Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that New York will reopen the emergency hospital on Staten Island to deal with a new outbreak of coronavirus cases, which will narrow the capacity of the district’s hospitals.
The announcement is another sign that New York City is in the grip of a second wave of the coronavirus, which has already turned its cuts to Thanksgiving into closing public schools, reversing some reopenings and warnings to families. It also raises the sight of a return to the darkest days of the pandemic in March and April.
“Staten Island is a problem,” Mr Cuomo said in a daily news release.
The number of hospitalizations in the district has essentially tripled in the past three weeks – from 33 on Sunday on 2 November to 91 – without the pace slowing down, the governor said. In a later part of the briefing, he underlined the importance of growth.
“Hospitalization,” he said, “is a nice way to get more people to die.”
He said the average seven-day positive test rate in the area off the south coast of Staten Island was unacceptably high, particularly for Tottenville (5.89 per cent) and the Big Murders (5.5 per cent).
The increased rate prompted officials to classify the southern part of the island as a so-called orange zone, the second most restrictive stage of a state-targeted approach to dealing with coronavirus clusters. The rest of the island remains a yellow zone, with less stringent restrictions.
The designation of the orange zone means the reintroduction of various restrictions introduced during the first wave of the pandemic: for example, indoor meals, gyms and salons should be closed; the number of meetings may not exceed 10; the capacity of the houses of worship is 33 percent, or 25 people.
Mr Cuomo said the emergency department at the South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island will begin admitting viral patients after officials at Staten Island University Hospital and the University of Richmond Medical Center said they had few beds.
The unit of the psychiatric hospital was one of the emergency facilities set up in New York earlier this year to treat viral patients as the pandemic flooded the city’s hospitals.
The Staten Island unit treated about 250 patients between mid-April and June, a Northwell Health spokesman for Staten Island University Hospital said. He is expected to begin admitting recovering coronavirus patients as early as Tuesday and is prepared to accommodate about 100 patients for departure and more than 200 if needed, the spokesman said.
James Oddo, president of the Staten Island district, said he was not surprised that part of the South Coast would be designated an orange zone and was pleased to hear that the psychiatric hospital would once again be able to accommodate viral patients.
The first wave of the epidemic, Oddo said, transformed Staten Island University Hospital and Richmond University Medical Center into virus-specific intensive care units that were unable to handle other medical needs of neighborhood residents.
“I don’t think anyone would want to go back to where we were in March and April,” Republican Oddo said. “This period has been very difficult for our healthcare workers and our community.”
He said Monday’s numbers were a cause for concern, but he focused more on where those numbers were heading “in a month, in two months”.
Staten Island has been at the forefront of the virus rebirth in New York for some time. It is not entirely clear why. “This is a consequence of what has been done,” Mr Cuomo said on Monday.
The district, the Republican bastion, has long been culturally and politically different from the rest of the city. On Staten Island, many residents have accepted the precautions against viruses, but others have opposed them, as have residents of conservative fortresses elsewhere.
Two weeks ago, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio flooded the district with volunteers to raise awareness of the problem and the fight against it. Around the same time, Mr Cuomo, also a Democrat, marked much of the district with the yellow zone.
Mr Cuomo also called Washington’s Heights neighborhood, Manhattan, a yellow zone on Monday, the first time he had set a target for reopening the neighborhood. It announced new yellow zones in parts of Long Island and expanded the yellow and orange zones near Rochester and Syracuse.
The number of people hospitalized for the virus has more than doubled in the past three weeks, to 2,724 on Sunday and 1,227 on November 2, Mr Cuomo said. It is still well below the spring peak of the epidemic, when more than 18,000 people were hospitalized.
Mr De Cuomo warned that if current habits persisted, New York would achieve 6,000 hospitalizations in three weeks. He said the growth would be steeper if people acted irresponsibly in gathering Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“There are dangerous times we’re in,” he said.
Michael Gold contributed to the report.