ALBANI – Government Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency in New York late Friday amid a spate of COVID-19 cases and the looming threat of a new variant recently found in South Africa.
Hochul’s move comes as hospitals again warn against being overrun with COVID patients and as state positivity hit 3.8% on Thursday, the highest since mid-April.
In some regions, rates were even higher: nearly 10% in western New York and nearly 9% in the Finger Lakes.
Hochul said the omicron variant that has fueled fears of a new spread around the world has yet to be found in New York, but warned it is likely to arrive.
By declaring a state of emergency, the Department of Health may restrict non-essential, non-emergency procedures for hospitals or systems “with limited capacity to protect access to critical health services.”
The state said the limited capacity “will be defined as less than 10% manned bed capacity, or as determined by the Ministry of Health based on regional and health utilization factors.”
The new protocols will start on Friday and will be reassessed on January 15. The measure will also allow the state to acquire supplies more quickly to fight the pandemic, Hochul said.
“We have taken extraordinary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic. However, we continue to see warning signs of spikes this coming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it coming,” Hochul said in a statement.
Hochul said hospitals themselves need to expand hospital capacity in anticipation of the variant reaching New York and as rates rise.
The Democratic governor has yet to implement new widespread COVID safety protocols, such as mandating indoor masks in all public areas, as some counties are considering.
Erie County reintroduced an indoor mask requirement last week as cases continue to grow in New York state’s largest county.
“The vaccine remains one of our greatest weapons in the fight against the pandemic, and I encourage every New Yorker to get vaccinated and get the booster if you are fully vaccinated,” Hochul continued.
New York requires masks in all healthcare facilities and schools, prisons and transit systems.
In addition, she said the goal is to boost vaccination coverage in New York, which has risen by one dose from 79% in August to 90% this month in adults.
Expanding access to booster shots is another state effort: More than 2.2 million boosters have been administered.
Counties are pushing for public support as they consider stronger protocols to halt the spread of the virus during the holiday season and winter months.
“Our key elected officials need to make decisions in real time based on the most current data, and these decisions may be unpopular, but they are necessary to protect our communities,” Stephen Acquario, the executive director of the State Association of Provinces, said in a statement.
“Our local public health officials, emergency managers and coroners are experiencing high levels of fatigue and burnout. We respectfully request continued cooperation and courtesy during this next phase of COVID.”
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Joseph Spector is the editor of government and politics for USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group and oversees coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
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