After holiday COVID-19 surge, Cuomo lifts restrictions in yellow zones

Declaring the post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases over, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that restrictions on nearly all of New York’s “cluster” zones have been lifted.

The move comes as the statewide positivity rate continues to decline and the transmission rate fell below 1.0 for the first time in months. The state reported a positivity rate of 5.44% Tuesday after having reached a high of 7.8% statewide in early January.

“We will adjust the valves to those facts,” Mr. Cuomo said. “This is not emotional, this is not anecdotal. The microcluster zones are down.”

Some parts of Suffolk County, including Riverhead and Hampton Bays, have been under yellow zone restrictions since late November. Nassau County had also been operating under yellow zone restrictions.

The designation restricted non-residential gatherings to 25 people, residential gatherings to 10 people and houses of worship operating at 50% capacity.

Restaurants in yellow zones were limited to four customers per table, down from 10, and schools were able to remain open with increased testing required in some cases. Restaurants are still limited to a 10 p.m. final seating.

Five yellow zones — four in New York City and one in Newburgh — remain in place, the governor said.

In Suffolk County, health officials reported 1,135 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, a number that has been steadily declining since reaching a high of 2,194 on Jan. 6, the most daily cases reported since last March.

Vaccine supply remains a key issue in the effort to ramp up inoculations statewide, Mr. Cuomo said. “Overall, 96% of the dosages received are in arms,” he said. “So we’re functionally out of doses.”

He said the state is going “week-to-week” awaiting its allocation from the federal government.

President Joe Biden has pledged to increase vaccine supply by 16% to New York, which the governor said will allow the state to plan three weeks ahead. “That doesn’t sound great,” Mr. Cuomo said. “But it’s better than going week-to-week.”

In addition to increased vaccine supply, officials announced Wednesday that New York will receive $466 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to aid the vaccination effort.

In a press release Wednesday, senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand noted that the funding will help cover the costs of storing, transporting and distributing doses, PPE for staff and patients as well as facility costs associated with vaccinations.

 “In order to get these wonderful vaccines injected into the arms of millions of New Yorkers, we must also inject hundreds of millions of dollars into New York State and New York City’s budgets so they can get this job done ASAP to keep people safe and to re-energize our economy,” Sen. Schumer said in a statement.

President Biden’s administration also announced Tuesday that the government will purchase 200 million additional vaccine doses expected to arrive by the summer as Pfizer and Moderna take steps to increase production.

The measure will increase the federal vaccine supply from 400 to 600 million, officials said. During a briefing Tuesday, President Biden likened his plan to a “wartime effort,” calling for Congress to approve funding for vaccines, ramped up testing and helping schools and businesses reopen.

He cautioned the American public that things will  get worse before they improve, with the death toll likely to top 500,000 in February.

“We now have a national strategy to beat COVID-19,” the president said. “It’s comprehensive.  It’s based on science, not politics.  It’s based on truth, not denial…It’s going to take months for us to turn things around, but let me be equally clear: We’re going to get through this.  We will defeat this pandemic.”