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NY to open emergency hospital on Staten Island as cases rise

November 23, 2020 GMT
In this Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 photo provided by the Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Gov. Cuomo holds a press briefing on the coronavirus in the Red Room at the State Capitol in Albany, N.Y. During the news conference, Cuomo predicted a "tremendous spike" in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving as he pleaded with people not to be lulled into a false sense of safety over the holiday. (Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo via AP)
In this Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 photo provided by the Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Gov. Cuomo holds a press briefing on the coronavirus in the Red Room at the State Capitol in Albany, N.Y. During the news conference, Cuomo predicted a "tremendous spike" in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving as he pleaded with people not to be lulled into a false sense of safety over the holiday. (Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo via AP)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s governor said he is reopening an emergency COVID-19 field hospital on Staten Island as the number of infections keep climbing, the first such facility in the state to relaunch since the state partly tamed the pandemic over the summer.

The temporary hospital on the grounds of the South Beach Psychiatric Hospital cared for 200 patients in spring, when New York City’s hospital wards were overwhelmed with seriously ill and dying coronavirus patients.

Now, Cuomo said officials are concerned it might be needed again, as the virus has spread in the borough at a faster rate than in the rest of the city. Staten Island has averaged 209 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the past seven days — up 86% from two weeks ago.

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“The hospitals have contacted us, and they say they need emergency beds on Staten Island,” Cuomo told reporters at a briefing at his Manhattan office Monday.

Staten Island University Hospital now has about 100 COVID-19 patients at its two campuses — up from numbers in the 30s a few weeks ago, though far short of the roughly 300 at the peak in late April, said its executive director, Dr. Brahim Ardolic.

The two campuses total about 650 beds, though a good number are dedicated to pediatric, psychiatric and other specialized needs. After the springtime spike, hospital leaders decided that if the coronavirus patient total climbed back into the 50s or 60s, they would approach the state about reopening the temporary facility so the hospital could ensure continued care for people with other conditions in non-COVID-19 areas, Ardolic said.

The aim is to ensure that people with serious medical problems don’t shy away from hospitals or have difficulty scheduling procedures that are important but classified as elective.

“We were hoping that we were never going to have to do this” but anticipated it might happen, Ardolic said. He said the hospital plans to start making use of the temporary site as soon as Tuesday for virus patients who don’t need the most intensive care.

“I think we’re in a good position to be able to take care of this,” he said, but he urged the community to follow virus precautions: “I’m very worried about the holidays coming up.”

At Richmond University Medical Center, a roughly 470-bed hospital on Staten Island, the caseload of around 19 coronavirus patients is manageable for now. It’s up somewhat from the single-digit numbers that persisted throughout September and most of October, but nowhere near the 210 who were there at the high point in early April, spokesperson Alex Lutz said.

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“The hope is that, while the numbers are expected to increase, it will be a gradual increase, which would be much more manageable than it was in the spring,” Lutz said, with clinicians and staffers able to draw on treatments and other knowledge that’s built up since the initial surge.

Cuomo, a Democrat, also designated the southern half of Staten Island as an “orange zone” under his weeks-old micro-cluster plan, which will require schools and high-risk businesses like gyms to close temporarily, halt indoor dining at restaurants and limit gatherings inside houses of worship to no more than 25 people.

Cuomo announced new orange zones in parts of Onondaga County, home to Syracuse, and Monroe County, home to Rochester.

New yellow zones, which require mandatory testing of students, were also created in several parts of the state.

Cuomo said he is worried that news of vaccines passing clinical trials could give people a false sense of security and lead to laxness about social distancing and mask rules during the holiday season.

“The vaccination is not going to be here in time to stop an increasing infection rate,” he said.

New York state has averaged nearly 5,500 new confirmed cases per day over the past seven days.

Hospitals and nursing homes have reported 665 COVID-19 deaths in the state over the past 30 days — more than in July, August and September combined.

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Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed reporting from New York.