NEW YORK — New York’s coronavirus task force will use a strategy to focus on microclusters pinpointed to municipal blocks or streets as COVID-19 infections surge through the fall and winter.
State COVID-19 restrictions and regulations were implemented on a regional or statewide level. The task force split the state into 10 regions to safely reopen nonessential businesses after the initial shutdown in mid-March.
“That worked fine, and frankly, it was our only option,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday during a coronavirus briefing in Manhattan. “We are now going to analyze it on the block-by-block level.”
The state conducts such a high number of COVID-19 diagnostic tests each day that officials can easily map and pinpoint the data to target growing virus hot spots, or microclusters, which will then be targeted with vigorous testing.
“We have data that is so specific, we can’t show it because it would violate privacy conditions,” the governor said, “but we know exactly where the cases are coming from.”
The governor reviewed the state’s pandemic response over the past seven months. The federal government’s late-January China travel ban was insufficient, Cuomo said, as the virus had already spread to other continents.
“We were looking to the West, it came from the East,” he said. “The virus was coming from Europe and we had no idea. That’s why when we had that first case, it just exploded because it had been coming for months.”
Coronavirus is similar to past pandemics, including MERS in 2012 and SARS in 2003, as the disease also originated from wet poultry markets.
“The federal government abdicated responsibility. This is a federal crisis — it’s a national crisis. This White House from day one has denied the problem and continues to deny the problem. The worst mistake is still ongoing, that is the denial of the problem in the first place.”
Health experts and scientists say the fall is a new phase of viral attack as schools and colleges reopened, temperatures grow colder and people congregate indoors.
COVID-19 infection rates continue to climb in dozens of states, especially Wisconsin, Utah, Texas, Idaho, Iowa and North Dakota.
“You can’t play catch up with a virus,” Cuomo said. “This is not checkers, we’re playing chess with this virus.”
State health experts and members of New York’s Coronavirus Task Force have focused thousands of targeted, rapid COVID-19 diagnostic tests for more than two weeks in hot spots as they appear around the state, including clusters mainly centralized in Hasidic Jewish communities in Orange and Rockland counties and Brooklyn and unspecified community spread in Western New York. Other clusters persist at upstate colleges and universities.
A COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be ready this winter.
“Hopefully. science finds one,” Cuomo said, knocking on his desk for luck.
Cuomo announced stricter social-distancing, maximum-capacity and mass-gathering rules for red, orange and yellow warning virus hot spot zones. The stricter rules include closing schools and nonessential businesses and limiting houses of worship to 10 people in a 2.5-mile geographic radius surrounding COVID microclusters. The rules went into effect Oct. 9, and will remain in effect until at least Friday.
The state will use sophisticated calibrations off testing data to target specific geographic areas.
“Target your strategy down to that level of activity,” the governor said. “It’s much smarter, it’s more effective — it’s also less disruptive.
“It requires more targeted testing and more response to situations in that specific locality with mitigation measures for that specific locality. It has the advantage of causing less disruption.”
Movie theaters can start to reopen in the state Friday at 25% capacity, or no more than 50 people per screen.
“This is outside of New York City in areas that have infection rates below 2% on a 14-day average and have no cluster zones,” Cuomo said.
Theaters in certain upstate counties do not meet state requirements and are not yet cleared to reopen.
Theaters cannot reopen in Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Cortland, Greene, Orange, Rockland, Schuyler, Steuben and Tioga counties.
For theaters to reopen, masks will be required at all times except when seated and eating or drinking, assigned seating will be required in all theaters and social distancing between parties will be required at all times.
Additional staffing will be required to control occupancy, traffic and seating to ensure compliance.
Enhanced air filtration, ventilation and purification standards must also be met by theaters, according to the governor’s office.
No more than 50 people are allowed in front of each screen in each movie theater at once. Theaters will be subject to rigorous state guidance and enforcement.
The governor reiterated the importance of local governments and all New Yorkers complying with the state’s coronavirus mandates to prevent a more severe second wave and slow community spread.
“I know these are harsh concepts — I don’t like to talk about compliance and I don’t like to talk about enforcement,” Cuomo said. “I would love to be able to say what some other elected officials say, ‘Don’t worry be happy. Don’t worry about it. Go out there live your life, open your business.’ I would love to be able say that. I would love to. You know the problem? It’s not true.
“None of us have been here before,” he said. “We wear a mask, we socially distance. I urge everyone to do it, because to me it’s exact opposite of harshness. It is out of love. And it is out of respect. And it is out of humanity. I want to make sure everyone does everything they can to protect each other. And we are saving lives and it will be over. We’ll get there, but we have to get there. And we have to get there together and we have to get there losing as few people as possible.”
The state’s COVID-19 infection rate was 1.11% Saturday of 159,972 conducted tests, or 1.02% without hot spots. The positive testing rate in state hot spots was 4.34% Saturday, down from 4.84% the day before.
Nine New Yorkers died from the virus Friday.