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Hospitalizations Should Have Been Cuomo’s Main Focus In Pandemic

Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo once again changed course on COVID-19.

The winter plan has five parts — making more testing available to the community, discouraging small gatherings, working to keep schools open and preparing a vaccine distribution plan.

These four pieces make some sense. As we saw earlier this week, there is a demand for testing locally that isn’t being filled. Cuomo admitted the state can’t enforce a small gathering ban, but said the state needs to convince people that small gatherings are a bad idea — an area where we can find common ground once the conversation shifts to enforcing a ban on behavior to making the case against the behavior and letting people make up their own mind. Schools haven’t proven to be the breeding ground for COVID-19 that some feared, and in-person learning is preferable to online learning especially for those with small children. And, the last thing anyone wants after waiting months for a vaccine is to have the vaccine rollout be a discombobulated mess.

The fifth plank of the plan, though, is a blast from the past — keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.

After months of tracking new cases of COVID-19 and the percentage of positive tests in county and its overall region, we’re now going back to the focus back in March.

“If I’m really going out on a limb, I would say, guess you start to see a stabilization mid-January at a higher rate raised by the holiday season. After New Year’s, it starts to settle down, you see the rate stabilize, but the rate will be much higher than it is today. That’s why it’s about the hospitalizations,” Cuomo said Monday.

Here in Chautauqua County, for all the concern about mounting caseloads, hospitalizations through Nov. 30 are 13, lower than they were Nov. 1 when the county was dealing with outbreaks in the north and south county.

We actually agree with Cuomo. Hospitalizations are the most important number when it comes to monitoring COVID because the focus since March has been making sure the health care system isn’t overwhelmed. What is frustrating is spending months hearing about microclusters with their color-coded designations and associated lockdowns and the governor and health officials’ focus on the number of cases, the density of cases and percent of positive tests. Of course those numbers and measurements aren’t going away, but now the governor has acknowledged what many have long thought – those numbers were largely window dressing compared to the hospitalization rates that have always been the most important measurement for an area’s problem with COVID-19.

What the governor’s pivot tells us, more than anything else, is that he couldn’t focus on the window dressing any longer because the state couldn’t continue avoiding its own hand-picked benchmarks for a full shutdown of the state. The state now has a list of microcluster zones a mile long with more areas of the state in position to be added. Microcluster shutdowns haven’t been effective in Erie County, as the county has been in an orange or yellow zone for nearly a month with little change in COVID-19 positivity rates.

So, then, it was time to refocus on the number that has been the most important all along.

Wouldn’t we all have been better off if hospitalizations had been our focus all along?

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