Cuomo says travel, holiday gatherings risk spreading virus

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks about the likelihood Thanksgiving gatherings will cause a spike in COVID-19 infections, with Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, right. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office

NEW YORK CITY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued another warning Sunday about the risks of traveling for the holidays during this period of the pandemic.

The governor said he’s anticipating a spike in positive cases of the novel coronavirus in the weeks following the holidays, with people traveling, visiting family and gathering for feasts.

The governor opened Sunday’s news conference by sharing how the average American puts on 5 pounds in body weight during the holiday season, which he said indicates how common it is to feast with family or friends during the holidays.

“I believe the COVID rate will increase, just as I believe most New Yorkers will put on weight,” the governor said. “The only question is how much, and how fast. Nobody knows.”

Gov. Cuomo said there are a number of scenarios based on how many people decide to ignore state guidance and meet in person for the holidays.

“You can have a moderate trajectory, you can have a low trajectory that goes up or you can have a terrible spike, and nobody can tell you, because nobody knows,” he said. “It depends on how we act.”

Gov. Cuomo said because of New York’s unique microcluster containment strategy, where restrictions are implemented on a zip code by zip code basis, individual residents in the state have a unique level of control over how bad the spread in their neighborhood gets, and how tight the economic restrictions on their towns become.

“It’s literally up to you, and it’s up to your community; that’s what we mean by the microcluster strategy,” he said.

The governor also sought to explain some of the more confusing aspects of the state metrics for tracking coronavirus infection rates. In recent days, it appears the state data on the local level for positive tests and positivity rates has fallen out of sync with local data.

He said when the state locks down a microcluster zone to the highest level, which occurs when its positivity rate has exceeded 3%, the state’s metrics for that are based on a seven-day average. According to the governor, the state takes an average of the past seven days, and once the average positivity rate has been at or above 3% for 10 days, the restrictions are put in place.

“That number has to hold constant for 10 days, we don’t want zones going in and out,” he said.

While the state’s metrics are based on seven-day averages, other local governments, like New York City, use other methods, sometimes leaving out or changing certain factors. The result of those different methods is typically different data, which the governor said is confusing and irrelevant.

“State law governs, and once the state says (a microcluster) is at 3 percent or 4 percent, that’s what matters,” Gov. Cuomo said.

The governor also said New York’s microcluster strategy continues to be the safest containment procedure in the country.

“If 3 percent was the national standard, 46 states would be in a (microcluster) zone,” he said. “We have the fourth-lowest infection rate in the United States of America. The only states with a lower infection rate are Vermont, Hawaii and Maine.”

Also on Sunday, in his capacity as chairman of the National Governors Association, Gov. Cuomo asked congressional leadership to continue or reinstate a number of programs meant to assist people, businesses and local governments through the pandemic.

“The Senate and House must work to renew and expand federal unemployment benefits for Americans, while supporting state governments that are implementing these programs and disbursing the benefits,” Gov. Cuomo wrote in a letter sent to congressional leaders.

According to the governor’s office, the statewide positivity rate is 2.74% as of Sunday. In all microcluster zones, the positivity rate is 4.39%, and outside those zones the rate is 2.29%. A total of 196,608 tests were conducted Saturday.

Thirty New Yorkers died of COVID-19 on Saturday.

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