Upper Manhattan enters yellow zone as COVID cases quickly rise

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that upper Manhattan was entering the yellow zone of COVID restrictions as the number of coronavirus cases increased statewide and an emergency COVID-19 field hospital is going to reopen on Staten Island.

Speaking from Albany during a briefing on the pandemic, Cuomo sounded the alarm on the quickly rising number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

"New York City, upper Manhattan is going to become a yellow zone, basically the Washington Heights area is 3.3," said Cuomo. 

In a yellow zone, houses of worship can operate only at 50 percent capacity.  Mass gatherings cannot exceed 25 people, indoor and outdoor. Businesses can remain open. Restaurants can serve patrons indoor and outdoor with a maximum of four people per table.

Schools can open with mandatory weekly testing of students and teachers/staff for in-person settings. 

Positivity and death rates are alarming, continued Cuomo.

"These numbers have kept me up for many, many nights," said the governor. 

On Nov. 22, the overall state positivity rate was 3.08%. There were 2,724 people hospitalized and 545 in intensive care units. 249 people were intubated. 33 people passed away.

"If Thanksgiving did nothing. If Christmas season did nothing, if we don't bring down the current rate, we go to 6,000 hospitalizations," said Cuomo.

As the hospitalizations increase, deaths are expected to increase.

On Staten Island, Cuomo said he planned to build a COVID response facility to help overwhelmed hospitals where part of the borough was in a yellow zone and another part in an orange zone.

"Staten Island is a problem. The number of hospitalizations over the last three weeks have basically tripled 33 to 91," said Cuomo.

Get breaking news alerts in the FOX5NY News app. Download for FREE!

The temporary hospital on the grounds of the South Beach Psychiatric Hospital cared for 200 patients in spring, when New York City's hospital wards were overwhelmed with seriously ill and dying coronavirus patients.

Now, Cuomo said officials are concerned it might be needed again, as the virus has spread in the borough at a faster rate than in the rest of the city. Staten Island has averaged 209 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the past seven days — up 86% from two weeks ago.

Staten Island University Hospital's north campus reported 88 COVID-19 patients as of Saturday, taking up about one-fifth of the hospital's 472 beds, according to state data. That’s more than triple the number it had on Nov. 1.

The governor, a Democrat, also designated the southern half of Staten Island as an “orange zone” under his weeks-old micro-cluster plan, which will require schools and high-risk businesses like gyms to close temporarily, halt indoor dining at restaurants and limit gatherings inside houses of worship to no more than 25 people.

Cuomo announced new orange zones in parts of Onondaga County, home to Syracuse, and Monroe County, home to Rochester.

New yellow zones, which require mandatory testing of students, were also created in several parts of the state.

Cuomo said he is worried that news of vaccines passing clinical trials could give people a false sense of security about the need to still follow social distancing and mask rules during the holiday season.

“The vaccination is not going to be here in time to stop an increasing infection rate,” he said.