NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, joined New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for a coronavirus briefing Monday as hospitals across the state were ordered to add 25% more beds to handle growing numbers of coronavirus patients.
Cuomo and public health experts expect hospitalization rates to continue rising until at least mid-January.
“You’d expect the effect of the Thanksgiving surge would probably be another week or a week-and-a-half from now,” said Dr. Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, who joined Cuomo’s briefing by livestream Monday.
The health director said that increased viral spread around the holidays could make for a “dark” period of time in mid-January.
“The problem is that’s going to come right up to the beginning of a Christmas-Hanukah potential surge — so you have a surge upon a surge,” Dr. Fauci said. “I think not only for New York state, but for any state or city that is facing similar problems, without substantial mitigations the middle of January could be a really dark time for us.”
“You get indoors, you take your mask off, because you’re eating and drinking and you don’t realize there may be somebody you know who is perfectly well, has no symptoms, but they got infected in the community and are bringing it into your home,” Dr. Fauci said. “Mid-January is probably going to be a bad time.”
The health director said he agreed with states limiting the amount of people allowed in homes for private social gatherings.
“I think that’s a very sound rule, and I feel 10 may even be a bit too much,” Dr. Fauci said. “It’s not only the number, but it’s the people who might be coming in from out of town.”
Dr. Fauci said that schools have done a good job of keeping the spread down.
“The test positivity in schools is actually really low, which is really a good thing, which is one of the reasons why when we were talking about what the strategy would be,” Dr. Fauci said. “We would say something like ‘close the bars and keep the schools open’ is the best thing to do, so long as you subsidized and help the bar owners.”
The health director told Gov. Cuomo that New York’s relatively low infection rate doesn’t surprise him.
“I have to say, being a New Yorker, governor, it doesn’t surprise me,” Dr. Fauci said. “As [Gov. Cuomo] and I have discussed on many phone calls we have had, you got hit with a sucker punch right from the beginning. Then you rebounded and you rebounded in a way that you kept your test positivity rate low because you did the prudent things you needed to do. I was following here in Washington and when things looked bad you tightened the rope a bit and when they got better you eased up.”
The governor said hospital capacity remains the top issue as virus cases climb throughout the state. The governor said some actions, like suspending elective surgeries, can help create hospital capacity.
“We can add 5,000 additional field hospital beds that would be, from my point of view, the last resource,” Gov. Cuomo said Monday. “We did that. I just hope we never have to get to that point again. Today the Department of Health is going to issue an order saying hospitals have to increase bed capacity by 25%. We can issue up to 50%, but we’re only going to go to 25% because we don’t have a capacity criticality at this moment.”
The governor said he recognizes that a prolonged pandemic puts a strain on hospital resources, especially in regards to staffing.
“We are aware of staff resources,” Gov. Cuomo said. “The staff comes into this stress, you want to talk about a long year? We’re going to ask retired doctors and nurses to sign up and we will automatically register them in the state without cost.”
The governor said hospital systems are better prepared for the recent COVID-19 surge compared to what happened earlier in the year.
“What happened in the spring was — not the system got overwhelmed, but individual hospitals got overwhelmed,” Gov. Cuomo said. “What our flex says is those hospitals have to flex patient load and share it first within their system. We also shift patient load among private hospitals, which was frankly more unorthodox.”
The governor said that if a region’s hospital capacity reached critical levels, the state will initiate NY PAUSE orders in that region, which resembles shutdowns seen earlier in the pandemic.
“What is critical hospital capacity?” Gov. Cuomo said. “Our formula is if your seven-day average shows that within three weeks you will hit critical hospital capacity, we close you down. If after five days we haven’t seen a stabilization in the region’s hospital rate, we’re going to clamp down on indoor dining.”
The governor warned again that holiday socializing and non-compliance can make matters worse.
“I’ve been talking until I’m blue in the face about the apparent safety of being in your home,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Your living room is not really a safe zone. This isn’t a political question, Trump’s CDC and Biden’s advisors all agree on the guidance, but it’s about personal responsibility. Community concerns and compliance are major issues.”
Even as cases and hospitalizations rise throughout New York, the governor says the state as a whole is doing much better than most throughout the country.
“The good news is New York still has one of the lowest positivity rates in the nation,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Only Maine, Vermont, and Hawaii are lower than we are. So for us to be down that low, is really good news. As a matter of fact, our worst region, our highest region in terms of positivity, is still lower than 41 states. So it’s tricky because relative to everyone else, we’re doing well, but the real question is it’s not a relative contest at the end of the day.”
The Associated Press and NewsNation affilate WROC contributed to this report.