ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Gov. Kathy Hochul hosted a COVID-19 briefing Monday morning from SUNY Brockport’s Rochester Educational Opportunity Center facility downtown where she updated New Yorkers on the new pandemic metrics, the state’s approach to new CDC guidance for quarantine length, and more.
COVID in NY
“We are not in a good place,” Gov. Hochul said. “I’ll be honest with you. This is the winter surge we were expecting. There’s a lot of human interactions, and what happens they they interact? They spread the virus.”
New York’s omicron surge continues as the state is still seeing its highest COVID-19 case rates since the pandemic began — by a wide margin:
Each region’s daily cases, per 100,000 residents on a seven-day rolling average, are as follows:
- Capital Region: 155.07
- Central New York: 163.53
- Finger Lakes: 124.98
- Long Island: 398.82
- Mid-Hudson: 304.18
- Mohawk Valley: 126.49
- New York City: 457.73
- North Country: 92.85
- Southern Tier: 129.35
- Western New York: 171.53
- Statewide: 335.05
“Those numbers are going to be much higher tomorrow,” Gov. Hochul said. “These numbers are rather shocking when you think about where we are.”
Although new case rates are at their highest levels to date, the governor said early evidence suggests that omicron strain doesn’t cause as severe of illness as previous variants.
“People are testing positive at a higher rate, but the severity of this variant is much less,” Gov. Hochul said. “I am grateful that a month later, we can say with certainty, that the cases are presenting themselves to not be that severe as far as health goes.”
While early indications suggest omicron may cause less severe illness, the overall volume of new cases could still lead to more COVID hospitalizations statewide and the governor said she it committed to getting more information from New York health care systems and making that information public going forward.
“Beginning tomorrow, we will be asking hospitals to breakout data,” Gov. Hochul said. “How many are hospitalized because of symptoms and how many are getting tested positive while they are in there? I want to be as honest with New Yorkers as possible.”
New quarantine length?
The governor said the updated its guidelines pertaining to isolation and quarantine length for “critical workforce” employees who test positive for the virus and for those exposed, if they are vaccinated and not showing symptoms.
She did not, however, say the state would adopt new CDC guidance that pertains to the general public, regardless of vaccination or employment status. In the video clip above from Monday morning’s press briefing, it appears the governor is talking about the general public guidelines, officials from the New York State Department of Health clarified later Monday to News 8 that the governor was referring to the guidance on health care workers instead.
U.S. health officials last week cut isolation restrictions for all Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days, and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine.
“We are refining everything, our whole quarantine idea,” Gov. Hochul said. “Everyone was staying home for 10 days; they might be asymptomatic for five days and still have five days, which was paralyzing to our economy. Staying at home is widely disruptive. We can’t do that; that is as disruptive as saying ‘stay remote.'”
The governor said the state has adopted those guidelines with the one change being that the reduced time in quarantine is for vaccinated individuals.
“We adopted that statewide, we did that last week,” Gov. Hochul said.
Still some county leaders, like those locally in Monroe County, said they would not be adopting the new CDC guidance at this time.
“The public understands that this is an evolving situation,” Gov. Hochul said. “We are trying to minimize confusion about this.”
Gov. Hochul announced on Christmas Eve that quarantine time would be reduced to five days for vaccinated essential workers, who showed no symptoms for 72 hours, but the CDC’s guidance took that restriction reduction even further, by reducing quarantine and isolation to five days for the general public, regardless of vaccination or employment status.
The guidance from the CDC was not a mandate; but a recommendation to employers and state and local officials. According to the CDC:
The isolation rules are for people who are infected. They are the same for people who are unvaccinated, partly vaccinated, fully vaccinated or boosted.
- The clock starts the day you test positive.
- An infected person should go into isolations for five days, instead of the previously recommended 10.
- At the end of five days, if you have no symptoms, you can return to normal activities but must wear a mask everywhere — even at home around others — for at least five more days.
- If you still have symptoms after isolating for five days, stay home until you feel better and then start your five days of wearing a mask at all times.
The quarantine rules are for people who were in close contact with an infected person but not infected themselves.
For quarantine, the clock starts the day someone is alerted to they may have been exposed to the virus.
Previously, the CDC said people who were not fully vaccinated and who came in close contact with an infected person should stay home for at least 10 days.
Now the agency is saying only people who got booster shots can skip quarantine if they wear masks in all settings for at least 10 days.
That’s a change. Previously, people who were fully vaccinated — which the CDC has defined as having two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — could be exempt from quarantine.
Now, people who got their initial shots but not boosters are in the same situation as those who are partly vaccinated or are not vaccinated at all: They can stop quarantine after five days if they wear masks in all settings for five days afterward.
Suspending both isolation and quarantine after five days is not without risk.
A lot of people get tested when they first feel symptoms, but many Americans get tested for others reasons, like to see if they can visit family or for work. That means a positive test result may not reveal exactly when a person was infected or give a clear picture of when they are most contagious, experts say.
When people get infected, the risk of spread drops substantially after five days, but it does not disappear for everyone, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, a New York physician who is a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“If you decrease it to five days, you’re still going to small but significant number of people who are contagious,” he said.
‘Winter Surge 2.0’
In line with the state winter surge plan, the governor said two of her priorities are to keep schools open and increase vaccination:
“We know what to do; people who are sick please stay at home,” Gov. Hochul said. “One of the things I’m excited about is keeping kids in school. Our goal is masks, tests, and increase vaccination.
“One year ago, vaccinations were scare,” Gov. Hochul said. “The vaccines now are plentiful. There is no place where someone can’t get a vaccine. We are looking at a critical moment right no, but we still have to ask more questions.”
The governor reminded New Yorkers that Monday marked the first day that residents could apply for the state’s $539 million Homeowner Assistance Fund. It’s a “federally funded program dedicated to assisting homeowners who are at risk of default, foreclosure or displacement as result of a financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
State officials say they expect expect to receive “significantly” more applications than can be funded by the program. Applications will be processed in the order they were received and they say application submission does not guarantee you will receive financial assistance. The governor said applications will begin to be accepted on January 2, 2022. The state has compiled an Application Guide which includes a list of documents you may need when you are ready to submit your application.
On Sunday, the governor urged all New Yorkers to take proper precautions as they return to work and school after the holiday break.
“New Yorkers returning to schools and workplaces on the first weekday of 2022 should take every possible precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Hochul said in a press release. “We all know the tools that keep us safe: vaccines, boosters, masks and tests. Let’s all do our part and take these common-sense precautions, so New York can defeat the winter surge and come back stronger than before.”
On Friday, the governor announced a new state-run testing site in Rochester, one of nearly 20 new state-run testing sites to open recently throughout New York.
- YMCA Carlson MetroCenter
- 444 E Main Street
- Rochester, NY 14604
- Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- Appointments can now be made online.
Additionally, the governor said testing sites would soon launch at SUNY campuses, and other colleges like Syracuse University, to help alleviate the high demand currently for testing.
“The battle plan is clear and we all have a role to play,” Gov. Hochul said. “I am not saying this pandemic will go away, but how we’re managing it: We are protecting our kids, our businesses and our health for residents.”
Full briefing video
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.