This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Monday, December 21st, 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:

2:48 p.m.: British Airways and Delta have agreed to start testing travelers destined for New York for COVID-19 before they fly from the United Kingdom, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.

Cuomo had previously urged the U.S. government to implement stricter traveling restrictions onto the United Kingdom after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a variant of the virus was 70% more transmissible than the original version the state and country are fighting.

"This was a very rapid decision by [British Airways]," Cuomo told reporters Monday. "They were considerate and I truly appreciate it. Obviously British Airways could have taken a different path."

The airline begins the pre-boarding testing protocol Tuesday.

Cuomo said on MSNBC that Delta had also agreed by Monday afternoon.

British Airways did not provide information about the company's testing procedures, but a spokesperson said: "We continue to work closely with local health authorities around the world."

Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant said travelers would be required to take a PCR test at least 72 hours before departure.

"Delta will work closely with the Governor’s office in the coming days to implement his request," Durrant said. The test requirement begins December 24th and will also apply to flights from London Heathrow to Atlanta.

The governor has requested Virgin Atlantic do the same. Durrant said Delta is working with Virgin Atlantic on the testing requirements for its flights as well. The two companies share a terminal at London Heathrow.

If the airlines hadn't agreed voluntarily, New York planned to "pursue other options," Cuomo said, but did not elaborate on what those could be.

The governor wants the federal government to join 120 countries with pre-boarding test requirements, since the state is not able to forcibly restrict international travel.

Currently, only American citizens and permanent legal residents, with exceptions of some family members, are permitted to fly back to the U.S. if they've been in the U.K. in the past two weeks, under restrictions President Donald Trump set in March.

"I would not be doing my job as Governor of New York if I sat here and let the federal incompetence create another emergency and disaster that costs the lives of New Yorkers," he said. Six flights arrive in New York from the UK every day.

Though there is no evidence the strain has reached New York, the governor fears it is already here.

"This was the spring," Cuomo said. "This is how we had that New York ambush in the first place."

The statewide positive testing rate including micro-clusters rose to 5.75% yesterday, the governor announced. Hospitalizations rose by 146 to 6,331 across NY. And 109 people died of coronavirus on Sunday.

Of the five boroughs, Staten Island had the highest positivity rate of 5.44%, followed by 5.01% in the Bronx, 4.83% in Queens, 4.43% in Brooklyn, and 2.75% in Manhattan.

The governor blamed political rhetoric and an overall attitude from Staten Islanders scoffing at COVID restrictions and public health measures that aim to limit spread.

The Finger Lakes region has the worst hospitalization rate in the state, while Western New York has flattened its infections in recent days.

"This is the ongoing COVID whack-a-mole," Cuomo said.

Additional details from the airlines have been added to this report.

Nursing home residents hold signs as staff members walk by during a Thanksgiving celebration at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, in New York.

Nursing home residents hold signs as staff members walk by during a Thanksgiving celebration at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, in New York.

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Nursing home residents hold signs as staff members walk by during a Thanksgiving celebration at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, in New York.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP/Shutterstock

Vaccinations To Begin Today At NY Nursing Homes

Nursing homes across New York, which saw more than 6,200 virus deaths in the spring, are scheduled to begin coronavirus vaccinations on Monday morning.

Along with health care workers in hospitals, nursing home residents and staff have been given priority to receive the vaccine. Vaccinations for hospital staffers kicked off last Monday, but the process in the state's more than 600 nursing homes was delayed one week because state officials elected to enroll in a federal program that contracts with Walgreens and CVS to administer the vaccine.

For nursing homes resident, the vaccine marks the beginning of the end of a long period of fear as well as isolation. Older individuals as well as those with underlying health conditions are considered most susceptible of developing severe illnesses from COVID-19.

"I don't know what the world looks like anymore, and I'm anxious to see that," Kelley Dixon, a resident at Hebrew Home at Riverdale, told ABC7.

The outlet reported the 78-year old was the first up to receive the vaccine. Vaccinations at the facility were set to begin at 10 a.m.

All told, New York expects to receive 170,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this month. Of that total, 80,000 doses will be set aside for nursing homes, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Friday during a press briefing.

The state is also awaiting another 364,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine, which was approved Friday by the Food and Drug Administration.

Nursing home vaccinations are expected to take several weeks, according to Gareth Rhodes, an aide to the governor.

“CVS expects all of theirs to be done within the first two weeks and we’re still working with Walgreens, but I would expect a similar timetable,” Rhodes said.

The deaths of nursing home residents during the pandemic has been a politically thorny issue for Governor Cuomo, who was criticized for issuing a mandate that ordered nursing homes with capacity to readmit residents who had been sent to hospitals for coronavirus. Although Cuomo has said the state was only following federal guidelines, critics said the policy made no sense and only contributed to outbreaks at nursing homes.

In July, the state Health Department issued a report blaming the spread in nursing homes on employees, not readmitted residents.

Cuomo has argued that the federal government is to blame for its failure to rapidly develop testing and manage the national health crisis.

Still, New York has yet to tally the number of deaths of nursing home residents who died at a hospital or outside facility, a number that could add thousands more to the official fatality count.