This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Friday, December 18th, 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. In a dramatic shift from remarks he made just days ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday said that he believed New York could avoid a full shutdown despite the rising number of cases and hospitalizations.
"I believe hospitals are going to be able to manage this," he said during a press conference in the state Capitol. "I believe New Yorkers can slow the spread. I believe New Yorkers can flatten the curve."
He said that hospitals are required to inform the state should their projected capacity reach 85% in three weeks, which could trigger a shutdown in a region. (The governor had previously said the warning threshold was 90%.)
But of the roughly 215 hospitals statewide, none has yet reported reaching that mark.
Most public health experts say the country is heading toward the worst phase of the pandemic as holiday gatherings and cold weather force more people indoors, making them more susceptible to infections.
The governor's message was starkly different from what he said on Monday, when he delivered a sobering forecast that suggested New Yorkers needed to brace themselves for a shutdown that would impact schools as well as non-essential businesses.
He said statewide coronavirus hospitalizations, which is now over 6,000, could very well double by next month, and result in another 3,500 deaths.
But on Friday, Cuomo said that curbing the virus outbreaks "is in our control."
"Shutdowns are very very harmful," he added. "The last thing anybody wants is a shutdown."
Cuomo new optimism coincides with news earlier this week that a $900 billion stimulus proposal being negotiated in Congress would deny federal aid to states and localities, whose budgets have been decimated by the pandemic.
New York state faces a $13.5 million budget gap. Cuomo said the state would likely decide on the annual budget in April, after any potential stimulus funding.
In what is becoming a replay of the division between city and state that occurred in the spring, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said New York City needs to enter a full shutdown in the coming weeks based on increasing caseloads and hospitalization rates.
On Monday, indoor dining was officially prohibited, after being allowed at 25% capacity. The city's 11 public hospitals on Tuesday canceled elective surgeries.
"I don’t like restrictions, nobody likes restrictions, but I think we need them sooner rather than later," he said on Thursday.
New York City's positivity rate is now above 6%, the highest since May.
In another source of conflict, state health officials have calculated the city's positivity rate as being at 4%. The disparity is due to the state's differing approach in measuring positivity, which does not adhere to recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and which several experts have said is flawed.
Vice President Pence Gets Vaccinated After U.S. Sees Most Virus Deaths In A Single Day
Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated against coronavirus on Friday morning during a live televised event at the White House, a public display intended to build confidence in the vaccine.
According to the latest Pew Research Center study, about 60% of individuals polled said they would be willing to be vaccinated, an improvement over the prior poll in which only half said they would take the shot.
“I didn’t feel a thing," said Pence, who had frequently downplayed the severity of the virus as the head of the White House coronavirus task force.
Joining him was his wife Karen Pence, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, both of whom also received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“As the U.S. surgeon general and a Black man, I am equally aware of the symbolic significance of my vaccination today," Adams said, referring to concerns about vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans given the long history of racist and exploitative healthcare.
He noted the involvement of people of color in both the development of the vaccine as well as in the trials.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's most prominent public health official, was also on hand for the event. He said he planned to get vaccinated in the coming days after the National Health Institute, where he works, receives its doses.
Over the last several weeks, Fauci has mounted an aggressive public campaign to allay any concerns people might have about the vaccine's safety.
"The decision to as to whether or not it's safe or effective was not in the hands of the company, nor was it in the hands of the administration,” but rather independent scientists, he said Thursday.
Notably absent from the event was President Donald Trump. In the morning, Trump mistakenly tweeted that the Moderna vaccine had already been approved. An advisory panel has recommended that the vaccine be authorized, but the final say from the Food and Drug administration is expected later today.
But even as vaccinations begin across the country, spurring hope that the pandemic might finally come to an end, infections are continuing to soar.
On Thursday, more than 3,400 people died in the U.S., the highest single-day death toll since the pandemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Total hospitalizations for coronavirus are also at a record high. In Southern California, intensive care unit availability fell to 0% on Thursday, according to the Los Angeles Times.
LA County now has more than 1,000 people with COVID-19, four times as many as it did in November.
New York City currently has 27% of its total ICU beds availability, and 23% of regular beds open, according to the latest state Department of Health data.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that any region whose hospitals are headed toward 85% capacity in three weeks must undergo a full shutdown of non-essential businesses, similar to the spring.