NY governor declares ‘disaster emergency’ over new variant


FILE – New York’s Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul attends a May Day pro-labor and immigration rights rally, May 1, 2018, in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces possible impeachment following findings from an independent investigation overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James. If the governor resigns or is impeached, Hochul stands poised to become New York’s first female governor in a state whose last three male governors have been marred by scandal. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Bracing for a potential winter spike in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday announced an executive order intended to boost hospital capacity and address staffing shortages.

The protocol comes amid warnings about a new and highly transmissible coronavirus variant, known as “omicron,” that has not yet been detected in New York.

“It’s coming,” Hochul said in a statement Friday.

Her order allows the state health department to limit nonessential surgeries, if needed, to ensure capacity. The governor said the order also will allow the state to acquire critical supplies more quickly.

“I am announcing urgent steps today to expand hospital capacity and help ensure our hospital systems can tackle any challenges posed by the pandemic as we head into the winter months,” Hochul said in the statement.

The move comes amid growing concerns about hospital beds and staffing. Hospitalizations have risen sharply of late in much of the state.

Earlier this week, Erie County — where Hochul lives — said that 91% of available hospital beds there were full and instituted a mask mandate for indoor public places. County and hospital officials pointed to a surge in cases as well as staff shortages at hospitals and nursing homes, where some patients would normally be discharged.

On Thursday, the Democratic governor announced that state officials had intervened to reopen an emergency room on Long Island that temporarily closed due to staffing shortages related to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers.

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