed at avoiding further economic shutdowns, but he says it’s up to New Yorkers to voluntarily limit in- home gatherings in the coming weeks. The governor also says indoor dining in New York City will be banned, starting Monday.
Cuomo says he does not want to repeat a massive shut down like the state experienced in the spring, when New York was the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic.
He says new data reveals that many places once considered a dangerous source of virus spread, including hair salons and barber shops, gyms and religious services, are now among the lowest sources of spread, according to information collected by contact tracers on a portion of total infections.
However, the biggest source of spread –74% – is small, private indoor gatherings, also known as “living room spread”.
“Compound that by the holiday season,” said Cuomo who said it’s “natural” to want to have a small group of friends and family over. “That is what is driving these numbers.”
Cuomo says schools have been found not to be super spreaders of the virus, as previously thought, and should remain open if there are no major outbreaks in a school.
The governor says it’s up to local authorities to decide, but he says he disagrees with a decision by the state’s second largest school district, the City of Buffalo schools, to continue all- remote learning until February 1st. Western New York has among the highest rate of the virus in the state.
The latest data also finds that restaurants and bars account for just 1.43% of virus spread. Nevertheless, Cuomo is ordering indoor dining in New York City, to be banned, starting on Monday. It is now operating at 25% of a dining rooms’ capacity. He says he’s following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which recommends that any indoor activity where masks are not worn, should be avoided. Cuomo’ Chief of Staff, Melissa DeRosa says there’s no way to eat and drink while wearing a face covering.
“By definition of what the activity is, you cannot be wearing a mask,” said DeRosa.
Cuomo is continuing the micro cluster hot zone strategy to try to keep the rate of infection down. But he says there will be some changes going forward. Gyms, hair salons and barber shops will now be allowed to remain open in Orange zones, but at reduced capacity and with more frequent testing of staff. He says limited indoor dining still available in the Orange zones outside of New York City will continue for now, but he will reevaluate the rule after the weekend.
The restaurant industry says the further reductions and prohibitions on indoor dining will result in the death knell for thousands more restaurants and bars. Cuomo is extending a ban on commercial evictions for eateries that have been unable to pay their rent, and he is asking them to hang on for a few more months.
The governor says he will not order a total shutdown of the state or any of its regions, unless the trends show that the hospitals will become overwhelmed in 21 days. He says so far, while hospitalization rate for COVID-19 patients is on the rise, most hospitals have the ability to expand to take in more patients, or can make more beds available by suspending elective surgery.
“If we see that we’re on a glide path towards overwhelming the hospitals, you have no choice but to close down the economy,” he said.
The governor says despite all of the concerns, even the regions of the state with the highest rate of the virus are still lower than 44 other states. New York’s overall positivity rate for Thursday was just under 5% at 4.98%. 87 people died of the disease.