Cuomo Eyes Possible Orange Zone for NYC, Which Closes Schools; Mayor Hours Late for Update – NBC New York

What to Know

  • New York’s daily case totals have quadrupled since the end of October; that was just six weeks ago. Hospitalizations are the highest since early June; Gov. Cuomo says more restrictions may come
  • New Jersey has seen record-setting numbers over the last week; all 50 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C., have seen case increases over last 14 days, while the national death toll topped 250,000 Wednesday
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio is more than four hours late for his Wednesday briefing, where he was expected to provide an update on the citywide rolling positivity rate; public schools go remote if it hits 3 percent

Mayor Bill de Blasio is more than four hours late for his scheduled briefing Wednesday, a gut-wrenching wait as anxious parents await the latest news on public schools. Will kids get another day of in-person learning on Thursday?

The mayor’s office has provided no reason for the extensive delay. At a news briefing Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had said he would not intervene in potential closures, said New York City could move to an orange zone under his micro-cluster strategy if it its rolling positivity rate hits 3 percent. That happens to be the mayor’s same benchmark for shuttering in-person schooling.

Schools within an orange zone must move all-remote for a minimum of two weeks; there are additional restrictions with orange zones as well. There typically is a “test out” option for schools under the cluster strategy, though Cuomo said the state would need to devise a new formula should it apply to New York City.

“By volume, we couldn’t test every student in New York City. The volume is so much higher,” Cuomo said.

By state data, the city’s rolling positivity rate was 2.5 percent as of Wednesday. According to the latest city data provided Tuesday, it was 2.74 percent. Parents are still awaiting a mayoral update Wednesday. To whom do they listen?

Even reporters present at Cuomo’s briefing expressed their extensive confusion over the governor’s Wednesday announcement. Cuomo had said as recently as a week ago that he would leave the local school decisions to local governments. The state and city reporting of positivity rates vary, which also sows questions.

“The micro-cluster overrides the local rules,” Cuomo said, trying to offer clarity.

De Blasio has insisted he would close schools to in-person at 3 percent. He has taken mounting heat for sticking to the 3 percent mark even as the positivity rate within schools hovers well below 0.2 percent — a number Cuomo says indicates schools are safer than New York City streets as far as COVID exposure risk.

While the mayor has stressed he would work to get schools back to in-person learning as quickly and safely as possible should they be forced to close, few clear details have been shared as it relates to the road back.

De Blasio has said he is open to incorporating different components, including new in-school testing requirements, into whatever could become a reopening threshold rather than rely solely on one metric many argue is a poor barometer of in-person learning risk. It’s not clear how long an all-remote move might last.

NBC New York’s Andrew Siff and Brian Thompson provide the latest details as New York City tries to fight back a second wave, and four cities in New Jersey adopt new, stricter measures.

Cuomo has warned New Yorkers for weeks that local numbers will rise amid the latest national COVID surge, one that saw the nation’s death toll top 250,000 on Wednesday, according to NBC News data. His goal is to mitigate the increase.

That appears to be an ever-escalating challenge.

The governor has imposed a 10-person limit on private home gatherings ahead of the holidays, as have the governors of New Jersey and New York. All three governors have urged colleges to provide students testing before they leave campus for break. Nonetheless, Cuomo is acutely concerned.

“You will see a tremendous spike after Thanksgiving,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “That’s my personal theory. It’s going to happen because it’s human behavior.”

Cuomo, who imposed a 10 p.m. indoor service curfew on restaurants, gyms and businesses last week, cautioned indoor dining could see additional renewed restrictions if the numbers continue to climb.

And they have — even before the dreaded holiday spike.

New York has averaged more than 4,700 new cases over the last six days, more than quadruple the number it was seeing at the end of October. Hospitalizations are climbing, too. The 2,202 total reported Wednesday is the highest since June 8. The daily death toll, which is a lagging indicator, is also slowly rising.

Mount Vernon officials have issued a stay-at-home advisory to protect residents from the rise in COVID-19 cases. Marc Santia reports.

Treatment is more effective now than it was in the spring, which may reduce the death toll associated with this latest wave — at least in certain parts of the country. But a renewed sense of anxiety, one that is all too familiar, is oversweeping the public once again as the holiday season fast approaches.

“The number of cases across the country and in New York are only continuing to climb. Despite our success in managing the spread, New York is not immune to this national surge of COVID,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Our micro-cluster strategy and testing capacity will help us through this new season, but ensuring we don’t go back to where we were in the spring is going to depend on our behavior. Our actions today determine our rate of positive cases tomorrow.”

Coronavirus cases have increased in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam over the past 14 days. In a dozen of those states, including New York, infections have spiked in the last two weeks, meaning there has been a 100 percent or more increase in confirmed cases over the last 14 days. The U.S. death toll topped 250,000 Wednesday, by NBC News data.

The Empire State still holds the third- or fourth-lowest positivity rate in the nation on any given day, but that measure has become relative to the success it had in containing the virus over the summer, where it saw more than a full month of daily positivity rates below 1 percent. New York reported a 3.18 percent daily positivity rate Tuesday; it now has a seven-day rolling average of 2.88 percent.

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here’s the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here

The viral increases have been steeper in neighboring New Jersey, which also is testing at record levels. The Garden State’s positivity rate has now topped 10 percent, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday, calling that “unacceptably high.”

On Wednesday, all but six of the state’s 21 counties reported more than 100 new cases, state data showed. Five counties reported more than 300. Hospitalizations are at their highest levels since late May. Murphy reported 38 new deaths Tuesday, the highest daily toll since May 21. It dropped a bit, to 27, Wednesday.

Four mayors within the state’s hardest-hit Essex County have agreed to impose a 24-hour shutdown if their numbers continue to worsen, one of the officials told News 4. If that doesn’t work, they’ll move to a three-day shutdown. A Murphy spokesperson says the mayors would need state permission to do either.

The mayors of four New Jersey cities in the state’s hardest-hit Essex County have agreed to impose a 24-hour curfew on all nonessential business if COVID cases continue to rise. NBC New York’s Phil Lipof reports.

The governor has warned additional statewide measures may be necessary to help curb the rampant spread. He doled out new indoor and outdoor capacity limitations Monday, days after issuing a new 10 p.m indoor service curfew for bars and restaurants. The 10-person indoor limit is already in effect, while the outdoor rule, which reduces capacity by 70 percent to 150, takes effect Monday.

Murphy had been reticent to impose any caps on gatherings within private homes, citing constitutional reasons. He moved to do it anyway, aligning himself with executive orders from Cuomo in New York and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont. The message may ultimately be more a public appeal than a threat of enforcement.

De Blasio flat out said Tuesday that New York City would not be policing people’s private homes to enforce the 10-person gathering rule. While the city will continue to break up large parties if it sees any, it is relying on New Yorkers to use common sense and be smart as far as exposing themselves and their families to risk.

Small household gatherings have emerged as a key COVID driver in just the last month and a half. Cuomo has warned fervently of the so-dubbed “living room spread” daily for more than a week now.

“Large indoor dinners will spread COVID,” the governor tweeted Wednesday. “Limit Thanksgiving to your immediate household. Gatherings over 10 people are not permitted. Spread thanks, not COVID.”

New coronavirus cases in the U.S. have topped 100,000 per day for the past 9 days. LX News was joined by Dr. Dena Grayson, an infectious disease expert, who said you will be putting your family at serious risk by visiting them indoors this Thanksgiving.

The mantra has been to avoid travel and to avoid Thanksgiving gatherings as a general rule, but acknowledging many won’t heed that advice, officials have suggested people wear masks even when with their own families. New Jersey’s health commissioner said this week singing shouldn’t be permitted and music should be low to avoid shouting, which could spew saliva — and spread COVID.

The latest tri-state COVID battles are reflective of national struggles amid a COVID surge that has left no state untouched. The White House task force bluntly stated in its latest weekly report that there is “now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration.”

Doctors warn medical resources are being pushed to the limit as coronavirus cases surge.

Experts say life in the U.S. won’t return to any semblance of normalcy until there is an effective and widely available vaccine. That may not happen for months, despite encouraging news from two vaccine front-runners this week.

The latest highlight came Wednesday when Pfizer said final analysis found its vaccine 95 percent effective. The pharmaceutical company said it plans to submit an emergency approval application to the FDA “within days.” Moderna also plans to seek emergency approval for its vaccine in the coming weeks.

New York City school buildings remained open on Monday as the city’s coronavirus test results stayed under the limit that would force a shutdown. Meanwhile, New Jersey lowered its indoor and outdoor gathering limits. NBC New York’s Ida Siegal reports.

De Blasio urged New Yorkers Tuesday to hang tough until the day comes when a vaccine is available. Cuomo has cast doubt on the viability of an accelerated timeline — and even when a vaccine is approved, delivery and distribution to millions of people remain a mammoth challenge for governors across the U.S.

Mitigation measures may be needed well beyond the vaccine rollout anyway. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, says people should not abandon masks or social distancing even after they’ve been vaccinated.

“Even though, for the general population, it might be 90[%] to 95% effective,” Fauci said, reporting to effectiveness rates shown in Pfizer and Moderna trials, “you don’t necessarily know, for you, how effective it is.”

Up to 10 percent of immunized people could still get the virus, even at those high success rates, CNBC reported.