Coronavirus hospitalizations are surging in parts of upstate, including three regions that the Cuomo administration authorized to begin reopening today.

Over the two-week period from May 5 to May 19, hospitalizations for COVID-19 increased by 39 patients or 30 percent in the Finger Lakes, by 40 patients or 91 percent in Central New York, and by 10 patients or 48 percent in the Mohawk Valley, according to state figures (see first chart below).

For the Finger Lakes and Central New York, the May 18th numbers were the highest since the outbreak began.


This is an installment in a special series of #NYCoronavirus chronicles by Empire Center analysts, focused on New York’s state and local policy response to the Coronavirus pandemic.


The population-adjusted hospitalization rate in each of those regions remains low compared to downstate hot spots, and statewide hospitalizations have fallen by more than two-thirds since their mid-April peak (see second chart).

hosp-trends-3944146
Source: NYS Department of Health (click to enlarge)

 

However, the local upward trends suggest that the outbreak is not yet abating in all parts of the state – and raise questions about the coherence of the state’s reopening plan.

That plan, known as New York Forward, spells out seven criteria that each region must meet before beginning a phased rollback of social-distancing restrictions. The criteria are based in part on federal reopening guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – one of which calls for a “downward trajectory (or near-zero incidence) of documented cases over a 14-day period.”

hosp-rates-8664920
Source: NYS Department of Health (click to enlarge)

 

Echoing that standard, one of the state’s criteria lays out a two-part test: A region must either show “a sustained decline in the three-day rolling average of total net hospitalizations … over the course of a 14-day period,” or it must show that its hospitalizations have not increased by more than 15 in a single day.

The second part seemed like an escape valve for low-virus areas, but it has turned out to be pivotal for almost all of upstate New York.

Of the seven regions authorized for reopening, only the least affected area, the North Country, has achieved a sustained decline over 14 days. The other six qualified based on not having had an increase greater than 15 in a single day.

Originally, the rule said regions must never have had such a spike from the onset of the pandemic, which initially disqualified the Capital Region and Western New York. Last week, the Cuomo administration abruptly changed that rule so that it applied only to spikes that happened since May 15, which allowed all seven upstate regions to reopen.

In four of those seven, including the Capital Region and Western New York, hospitalization rates were generally trending down, some more steadily than others. But the Finger Lakes, Central New York and the Mohawk Valley were given the green light even though their hospitalization rates were clearly surging.

There’s room for disagreement about where state officials should draw the line for reopening, and a case to be made for leniency in enforcing those guidelines. Other states that have relaxed restrictions have not yet seen the feared spikes in infections or deaths.

By moving forward in areas with rising hospitalization rates, however, the Cuomo administration is taking a calculated risk – and should be clearer about its thinking, especially with residents of the affected areas.

Among the factors to be weighed is that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator. The people being admitted have likely been sick for several days, and were probably exposed days before that. The number of people in the hospital is also the tip of a much larger iceberg of infections, which in some parts of the state has clearly been growing.

Another thing to watch is the number of positive tests. This metric is not currently part of the state’s reopening criteria, and it can be unreliable because it tends to rise and fall based on how many tests are performed. That said, there are only three regions where the number of positive tests increased over the past two weeks – and the Finger Lakes is one of them (see third chart).

tests-per-day-1384001
Source: NYS Department of Health (click to enlarge)

About the Author

Bill Hammond

As the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, Bill Hammond tracks fast-moving developments in New York’s massive health care industry, with a focus on how decisions made in Albany and Washington affect the well-being of patients, providers, taxpayers and the state’s economy.

Read more by Bill Hammond

You may also like

New York’s Medicaid and Public Health Crises Get Short Shrift in the New State Budget

In spite of an ongoing pandemic and spiraling Medicaid costs, New York's health-care system received surprisingly little attention in the new state budget. On issue after issue, law Read More

Empire State’s new budget is a bridge to nowhere

Looking ahead to an uncertain post-pandemic recovery, New York’s newly enacted state budget for fiscal year 2022 raises spending by staggering amounts that—barring an unlikely rapid return to peak 2019 economic activity in New York City—can't possibly be sustained for more than a few years. The budget is a mid-2020s fiscal disaster in the making: an incomplete bridge over a deepening river of red ink. Read More

New York Lags in COVID-19 Vaccinations for Older Residents

In the race to vaccinate its oldest and most vulnerable residents, New York has fallen behind. Although the state's overall COVID-19 vaccination rate is somewhat higher than the nat Read More

Lawmakers Mull Medicaid Proposals That Would Speed New York Toward a Fiscal Cliff

As a budget deal nears in Albany, reining in spiraling Medicaid costs seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind. Governor Cuomo is advancing only Read More

Tax hike and huge spending increase seem likely in next NY budget

New York state today began its 2022 fiscal year without an adopted budget—which, in itself, is not a big deal. The state government can continue to pay bills and employee salaries next week if either final appropriations Read More

Cuomo Pushes Budget Change Sought by Hospital Group Implicated in Pandemic Scandals

A hospital lobbying group at the heart of scandals plaguing the Cuomo administration is again getting the governor's help in pushing a late change to the state budget. Aides to Gove Read More

The Cuomo Administration Is Withholding Pandemic-Related Records Again

In an echo of the Cuomo administration's stonewalling on nursing home data, the governor's office has for a third time delayed releasing records of its vaccine review panel, this time until mid-April. Read More

Cuomo’s Schedules for the Peak of New York’s Pandemic Show Limited Contact with Outside Experts

As New York's coronavirus pandemic exploded last spring, Governor Cuomo's circle of regular contacts dwindled to a handful of close advisers, according to his recently released official schedules for March and April. Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo "...the Empire Center is the think tank that spent months trying to pry Covid data out of Mr. Cuomo's government, which offered a series of unbelievable excuses for its refusal to disclose...five months after it (the Empire Center) sued, Team Cuomo finally started coughing up some of the records." -Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2021

SIGN UP TO READ ABOUT THE ISSUES IMPACTING NEW YORKERS.