Hochul warns of rise in COVID numbers

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Gov. Kathy Hochul held her COVID-19 briefing Monday at the SUNY Rochester Educational Opportunity Center.

As New York records a rise in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, Gov. Kathy Hochul warned of even higher numbers. 

“We’re not in a good place,” said Hochul, who held her COVID-19 briefing Monday at the SUNY Rochester Educational Opportunity Center on Chestnut Street.

She stressed that the state is intent on deploying tools, including test kits, vaccines and masks, to combat the pandemic. 

“We have many more defenses this time (compared with last year),” Hochul said.

The governor recently unveiled details of Winter Surge Plan 2.0, a new targeted effort to bolster New York’s fight against the COVID surge. The plan focuses on keeping students in school, doubling down on masks and testing, preventing severe illness and death, increasing access to vaccines and boosters, and working together with local leaders. 

As of Jan. 1, there were 519 patients hospitalized in the Finger Lakes region, up from 482 a week earlier. Of those, 109 were in the intensive-care unit, down from 127. When it comes to hospital capacity, 14.1 percent of acute-care beds and 2.8 percent of ICU beds are available in the region. In Monroe County, those numbers are 13 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

Once acute-care beds dip below 10 percent, hospitals will have to cease essential surgeries. Twenty-one hospitals statewide are not performing essential surgeries.

“This could change very quickly,” Hochul said. “We could see a drop soon in our hospital capacity and that point we’ll be deciding whether we need to take wider steps, and we’re ready to do it. We have plans in place. We’re just watching this for a couple more days to see what those steps might be.”

The state is currently training the National Guard to assist with emergency care. Roughly 80 people are undergoing training and will be ready to work in a month. Twenty-six medics are deployed at Monroe Community Hospital Nursing Home. 

“For the first time we’re now requiring the National Guard members to be trained as EMTs,” Hochul said. “In order to deploy them more fully, I want them all trained as EMTs.”

Additional ambulance teams are stationed in the Batavia area to assist with transportation and other support for the hospital systems for the Finger Lakes and Western New York regions.

While 95 percent of New Yorkers above the age of 18 have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, only 83 percent have followed through with the second dose. Among 12- to 17-year-olds, 76 percent have received the first shot, and 66 percent have completed the series. Twenty-nine percent of children ages 5 to 11 have received their first dose. Today, the Food and Drug Administration approved boosters for the 12-15 age group.

Keeping children in schools is important, said Hochul, who also urged parents to get their children vaccinated and complete the series. On the testing front, 5.2 million test kits have been delivered to New York’s schools, to help children have an uninterrupted school year. Some 6 million to 7 million more are expected to arrive soon. The state will add six more state-run testing sites by tomorrow, bringing its total to 19.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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