If NY hospitals get overwhelmed, state could shut down again, Cuomo says

New York — If hospitals in New York get overwhelmed with too many coronavirus patients, the state could return to a widespread shut down like what it saw in the spring, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said today.

“We are now worried about overwhelming the hospital system,” Cuomo said during a press conference in New York City. “We lived this nightmare. We learned from this nightmare. And we’re going to correct for the lessons we learned.”

Cuomo didn’t suggest a shutdown is imminent. The state’s cluster zone-based approach remains in place. It involves varying levels of restrictions in targeted areas that are seeing rising spread of the virus.

But monitoring the state’s hospital system will be a top priority in the state’s approach to battling the coronavirus pandemic for the winter, which Cuomo outlined today.

READ MORE: CNY hospitals struggle to cope with record surge of Covid-19 patients

He didn’t detail the new hospital metrics yet, but said they’re coming this week. They will be added to the existing list of factors the state uses to impose yellow, orange and red cluster zones, including positive test rates and cases per 100,000 residents.

Once in place, the new metrics will monitor the rate of hospitalizations in a given area, the death rate, case rate, available hospital beds, available intensive care unit beds, available staff and how much protective equipment hospitals have on hand. The state will also monitor how effective hospitals are at managing patient loads.

A total of 3,532 people were hospitalized due to the virus in New York on Sunday, up 160. Hospitalizations are at their highest level since late May and they have increased nearly 700% since the start of September.

Hospitalizations are still far below their peak of more than 18,000 in mid-April. But Cuomo said he expects the numbers to keep going up through mid-January due to the holiday season.

He also noted that hospitalizations are rising across the state. The stress is not isolated to New York City as much of it was earlier this year.

“We will have a limited ability to bring resources from Upstate to Downstate like we did in the spring, or from Downstate to Upstate because literally every region is dealing with a hospital issue now,” he said.

In addition to the new metrics, the state Health Department is ordering a variety of new measures hospitals must take to prepare for the expected increase in patients.

  • Facilities must start identifying retired doctors and nurses that could help relieve current staff.
  • Elective surgeries are canceled in Erie County as of Friday. Cuomo said the hospital situation in Erie County is the most critical in the state.
  • Facilities must prepare plans for emergency field hospitals, should plan to increase their bed capacity 50%, prepare to staff emergency field hospitals and confirm they have enough protective equipment in their stockpiles.
  • Hospital networks with multiple sites must also start distributing patients to relieve stressed facilities. All hospitals must prepare to start transferring and accepting patients from throughout the state if necessary.

The state previously ordered several of those steps at the height of the pandemic in the spring, including mandatory increases in bed capacity and plans to recruit retirees. Some Upstate New York hospitals took patients from overwhelmed Downstate sites at that time as well.

In addition to actions on hospitals, other aspects of the state’s winter virus plan include continued work to increase testing, keeping schools open safely through testing and a plan for vaccine distribution.

Cuomo also said the state would start a new public education campaign on the danger of small social gatherings in homes, which he called the biggest current risk of spreading the virus. He compared the campaign to efforts the state undertook in the spring to get New Yorkers to wear masks.

“Small gatherings are difficult. It’s not about government enforcement,” he said. “It’s about being smart.”

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