NEW YORK—With the coronavirus pandemic once again worsening around New York State and the country, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that the state could face another round of heightened regulations on dining spaces if hospitalizations continue to rise in regions across New York.

Cuomo announced at a press briefing on Monday that the state would be further reducing the allowed capacity at indoor dining establishments to 25 percent, from its current 50 percent threshold, if the climb of hospitalization rates continues over the next five days regionally. In New York City, indoor dining would be suspended entirely. If a geographic area is deemed a micro-cluster zone, that designation would override the statewide rules and more restrictions would be in place.

If a region’s hospitalization capacities hit a critical point, which Cuomo defined as trending toward 90 percent in three weeks based on 7-day rolling COVID-19 data models, the region will face a shutdown of non-essential businesses—reminiscent of the New York On Pause that Cuomo enacted in the beginning of the pandemic.

“I see it as hospital capacity versus vaccination critical mass,” Cuomo said. “I think that’s the ultimate bottom line. Can your hospitals handle the increase until you start to see a reduction from the vaccinations?”

Additionally, Cuomo said that the Department of Health would be ordering hospitals to increase their capacity by 25 percent on Monday.

Of course, hospitalizations seem nearly guaranteed to continue to rise over the next five days, barring some sort of mysteriously fortunate turnaround. The people who will be newly hospitalized over that time are likely already sick with COVID-19 right now, and without many known treatment measures to fight the coronavirus, it seems the only defense against them ending up in the hospital is hope.

The Southern Tier region, which includes Tompkins County, sits at 0.02 percent hospitalization rate (which is the number of people hospitalized compared to the total population, the state’s chosen metric). That’s still fairly good relative to the rest of upstate New York, particularly Western New York and the Finger Lakes, both regions that are being hit hard by this autumn wave.

But like many of the state’s announcements, some of the finer points of the policy weren’t immediately clear despite the policy being announced. For instance, Cuomo did not specify the exact “hospitalization stability” he would like to see before making a decision on indoor dining restrictions, meaning the region may have to simply wait until Friday or Saturday to see if restaurants locally will have to once again reduce their capacity.

Cuomo said last week that he will hold press briefings three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If more urgent announcements are necessary, expect those to be held more immediately.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com