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Emergency hospital reopening on Staten Island to handle 2nd coronavirus wave

  • NEW YORK TIMES / NOVEMBER 10
                                Frank Winkworth, 84, visits a corner deli in the Tottenville neighborhood on Staten Island in New York.

    NEW YORK TIMES / NOVEMBER 10

    Frank Winkworth, 84, visits a corner deli in the Tottenville neighborhood on Staten Island in New York.

NEW YORK >> Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that New York would reopen an emergency hospital on Staten Island to address a new surge in coronavirus cases that is straining the capacity of the borough’s hospitals.

The announcement is another sign that New York City is in the grip of a second coronavirus wave that has already led to the closing of public schools, the reversal of some reopenings and warnings to families to scale back their Thanksgiving plans. It also raises the specter of a return to the pandemic’s darkest days in March and April.

“Staten Island is a problem,” Cuomo said at a daily news briefing.

The number of hospitalizations in the borough has essentially tripled in the past three weeks — to 91 on Sunday from 33 on Nov. 2 — with no indication that the pace is slowing, the governor said. He underscored the significance of the increase later in the briefing.

“Hospitalization,” he said, “is a nice way of saying more people die.”

He said neighborhoods on the South Shore of Staten Island had an average seven-day positive test rate that was unacceptably high, specifically Tottenville (5.89%) and Great Kills (5.5%).

The elevated rates have prompted officials to label the southern part of the island a so-called orange zone, the second-most restrictive stage in the state’s targeted approach to addressing coronavirus clusters. The rest of the island remains a yellow zone, with less severe restrictions.

The orange-zone designation means a reintroduction of various restrictions imposed during the first wave of the pandemic: Indoor dining, gyms and salons, for example, must close; gatherings cannot exceed 10 people; and houses of worship are limited to 33% capacity, or 25 people.

Cuomo said the emergency unit on Staten Island, at the South Beach Psychiatric Center, would begin taking in virus patients after officials at Staten Island University Hospital and Richmond University Medical Center said they were running short on beds.

The unit at the psychiatric hospital was one of several emergency facilities that were set up in New York earlier in the year to treat virus patients as the pandemic overwhelmed the city’s hospitals.

The Staten Island unit treated about 250 patients from mid-April to June, said a spokesman for Northwell Health, which operates Staten Island University Hospital. It was expected to begin accepting convalescing coronavirus patients as early as Tuesday, and was prepared to accommodate about 100 patients to start and more than 200 if needed, the spokesman said.

James Oddo, the Staten Island borough president, said he was not surprised that part of the South Shore was being designated as an orange zone, and was pleased to hear that the psychiatric hospital would be able to take in virus patients again.

The pandemic’s first wave, Oddo said, had effectively transformed Staten Island University Hospital and Richmond University Medical Center into virus-specific intensive care units that were incapable of dealing with other medical needs for borough residents.

“I don’t think anybody wants to go back to where we were in March and April,” Oddo said. “That period was really tough on our health care workers and on our community.”

He said that the numbers as of Monday were a cause for concern, but that he was more focused on where those numbers were headed “a month from now, two months from now.”

Staten Island has been at the leading edge of the virus’ resurgence in New York for some time. It is not entirely clear why.

“It’s a consequence of actions,” Cuomo said Monday.

The borough, a Republican bastion, has long diverged from the rest of the city culturally and politically. Many Staten Island residents have embraced virus precautions, but others have balked at them, just as residents of conservative strongholds elsewhere have.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio flooded the borough with volunteers to raise awareness about the problem and the measures to combat it. Around the same time, Cuomo tagged most of the borough with the yellow-zone designation.

Cuomo also labeled the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan a yellow zone Monday, the first time the borough has been targeted for rolling back reopening. He also announced new yellow zones in parts of Long Island, and expanded yellow and orange zones upstate near Rochester and Syracuse.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus in New York has more than doubled in the past three weeks, to 2,724 on Sunday from 1,227 on Nov. 2, Cuomo said. That is still well below the pandemic’s spring peak, when more than 18,000 people were hospitalized.

But Cuomo warned that if current patterns held, New York would reach 6,000 hospitalizations in three weeks. The increase would be steeper, he said, if people acted irresponsibly in gathering for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“These are dangerous times that we’re in,” he said.

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