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As COVID-19 Rates Rise In N.Y., Cuomo Warns of Coming Months

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Mike Groll
Office of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo
N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York state has now identified areas of Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga Counties as so-called “microcluster zones,” meaning new restrictions will be placed on mass gatherings, schools, houses of worship and restaurants.

For now, those zones will be classified as “Yellow Zones,” which carry the least strict set of regulations in those areas and allow non-essential businesses to remain open.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement about the new zones during a telephone briefing with the press Monday and warned that the situation could get worse before it gets better. He warned that the share of positive cases in New York will likely increase in the coming months.

“We expect the rates to go up through the fall and into the winter,” Cuomo said. “The long-term prognosis is to get to a vaccine as quickly as possible.”

The COVID-19 positivity rate in New York has been inching up for the last several weeks due to a series of outbreaks in various areas of the state, starting downstate. The statewide positivity rate, as of Sunday, was 2.82% — the highest in several months.

Hospitalizations from the virus have also spiked. As of Sunday, 1,444 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, Cuomo said. That’s the highest number since mid-June.

The situation appears to be improving in certain areas of the state, Cuomo said. In Brooklyn, where the positivity rate spiked in September and early October, a “Red Zone” established by the state was changed to an “Orange Zone” Monday.

In terms of severity, “Red Zones” carry the heaviest restrictions, while an “Orange Zone” is the middle ground between that and a “Yellow Zone.”

Health officials in New York are trying to reduce the spread of the virus by classifying areas using the zone strategy, rather than placing new restrictions on an entire region. During the first wave of COVID-19, the state set restrictions for entire regions, rather than specific areas.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned during a press briefing Monday that an official second wave of the coronavirus pandemic was “dangerously close” for the five boroughs, and new restrictions could be implemented by the state in the coming weeks.

Cuomo, meanwhile, is dually focused on the Trump administration’s plans for distributing a potential COVID-19 vaccine, which could be cleared by the federal government for public use in the near future.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced Monday that its vaccine has been more than 90% effective in trials, paving the way for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Cuomo said Monday that he’s been in touch with other governors from around the country on how they can “stop” or “fix” the Trump administration’s plan for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine before its potential implementation in the coming weeks.

He’s been a harsh critic of the Trump administration’s vaccine plan, which largely relies on private pharmacies to inoculate the population. He repeated in a television interview Monday that the plan could leave out people who don’t have access to a private pharmacy.

“If you don't have a Rite Aide or a CVS, then you're in trouble. That's what happened the first time with COVID,” Cuomo said. “Why do we have such a disparity in the infection rate and the mortality rate in COVID? Because some communities don't have the same access to health care.”

Cuomo said he was optimistic that President-Elect Joe Biden would develop a plan that would provide greater access to the vaccine. Biden was set to meet with a team of advisors Monday on his administration’s first steps to addressing the ongoing pandemic.

But it’s possible that the Trump administration may be able to implement its vaccine distribution plan before the president leaves office in January. The announcement from Pfizer is expected to be the first of a few, meaning the first vaccinations could be just weeks away.

Cuomo said the vaccine plan could do more harm than good if it’s able to move forward before Trump leaves office, and has spoken with other governors on how to address it. Cuomo is chair of the National Governors Association.

“I've been talking to governors across the nation about that — how can we shape the Trump administration vaccine plan to fix it or stop it before it does damage,” Cuomo said.

The Trump administration has criticized Cuomo for skipping several briefings for governors from the White House about the federal government’s response to the pandemic, including its plans for a vaccine.