Cuomo says state to enforce COVID rules in hotspots

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a recent pandemic briefing in Manhattan. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office

NEW YORK — State coronavirus hotspots are “microclusters,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, because New York’s infection rate is meager compared with the rest of the nation as COVID-19 infections rise in dozens of U.S. states.

The governor argued the state’s overall COVID-19 infections and figures remain so low that any New York hotspots serve more as “microclusters,” while about 30 U.S. states report surging coronavirus infection rates with the approaching cold weather.

New York conducted more than 118,000 coronavirus tests Saturday, revealing a 0.96% infection rate. The state’s Sunday infection rate was 0.84%, excluding COVID-19 hotspots.

“Our strategy is to identify microclusters,” said Cuomo, who first coined the term late Monday afternoon during a conference call with reporters. “We do more testing than any other state, so we have more data. You map those cases, and you find the greatest predominance of cases in a geographic area. That is a microcluster.”

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 hotspots as they appear around the state, including clusters mainly centralized in Hasidic Jewish communities in Orange and Rockland counties, as well as Brooklyn and unspecified community spread in Western New York. Other clusters persist at upstate colleges and universities.

“If we find an area where the rate is 2%, that’s a microcluster,” Cuomo added. “Three percent in a lot of states would be a safe zone — in New York, it’s a microcluster.”

New York’s COVID-19 hotspots are incomparable to other COVID clusters across the nation, as the state’s coronavirus figures are significantly lower, on average. The state’s overall infection rate was 1.12% on Monday, and 1.05% without its hotspots.

New York’s “red zone” focused areas had a 3.7% COVID infection rate Monday as part of Cuomo’s Cluster Action Initiative announced last week — when hotspots averaged 6.13% positive.

COVID-19 hotspots encompass about 2.8% of the state’s population of roughly 19.5 million New Yorkers, and represented 17.6% of the positive cases reported in New York last week, according to the governor’s office.

“Nationwide, those numbers are better than many states,” Cuomo said. “Only relative to New York do we consider it a microcluster. Only when you’re at 1% does 3% seem like an issue. Most of these other states would celebrate if they had 3%.”

Other states boast seven-day average infection rates of more than 6% and 7% statewide, with an 11.7% COVID-19 seven-day average positivity rate in Florida on Monday. Pennsylvania had a 7.8% COVID infection rate over the past week Monday, with 7.6% positive in Texas and an average of 6.4% new infections in Georgia.

Coronavirus infection rates are skewed lower in some states that implemented less stringent COVID-19 testing requirements following a recent battle between President Donald Trump and U.S. health experts with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the summer, the president suggested coronavirus cases were increasing across the nation because of states conducting more COVID tests.

“That’s almost a laughable concept, but you are now seeing it in the numbers as if it is an actual representation,” Cuomo said.

Florida completed 428,634 coronavirus diagnostic tests in one week earlier this summer, or the peak of the Southern state’s weekly testing. Florida conducted 153,616 tests last week — nearly a third of the peak, but revealing the elevated average 11.7% infection rate. Texas reported 520,978 peak weekly COVID tests earlier this summer, but conducted 349,666 tests last week to arrive at its average 7.6% infection rate.

“How can your testing numbers be going down? Our testing numbers are going up because this was all about ramping up testing,” Cuomo said.

New York conducted up to 500 COVID-19 tests per day statewide at the start of the pandemic in March. Laboratories nationwide have worked to increase coronavirus testing capacity since the spring. States decreased their daily testing rate on purpose to have better virus numbers, the governor said.

“Why would you do that? Because it’s the politics of denial being implemented in the public health system, which is based on science fiction,” he added. “Science fiction is if you don’t test, you won’t find the positive cases and therefore, they don’t exist. That is science fiction, but that is what you see happening in some states in this country.”

Trump exacerbated the coronavirus problem in other states by promoting a “politics of denial” surrounding the pandemic, Cuomo said.

“He’s done that from day one,” the governor continued, before speaking of the president’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis and receiving experimental treatment at Maryland’s Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“‘It’s not a problem, you get COVID, you get in a helicopter, you go to Walter Reed, Walter Reed sends a team of doctors and they give you experimental drugs that nobody else can get and then you’re fine,’” Cuomo said tongue-in-cheek. “Yeah, that’s denial, and it’s a disgusting denial when you see the number of lives lost.”

Weekend test results are often skewed lower, especially the Columbus Day holiday weekend, which could have impacted figures Friday through Monday. Officials must study and compare results in the coming days to establish an accurate measurement of COVID-19 infections in state microclusters.

The governor reminded New Yorkers the national surge is not a second wave of the novel coronavirus, but a continuation of the first.

“A second wave is the virus mutates and comes back ... This is just an inability to deal with the first wave nationwide,” Cuomo said. “Even if they come up with a vaccine, you then have to administer the vaccine. ... So, I think it’s realistic to say, at least for a year, you will be dealing with COVID. That’s without the mutated virus ... and that may be an optimistic scenario.”

Twelve New Yorkers died from the coronavirus Sunday, up from five fatalities Saturday.

The state reported 878 hospitalized virus patients Monday — up 58 people from Sunday, and reflecting a widening increase from about 500 patients the last week of September.

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