Coronavirus Updates: CDC Report Confirms Early NYC COVID Transmission Was From Europe
This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Thursday, July 16th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.
New York City is in Phase 3 of reopening now, which includes nail salons, tattoo parlors, and massage facilities as well as recreation like tennis and basketball courts; dog runs are also reopening. A look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the coronavirus cases in New York City at the start of the pandemic were from Europe, prompting a new round of outrage from Governor Andrew Cuomo. "The virus came to New York, and Americans died, because of government failure," he said in call with journalists on Thursday afternoon. "These are the facts. They missed the science."
The report, titled, "Detection and Genetic Characterization of Community-Based SARS-CoV-2 Infections — New York City, March 2020," notes, "The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducted sentinel surveillance of influenza-like symptoms (ILS) and genetic sequencing to characterize community transmission and determine the geographic origin of SARS-CoV-2 infections. Among 544 specimens tested from persons with ILS and negative influenza test results, 36 (6.6%) were positive. Genetically sequenced positive specimens most closely resembled sequences circulating in Europe."
The CDC also noted that while domestic airport screening and bans "on foreign nationals traveling from China" were put in place on February 2nd, "similar travel restrictions from the Schengen Area in Europe were only implemented March 13th," when the virus was already in New York. "Although travel restrictions are an important mitigation strategy, by the time the European restrictions were implemented, importation and community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 had already occurred in NYC."
Cuomo reiterated the point about the European travel ban being too late, "The president likes to talk about the travel ban [on Chinese flights] that was effective... his own CDC says the travel ban was too late." He pointed out how there were thousands of flights from Europe landing at JFK and Newark Airports in early March.
The CDC report also bolsters Mount Sinai's findings, published in April, that said the genome associated with COVID-19 patients in NYC resembles a strain of the virus from Europe.
A frustrated Cuomo warned, "There will be a second wave, [but] it's not going to be a mutated virus... it's going to be a rebound of COVID from other states that got infected, transmitting it back to New York."
The governor said this would be a "double-barreled shotgun of federal incompetence," and urged, "Follow the science, Mr. President. Open your eyes. Listen to the federal health officials."
NYC's Phase 4 Won't Include Additional Indoor Activity, Cuomo Says
1:30 p.m. New York City's Phase 4 won't include additional indoor activity like malls and cultural institutions once the city moves into the final COVID-19 reopening phase, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced during a press call on Thursday.
NYC is on track to go into Phase 4 on Monday, but Cuomo said a final decision won't be announced until 4 p.m. Friday.
All other regions in New York have entered Phase 4, which includes low-risk outdoor and indoor activities like zoos, gardens, historical sites, malls and museums. It also includes schools and sports competitions without fans.
Cuomo didn't say when those indoor activities could reopen in the city.
On Wednesday, 14 New Yorkers died from the coronavirus, Cuomo said. Hospitalizations dropped by 18 to 813 in the state. The positivity rate was about 1 percent—769 of the 72,685 COVID-19 tests came back positive.
Though the infection rate remains steady, the governor emphasized infection increases elsewhere in the country could come back to hurt New York and doubled down on compliance of social distancing rules at bars and restaurants.
“That’s one of the things we’re worried about in New York is the virus coming from the states with the high infection rates. It’s our pleasure to help Houston, to help Atlanta, to help states across the nation deal with it," he said on the press call, joined by Houston's Mayor Sylvester Turner. "It’s the right thing to do as Americans. It’s also in our self-interest because we are all in this together.”
A new rule will now allow officials to shutter an establishment after three violations of social distancing regulations. Previously, officials could revoke a business's liquor license.
"If we do not enforce compliance, the virus will spread," Cuomo said. "It is that simple. If you eat a piece of cheesecake, you will see it on the scale tomorrow. Our actions create the response of the virus."
Cuomo said the state’s mandated 14-day quarantine rules for out-of-state travelers saw a 92 percent compliance rate, which refers to travelers who fill out forms before they leave an airport. State officials do random checks on those who fill out the airport forms, though he didn't say how many people were checked. An upstate county saw its infection rate rise after New Yorkers returned on a flight from Atlanta last week.
“It’s like any other law. You can speed, yeah, but if you get caught, you get the ticket,” Cuomo said. “This is a totally new function for state government. We have no border control. It’s not what the state does.”
Governor Cuomo Launches Nationwide Mask Campaign
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched a national campaign today titled “Mask Up America,” which features short PSAs from big names. Though the campaign is nationwide, it's New York-made, so the spots also feature the #NYTough motto.
Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, Kaitlyn Dever, Jamie Foxx, John Leguizamo, Anthony Mackie, Rosie Perez, Ellen Pompeo and Jeffrey Wright all contributed to the PSAs, which were produced by Tribeca Enterprises Jane Rosenthal and directed by Academy Award-winner Kathryn Bigelow.
As other states are seeing spikes in infection rates, the awareness campaign aims to “urge all Americans to wear a mask while in public to help stop the spread of the virus.” This week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp disputed the importance of masks and suspended local mask mandates in the state.
"New Yorkers suffered gravely when this pandemic hit our state and as we see other states battle the surge of COVID-19, we want to be sure all Americans know what we know here — that it is essential to wear a mask in order to protect one another," Governor Cuomo said. "We can only beat this virus if we are united as one, not divided by ideology or politics. In that spirit we worked with the best and most creative team to deliver this vital message in multiple ways and in different voices — I wear a mask to protect you and you wear a mask to protect me. It is simple as that. Mask Up America."
The campaign is in partnership with the Ad Council "for use by broadcast and digital media outlets," and will air in donated media time nationwide. The 30-second TV spots (two of which are available for viewing now) are titled: "You Have My Respect," "Join the Battle," "Come On, America," "For the Love Of," "An Easy Lift," "Face Facts," "It's Your Shift," and "Show Some Love."
COVID-19 Data Disappears From CDC Site
Data from hospitals about patients and hospital capacity vanished from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website this week, after the Trump administration forced the data to be sent to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The shift, according to the NY Times, "has alarmed health experts who fear the data will be politicized or withheld from the public," and prompted former CDC heads to write an op-ed in the Washington Post titled "We ran the CDC. No president ever politicized its science the way Trump has."
A spokesperson for the CDC told Gothamist this morning, "Effective July 15th, 2020, hospitals will no longer report COVID-19 capacity, staffing, and supply-related data to CDC’s NHSN. Thus, NHSN hospital-reported COVID-19 data summaries will no longer be provided." (More information can be found in this HHS FAQ letter.)
The guidance, updated on July 10th, stated, in part: "The following [testing, capacity, and utilization] data will greatly assist the White House Coronavirus Task Force in tracking the movement of the virus, identifying potential strains in the healthcare delivery system, and infoming [sic] distribution of supplies. If reporting multiple facilities at once, it is critical that this data be reported at the facility and county level of detail rather than just a total summary. Data must be submitted in accordance with the definitions and formats specified. Submit data once per calendar day."
Ryan Panchadsaram, who runs Covid Exit Strategy, told CNBC that they regularly use the CDC's data, but on Tuesday, "We were surprised because the modules that we normally go to were empty. The data wasn’t available and not there. There was no warning.”
According to the Times, data that had been previously submitted to the CDC through its National Healthcare Safety Network would now be sent to "the new centralized system, which is managed by TeleTracking, a health data firm with headquarters in Pittsburgh. However, if hospitals were already reporting such information to their states, they could continue to do so if they received a written release saying the state would handle reporting... Both the CDC network and the TeleTracking system set up by Health and Human Services rely on so-called push data, meaning hospital employees must manually enter data, rather than the government tapping into an electronic system to obtain the information."
In an interview this morning, HHS Secretary Alex Azar claimed the agency is solving a problem:
The Trust for America's Health, a non-partisan non-profit health policy group, called the move to house data directly in HHS with a new system "counter-productive," adding that "the planning for this new approach did not substantively involve officials at the local, state, tribal and/or territorial levels. This is a time to support the public health system not take actions which may undermine its authority and critical role."
On Thursday, HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo told CNBC, "Yes, HHS is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus. Therefore, HHS has directed CDC to re-establish the coronavirus dashboards it withdrew from the public on Wednesday.”