ALBANY — Officials released state contact-tracing data for the first time Friday, detailing the source of tens of thousands of new COVID-19 infections this fall, before announcing indoor dining will be closed in New York City and may be limited upstate next week as coronavirus hospitalizations increase.
The state Coronavirus Task Force released contact-tracing data Friday, revealing the rate various activities and industries exacerbate spread in a community. The rates are based on 46,000 data points collected from contact-tracer interviews determining the source of exposure from September through November, or the fall surge.
Small, private household gatherings continue to be the largest catalyst of spread at 74% of new infections.
“You want to know what’s generating the new cases so you know where you can stop them,” Cuomo explained during a virtual coronavirus briefing Friday afternoon in the state Capitol.
Many thousands of cases have not been linked to their source of origin.
Health care delivery was the second most likely chance of infection at 7.8%, followed by spread among college students at 2.02%. About 1.5% of new infections hail from educators and education employees.
Contact-tracing data shows 1.43% of new COVID-19 cases come from exposure at bars and restaurants — industries the State Liquor Authority and New York State Police troopers have closely monitored for months to enforce mask compliance and social distancing to reduce community spread.
Indoor dining will indefinitely close in New York City starting Monday after Cuomo warned the state was considering halting indoor dining to slow the community spread of COVID-19 as hospitalizations increase.
“Indoor dining, which many people have spoken about, it is a generator,” Cuomo said. “We have made strides on indoor dining by the restrictions we put in place, but it’s still an issue. It’s much better than what it was.”
Officials will decide if bars and restaurants in other areas of the state will be reduced to 25% capacity, down from 50%, in the coming days.
Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, criticized Cuomo’s decision to curb indoor dining.
“Gov. Cuomo’s plan to close restaurants in New York City on Monday will stick a fork in an already suffering industry,” according to Ortt. “These establishments made major investments to keep their staff and customers safe. The idea that customers will dine in the snow or cold weather, or that a restaurant will survive on take-out alone, is ludicrous.
“We all understand the need to keep hospital capacity available, but with a 1.43% transmission rate, it appears that restaurants have done their best to keep infection spread low,” he added. “These lockdowns will result in permanent closures, job losses and devastation for thousands of New York small businesses. We ask New Yorkers to support restaurants and their workers and we urge the Governor to reverse this decision.”
U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released new guidance Dec. 4 warning against indoor dining and to avoid nonessential indoor spaces and crowded, outdoor settings.
Small, private gatherings, or what the governor has termed “living-room spread” remains the highest driving factor in new COVID-19 infections as restaurants, theaters and mass gatherings continue to operate in a limited fashion per state law.
Hair and personal care businesses caused 0.14% of the infections, with gyms at a miniscule 0.06%. Gyms have caused five known COVID-19 clusters in the state.
“You’re now in very, very small numbers,” Cuomo said of industries further down the contact-tracing statistics list. “Hair and personal care was much worse earlier on. So stop the spread where it exists, and stop it where it’s being generated, but don’t waste time on areas that are not generators.”
The state’s transmission rate is 1.3, which signifies an outbreak, as one person infected with COVID-19 is infecting 1.3 other people.
“Once that number is over 1, you’re in a problematic state and this is a problematic situation,” Cuomo said.
Officials will announce new COVID-19 microcluster zones and hot spots Monday after evaluating community positivity and hospitalization rates, the rate of transmission and population density.
Nonessential businesses are mandated closed in red zones once a community is three weeks away from reaching 90% hospital capacity.
“We don’t want to go back to a red zone,” Cuomo warned. “The only reason you’re going to close the economy is you’re going to overwhelm the hospitals. ...that includes staff and equipment. If we see we’re on a gliding path to overwhelming the hospitals, you have no choice but to close down the economy.”
An area is eligible to enter a yellow precautionary zone with a 3% positivity rate over the past 10 days and has a cluster in the top 10% for hospital admissions per capita over the past week.
Orange zones indicate a community has a 4% infection rate over the past 10 days and 85% hospital capacity, or the Health Department determined an area has a dangerously high level of hospitalizations.
“What it’s saying is in your community, you have a problem,” Cuomo said. “It’s not somewhere else, it’s your community.”
The state is requiring all 215 hospitals to remain under 85% capacity by using its mandated 25% overflow bed space or reducing elective surgeries and procedures, or both.
“Over 85%, that hospital is now in a critical situation,” Cuomo said. “Ninety percent triggers a red zone.”
Hospitals continue to be mandated to have a 90-day supply of personal protective equipment.
In-person elementary and middle school classes remain one of the lowest drivers of new COVID-19 infections, Cuomo said. The governor encouraged all kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms to remain open unless a school reports a high positivity rate.
“Schools are almost, without exception, safer than local communities in terms of infection rate,” the governor said. “This was not what was initially expected. If it’s safer for the children to be in school, then have the children in school. It’s less disruptive.”
The governor discouraged against a full state shutdown of nonessential businesses like in the spring.
“We want as much economic activity as possible and respect public health and the cost of the virus,” Cuomo said. “Yes, economic activity. Yes, as much as we can, social activity balanced with public health. Some states have had these dramatic full open, full closedowns. I think that’s highly disruptive and it’s not the best way to go through this.
“This is a constant calibration.”
The state Clinical Advisory Task Force, or New York’s independent vaccine review panel, approved Manhattan-based drugmaker Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine after a U.S. Food & Drug Administration committee recommended authorization to approve the immunization during a hearing Thursday.
The panel’s approval was sent to the FDA, and state Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker met with task force members Thursday.
The state’s promised initial shipment of 170,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine are slated to arrive by Monday at the latest.
New York will receive 346,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine by the week of Dec. 21.
The 516,000 doses will vaccinate about one-third of the state’s total staff and residents in all nursing home and congregate facilities, high-risk medical personnel and first responders.
The state’s Coronavirus Task Force will alter its strategy as the facts or disease change, Cuomo said.
Zucker regularly speaks to World Health Organization officials, who track COVID-19 cases around the globe, and said the organization has not found evidence of a mutated virus to date.
“We have not seen that ... anywhere in the United States or anywhere globally, for that matter,” Zucker said.
A second wave of COVID-19 would be caused by a mutation, or shift, in the disease, similar to how influenza changes and requires a different vaccine each season.
Cuomo surmised health experts would have to develop a new vaccine for a mutated COVID-19 virus.
“We take a flu vaccine every year because the virus changes, somewhat, every year,” the governor said.
COVID hospitalization rates continue to increase across the state, nation and the world.
New York’s hospitalized coronavirus patients increased from 1,540 patients Nov. 10 to 5,159 Thursday, or one month later.
“This is the ultimate cause for concern is the overwhelming of the hospitals,” Cuomo said.
Medical personnel have developed therapeutics since COVID-19 first hit last spring that have decreased an infected person’s chance of needing a ventilator, and death.
The state reports 30% fewer COVID patients enter intensive care, with 50% fewer intubated compared to spring statistics.
A coronavirus patient stayed in the hospital for a median length of 11 days between March and May, but has decreased to five days.
“We had a 23% death rate in the spring,” Cuomo said. “That is now down to 8%.”
New York’s COVID-19 infection rate decreased to 4.55% without microcluster hot spots, or 4.98% including focus areas Friday — down from 5.15% Thursday. The state’s average positivity rate hovered around 4% last week.
The Finger Lakes and Mohawk Valley regions boast the state’s highest new coronavirus cases at 7.81%, with Western New York close behind at 7.22% positive. Central New York reported 6.61% new infections Friday, with 6.33% in the Mid-Hudson region, 5.45% in the Capital Region and 4.04% in the North Country.
Statewide virus hospitalizations continued to increase to 5,321 patients, up 157 people overnight.
Eighty-seven New Yorkers died Thursday from COVID-19 complications, about flat from 92 fatalities Wednesday.