Gov. Hochul orders halt on elective surgery amid COVID spike, Omicron


Here we go again.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order Friday to postpone elective hospital surgeries — something that hasn’t been done since the worst of the initial coronavirus outbreak last year.

Hochul said she made the move to deal with staffing shortages and boost bed capacity amid an anticipated “spike” in new cases and the emergence of the new Omicron variant in South Africa. The strain is named after a letter of the Greek alphabet.

“We’ve taken extraordinary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic. However, we continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming,” Hochul said.

“In preparation, I am announcing urgent steps today to expand hospital capacity and help ensure our hospital systems can tackle any challenges posed by the pandemic as we head into the winter months. The vaccine remains one of our greatest weapons in fighting the pandemic, and I encourage every New Yorker to get vaccinated, and get the booster if you’re fully vaccinated.”

Healthcare worker scrubbing up
The governor decided to implement these measures in response to the emergence of the new COVID variant Omicron found in South Africa.

The edict curbing non-essential surgeries will kick in for hospitals with a limited capacity — defined as at or below 10 percent of available staffed bed capacity.

The new protocols will take effect on Friday, Dec. 3, and will be re-evaluated based on the latest COVID-19 data on Jan. 15.

The executive order will also enable the state to more quickly any critical supplies to combat the pandemic, she said.

Governor Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul says her executive order will increase New York’s ability to fight a projected rise in COVID cases.
Robert Miller

Hochul’s action comes as her upstate neighbors have been ignoring her pleas to get vaccinated.

The upstate regions have both the highest COVID-19 positivity rates and stubbornly lowest vaccination rates compared to New York City, state Department of Health Department data reveal.

While advising residents to continue mask-wearing indoors and to practice good hygiene and get tested for COVID-19, she added, “The vaccine also remains one of our greatest weapons in fighting the pandemic, and this news further emphasizes the need for each of us to get vaccinated and get the booster if you’re fully vaccinated.”

Woman getting vaccinated.
Upstate New York has the highest COVID rates but the lowest vaccination rates in the state.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

But the COVID-19 positivity rate has been soaring upstate entering the Thanksgiving weekend while remaining low in New York City.

“The virus is still lurking among us,” said Ayman El-Mohandes, dean of the CUNY School of Public Health. “The low vaccination rates and high positivity rate upstate is very concerning.”

The highest COVID-19 positivity rate in the state was in her Hochul’s backyard — the Buffalo/Western New York region, where 9.67 percent of residents test positive as of Thursday. Erie County has re-imposed a mask mandate indoors to address the flare-up in cases.

Woman preparing to administer a vaccine
There are counties in upstate New York where fewer than 70% of eligible people have been vaccinated.

The three-days average COVID positivity rate by other regions: Finger Lakes, 8.85 percent; North Country/Adirondacks: 7.82 percent; Mohawk Valley, 7.7 percent; Syracuse/Central NY, 6.46 percent; and the Albany/Capital Region, 6.96 percent.

Meanwhile the positivity rate in New York City — where there are strong mandates for government workers to get vaccinated — the positivity rate 1.65 percent. That’s less than half the state’s 3.84 percent average.

Elsewhere, the positivity rate is 3.14 percent in the mid-Hudson Valley and 4.40 percent in Long Island, the analysis shows.

Meanwhile, the state DOH’s vaccine tracker finds there are 18 counties upstate where fewer than 70 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Only 52.9 percent of adults ages 18 and over in Allegheny County in the Southern Tier region have been vaccinated, followed by Tioga County in the North Country, where just 57.5 percent residents got at least one jab.

The statewide adult vaccination rate average is 90 percent.

The vaccination rate in Eric County, which includes Hochul’s native Buffalo is 80 percent — meaning one in five adults has not gotten a shot. In neighboring Niagara County, one in four adults are unvaccinated.

By comparison in New York City, 97 percent of Queens adults and 94 percent of Manhattan adults are vaccinated, followed by the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn with vaccination rates of 86.4 percent, 84.4 percent and 82.9 percent respectively.

A recent CUNY School of Public Health survey of five U.S. metro areas found that households with lower incomes and expressing more conservative ideology were strongly linked to vaccine resistance. El-Mohandes said opposition to vaccination could be a contributing factor to the lower vaccination and higher coronavirus positivity rates upstate.

“Leaders of all political stripes should encourage their communities to get vaccinated. The more we are protected, the less likely we will see variants,” El-Mohandes said.

“We have to turn the tide on vaccine resistance.”

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