NY travel enforcement up as COVID surges upstate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo provides a coronavirus update during a press conference Monday in the Red Room at the State Capitol. (Provided photo — Mike Groll, governor's office)

ALBANY — Officials updated state microclusters Friday and National Guard patrols will increase in New York airports to reduce community spread of the novel coronavirus as COVID-19 cases surge throughout the U.S., also driving new upstate infections higher than the downstate metropolitan area.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and officials in the state’s Coronavirus Task Force expressed concern as COVID-19 infections continue to surge in more than 45 states across the nation, including neighboring New Jersey with a roughly 5% coronavirus infection rate, Connecticut at 3.7% and 14% positive in Pennsylvania.

South Dakota reported a 52.2% COVID-19 positivity rate this week, with 42% positive in Iowa, according to John Hopkins University & Medicine’s online coronavirus tracker. New York has the fourth-lowest infection rate of the nation’s 50 states at 1.99%, only higher than Vermont, Alaska and Maine.

The state will bolster its mandatory 14-day quarantine policy for out-of-state visitors and travelers when arriving in New York with increased enforcement and patrols at state airports.

All travelers are required to test negative for COVID-19 twice to “test out” of the required isolation period — one within three days of arrival in New York, and another at least four days later.

“You should not land if you do not have proof of a negative test upon landing,” Cuomo said Friday during a telephone call with reporters. “I’m increasing the National Guard. … We have a strict quarantine policy in place.”

State Department of Health officials will look up travelers on the U.S.’s nationwide health communication system who do not have physical evidence of a negative COVID-19 test when landing in the state.

Health officials can search for a person’s coronavirus test results by patient name, address, Social Security number or other commonly collected medical information.

“They can find out one way or the other,” Cuomo said. “There’s a database and it’s going to say if you didn’t take a test, and then there’s a problem.”

More New York Police Department officers will be stationed at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy international airports in New York City.

“I want people to know we’re serious,” the governor added.

Several new microcluster zones have appeared in other areas across the state, including Western New York and the Mid-Hudson region.

Western New York’s infection rate has recently increased from about 1.5% to hovering at about 2.8%.

“Western New York is a problem,” Cuomo said. “Erie County has the highest infection rate at 3.1%. … in general, downstate New York is doing better than upstate New York.”

State Coronavirus Task Force members will study Erie, Monroe and Onondaga counties over the weekend to determine the cause of the prolonged, increased regional infection rate.

“We’re going to talk to the elected officials over the weekend, try to find out exactly what is going on, so that we can design a microcluster strategy that is responsive,” the governor said.

The state’s COVID-19 red zones shifted Friday after weeks of stricter gathering regulations and shuttered nonessential businesses in certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, and Orange, Rockland, Broome and Chemung counties. Focus areas within 3.5 miles of the state’s mapped outbreak are labeled in red, orange or yellow cautionary zones.

Brooklyn’s focus zone area was reduced to smaller boundaries Friday after a positivity decline from 5.9% to 3.1% since early October. The yellow zone was removed in Far Rockaway, Queens, reflecting decreasing new infections and hospitalization rates.

Rockland County’s red zone focus areas will change to an orange warning zone after a decline from a 9.8% to 3.6% COVID-19 positivity rate over the last month. Orange County’s orange zone has remained under 3% positive and will change to a yellow precautionary zone.

“You’re seeing global and national surges that are dramatic and that’s a new reality of COVID,” Cuomo said. “We are obviously at a different phase with COVID, but we have to fully acknowledge in the fall phase, the scientists predicted it would be worse.”

Officials plan to maintain its approach to target and tackle microclusters with oversampled rapid tests and enforced quarantines to prevent a statewide outbreak.

Focus zones in Kew Gardens/Forest Hills, Queens, and Broome, Steuben and Chemung counties will not change.

The target areas in Broome, Steuben and Chemung counties are in the state’s Southern Tier, and several border the now-spiking Western New York region.

The Finger Lakes region’s infection rate increased to 3.2% on Friday, only second to Western New York’s infections.

The Capital Region increased to 1.7% positive COVID-19 cases Friday, up from 1.2% and 1.3% two days prior.

The Mohawk Valley region remained among the state’s lowest new cases at 1.2%. The north country held 1.4% positive — more than twice Wednesday’s positive rate of 0.6%.

“We have a desperate scene across the state, and what’s happening is … people are in control of the spread of the virus,” Cuomo said. “How you behave today determines whether or not you get sick tomorrow. It’s all about individual action. If you take it seriously and you act that way, you will be safer. If you are reckless, you will be less safe. If you don’t believe there’s a risk, you will be less safe, and we’re seeing that vividly.”

With the increased new COVID-19 cases, Cuomo announced Friday all SUNY students will return home to complete the semester online or via remote learning following the Thanksgiving holiday.

Cuomo encouraged state private colleges to adopt similar plans to further reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Last week, the 64-campus system of state public colleges and universities announced a requirement that all students, faculty and staff must test negative for COVID-19 before they are allowed to leave for the semester. Some campuses had plans for certain classes or in-person instruction to resume before the end of the semester.

Earlier this month, the governor discouraged New Yorkers from unnecessary, or nonessential, travel for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

“We’re worried about the holiday season,” Cuomo said. “I’ve cautioned before, people should beware of small gatherings this year.

“We’re worried about behavior in the state. We’re worried about behavior out of the state.”

The state reported 3,209 new COVID-19 infections Friday of 160,705 diagnostic tests, or 1.99% positive statewide, a continuing increase from 1.86% infection rate Thursday.

Hospitalizations increased to 1,321 people, up 44 patients from the day before.

Eighteen New Yorkers died from COVID-19 Thursday, down from 24 deaths Wednesday — a daily high of virus fatalities for the state since the summer.


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