New York’s Cuomo lifts Covid restrictions but worries new strains could undermine progress

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wears a protective face mask as he arrives to speak during a daily briefing following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., July 13, 2020.

Mike Segar | Reuters

New York has seen the worst of its post-holiday coronavirus outbreak and will begin lifting restrictions on much of the state, but more contagious strains of the virus that have recently emerged could impede that progress, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

Triggered by dinners with family and friends, the holiday surge appears to have peaked in New York on Jan. 4 when the positivity rate, or the percentage of Covid tests returning positive, reached about 8% across the state. That figure has since dipped to roughly 5.6%, Cuomo said.

“I think at this point it’s safe to say the holiday surge was anticipated, the holiday surge did happen, but the holiday surge is over,” Cuomo said during a press briefing in Albany.

The Democratic governor said the state will lift restrictions on gatherings and some nonessential businesses across most of the state — except in parts of the greater New York City area, including Washington Heights, the Bronx and Queens, and the Newburgh area upstate.

Those areas are still considered “yellow zones” under New York’s micro-cluster strategy, an effort to target economic restrictions to specific areas where the virus is spreading more. New York will lift restrictions on all remaining orange and yellow zones, which will eliminate harsher limits on indoor dining, gathering sizes and businesses such as gyms, barbershops and hair salons.

Existing Zones in New York State

Source: The State of New York

Under the state’s reopening strategy, New York City restaurants are allowed to offer only outdoor dining or takeout and delivery. Cuomo said he plans to meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio and health officials to discuss how to reopen indoor dining in the city, and he will provide more details later this week.

However, there is still a looming concern that new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil could take hold and threaten the state’s ability to treat an influx of Covid-19 patients.

“The new strains are a real concern, and the Covid threat is not over,” Cuomo said.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the variant found in the U.K., known as B.1.1.7, could become the dominant strain of the virus by March. So far, New York has identified 22 Covid-19 cases with the mutated strain, according to recent data compiled by the CDC.

However, the federal agency warns that figure is based on sampling and doesn’t represent the total number of B.1.1.7 cases that may be circulating.

Cuomo said that expanding the number of available hospital beds isn’t the state’s main concern, but rather the lack of health-care workers to treat a wave of new patients if they were to get infected with the virus themselves.

“Yes, it creates anxiety, and all I can tell you is that we watch it and we adapt,” Cuomo said. “If it changes, we will change.”

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