This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Monday, December 28th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.
New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. Citing rising hospitalization rates, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended indoor dining in NYC starting Monday, December 14th. After beingshut down for several weeks, NYC public schools partially reopened on December 7th for 3K-5th grade students, with students with special needs returning on December 10th. Certain parts of Staten Island remain under a zoned shutdown.
Get answers to questions you may have with our "Ask An Epidemiologist" series, or learn more about NYC COVID-19 testing options with our explainer. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.
Here's the latest:
1 p.m. The share of people in the state testing positive for coronavirus jumped more than two percentage points to 8.3%, a post-holiday bump that could be due to decreased testing as well as more sick New Yorkers showing up to get tested, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
During his press conference, Cuomo called the numbers "circumstantial," saying that the number of tests fell by roughly half on Sunday but that the number of positive cases was about the same as in preceding days.
The state performed nearly 125,000 tests on Sunday, compared to its peak of more than 220,000 in one day. Of those tests, the majority were from urgent care clinics. During the holidays, many testing centers have reduced their hours of operation -- in New York City, for example, testing at the public hospital sites ended early on Christmas Eve and was closed on Christmas.
Testing experts have observed a "day-of-the-week" effect with coronavirus testing, a complex assortment of factors brought on by weekend or holiday testing. Fewer doctor's offices and other testing centers are open resulting in fewer people getting tested. Lab hours are also affected, resulting in delays with test processing as well as reporting. Some have also theorized that those who do seek out testing during such periods tend to be the sickest, resulting in a higher positivity rate.
In light of the circumstances, health officials have said that the full impact of holiday gatherings cannot be accurately accessed until weeks afterwards.
Dr. Denis Nash, an epidemiology professor at CUNY, said that under the state's approach to calculating positivity, "a decline in testing is almost always going to result in an increase in the positivity rate."
He speculated that the positivity spike was due to "an odd confluence of weekend and holiday testing patterns."
"The challenge is to distinguish between that effect and other real increases that could be happening simultaneously," he added.
But in contrast to testing, current hospitalizations reported by the state do not have as much volatility since hospitals don't close.
In New York, the number of total people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Sunday jumped by nearly 400 to 7,559, suggesting a real worsening of the crisis.
On Monday, Cuomo once again suggested that he was not interested in calling for a shutdown of non-essential businesses prior to hospitals in a certain region hitting a capacity of 90%.
Instead, the governor said that New Yorkers could still control the spread of virus.
"There is nothing preordained here," he said, adding that people could "celebrate smart and avoid shutdowns."
The state reported a seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 4.8% for New York City. Manhattan had the lowest positivity rate, that of 2.8%, compared to Staten Island, where 6% of residents had tested positive. Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx each had positivity rates over 5%.
But New York City health officials calculate the positivity differently than the state. They have put the city's overall figure at over 7% for three straight days, a level not seen since May 21.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been recommending that the governor call for a shutdown in New York City, initially saying he preferred one after Christmas but later saying he wanted to see more restrictions "sooner rather than later."
The mayor did not hold a press briefing on Monday.
After Delay And Uncertainty, Trump Signs Stimulus Bill
President Donald Trump on Sunday evening signed a $900 billion pandemic relief bill, averting a government shutdown and extending eviction protections, unemployment benefits and much-needed aid for schools, businesses and vaccine distribution.
The passage of the bill came after two critical unemployment programs had expired. States, which had been waiting to see if the bill would be signed, will need time to set up the new program, meaning that millions of unemployed Americans could see their payments suspended for at least a week.
Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan, said the delay amounted to a "pointless disruption."
Aside from education and vaccine distribution, the legislation also failed to provide funding for desperate state and local governments, although it does include $4 billion in aid for the MTA, which would allow the agency to avoid doomsday service cuts and massive layoffs -- for now. Upon passage, Senator Chuck Schumer said the deal includes $13 billion dollars for New York "in a variety of ways from mass transit aid, to education aid, to money for vaccinations and testing. In addition to direct relief checks, extending enhanced unemployment insurance, this deal provides another round of PPP and grants for small businesses across the state."
New York is facing a $15 billion budget deficit. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been pressing lawmakers for more aid since the spring, has accused Congress of bankrupting the state.
The president last Tuesday unexpectedly threatened to veto the package, demanding $2,000 in one-time stimulus checks rather than $600, and spending cuts that had actually appeared in his own annual budget proposal. The maneuver, which stunned lawmakers on both sides, jeopardized a hard-fought bill that had achieved overwhelming bipartisan support.
Under the bill, individuals earning up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income, or $112,500 as head of household and $150,000 as a married couple filing jointly will be entitled for the full $600 payment. The benefit caps out for individuals making over $87,000 and married couples who file jointly earning $174,000.
For families that qualify, the aid includes $600 checks for each dependent child.
Following Trump's surprise attack on the bill, Democrats said they supported larger payments for Americans. The issue was a non-starter for fiscal conservative Republicans, who have sought to limit federal spending and unemployment aid. Since the pandemic, the federal government has approved more than $3 billion in stimulus funding.
Trump's position also potentially undermined Republican efforts to hold onto to their slim majority in the U.S. Senate, which will be determined by two runoff races in Georgia. Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Republican contenders, had campaigned on the passage of the stimulus but were suddenly forced to respond to Trump's criticism that the package was not generous enough in direct aid to Americans.
Seizing on the rupture between Republicans and Trump, House Democrats have scheduled a vote on Monday to increase direct stimulus payments to $2,000, forcing their Republican colleagues to take a public stand.
“Now, the president must immediately call on congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000, which will be brought to the floor tomorrow,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Sunday night.
Even after signing the bill, Trump issued a statement making his displeasure with the package known. "I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill," he said on Sunday night.
But given Trump's dwindling weeks in office, it is unlikely the president's request will be taken up by lawmakers.