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:
As Americans continue to wait whether President Donald Trump will sign a bill extending unemployment aid, New York remains in the throes of a virus resurgence, with the state reporting 122 deaths on Friday from COVID-19.
Governor Andrew Cuomo provided the update in a press release on Saturday, showing that 35 of those deaths happened in New York City, where five people in the Bronx, four in Manhattan, eight in Queens, six in Staten Island, and 12 in Brooklyn succumbed to the virus on Friday. Brooklyn and Monroe County each saw double-digit fatalities on Friday, the most of any other county in New York. To date, more than 29,000 people have died from the virus in New York.
In a statement on Saturday, Cuomo expressed optimism in New York's long war with COVID-19, saying the state will "ultimately be victorious."
"The holiday season is a time to celebrate and reflect, but it brings the potential for increased spread if we let our guard down," Cuomo said. "It's vital that New Yorkers celebrate smart, wash their hands, wear masks and socially distance this holiday season."
The state received 201,442 test results on Friday, with 10,806 confirmed positive cases, according to state Department of Health. The state saw a daily positivity rate of 5.36% on Friday.
"New York State is testing more people and making sure hospitals have enough capacity," Cuomo said. "We're vaccinating New Yorkers as fast as possible, but getting to the levels of immunity we need is a long-term effort. New Yorkers brought the state's infection rate from the nation's highest to one of the lowest, and they should be commended for that."
The news comes as federal aid for millions of unemployed workers impacted by the pandemic will expire on Saturday if President Donald Trump does not sign a $900 billion stimulus bill that extends benefits through March. Though New York state unemployment insurance remains intact, one of the state’s programs funded by the federal government, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, expires on December 31st unless Trump signs the bill.
The bill in its current form would restore the $600 weekly payments under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Trump, upon criticizing elements of the bill, threw a wedge into the plan, asking Americans receive $2,000 in weekly benefits instead. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted to push the measure with the amended changes on December 24th, but fell short.
On Saturday, Trump—who is staying at Mar-a-Lago in Florida for the Christmas break—offered no indications he will sign the bill today. Earlier in the day, South Carolina U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted the president is "more determined than ever" to get $2,000 payments to Americans.
UK Virus Variant Now Found In France, Lebanon, Spain
10:30 a.m. The new, highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 first reported in the United Kingdom has now been confirmed in cases in France and Spain.
On Friday, officials in France said that a man with French citizenship returned from London December 19th and was tested on December 21st. He is apparently asymptomatic and self-isolating at home, according to BBC News.
Lebanon's Health Minister Hammad Hassan tweeted on Friday that a passenger on Middle Eastern Airlines 202 that arrived to Beirut on December 21st from London was found to have the new variant. He said that the health ministry was following up with those who came into contact with the person.
Four people in Madrid, Spain were found with the UK variant, Antonio Zapatero, the health adviser for the region, said on Saturday. “The patients are not seriously ill. We know that this strain is more transmissible, but it does not cause more serious illness," he told reporters. "There is no need for alarm."
The new variant, which was identified in mid-September in southeastern England, appears to be 70% more transmissible and features a number of mutations that allow it to bind to cells more easily. The variant now reportedly represents about 60% of recent cases reported in London, which has caused residents to flee the city amid greater restrictions imposed.
The UK variant has not been found in the U.S. yet, but the CDC admitted on December 22nd, "viruses have only been sequenced from about 51,000 of the 17 million US cases." Dr. Anthony S. Fauci believes that the variant is already here in the U.S., given the amount of international travel.
Starting Monday, all travelers from the United Kingdom coming to the U.S. will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 72 hours before departing. Numerous countries around the world have banned or restricted travel from the country as well, with France temporarily closing its borders and stranding truck drivers near the English Channel.
When discussing the new variant with Gothamist, Dr. Ian Lipkin, a virologist at Columbia University, warned that just because the variant isn't considered more deadly or serious, "The fact that you got more people becoming infected means that there’s more opportunity for the virus to grow and for people to develop severe disease."