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New York State Tightens Restrictions Amid Rise In Coronavirus Cases

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Coronavirus infections are skyrocketing this weekend - Iowa, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Illinois. There are new restrictions in North Dakota, including a mask mandate and capacity limits in bars and restaurants.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Utica High players are sidelined after one member of the squad tested positive for COVID-19.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: New York is also seeing an increase in cases, and the state is again tightening the reins.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Indoor gatherings, even in private homes, must be capped at 10 people. And a new 10 p.m. curfew for bars, restaurants and gyms, which are already operating at reduced capacity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We remember the scene in New York City this spring - the constant stream of ambulances to hospitals, the refrigerated trucks outside morgues. Governor Andrew Cuomo says the goal is to avoid a repeat statewide.

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ANDREW CUOMO: We're not in denial. We get it. I understand that, politically, it's difficult, but that's what you have to do. You see a little flame - you stamp it out. And we're doing that all across the state.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's been eight long months since the World Health Organization announced this is a pandemic. And the pain and fatigue haven't been limited to ICUs.

AMY BUEME: My name is Amy Bueme, and I own, with my husband, Catalyst Fitness in Buffalo, N.Y.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bueme's seven locations were shuttered for six months. She says that cost her upwards of a million dollars in revenue.

BUEME: So I'm very upset that fitness clubs are being put in the same category as bars and restaurants because they're in two different worlds. The precautions and the safety measures that fitness clubs - that I had to take to open - to be put in, with bars, where you are out with no mask on, is not fair.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And after spending $100,000 to reopen, she does not want to shut down again.

BUEME: So the safety precautions that we are doing - we are being so diligent and what was asked of us. So masks have to be worn 100% - the right masks. As soon as you walk in, we take your temperature. We health screen - all of the questions, and you are told exactly what is expected of you when you are in the club. Everything in the club is social distanced. Everything is 6 feet apart. We have at least four to five cleaners on at a time cleaning everything. We have multiple - multiple - cleaning stations, cleaning bottles, paper towels. We have had to change all of our filters. We've - to our HVAC units. We had to change them to be adaptable to the units that we had. And we also put in Reme Halos, which is an ultraviolet light that comes down and kills all MRSA bacteria, the virus of COVID, in the air.

So I - as far as I'm willing to go right now is the new restrictions came out that we have to close by 10 p.m. You know what? I'm fine with that - as long as I can stay open and be able to give my members that outlet to be happy and healthy. But if Governor Cuomo or our mayor or our local politicians say that fitness clubs have to shut down because they are problematic, or we are the same as a bar, I will fight. I will not shut my doors. I will fight and fight for the right of my members to be able to have this and that we are essential.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Syracuse is a couple of hours to the east by car. Ben Walsh is the mayor there.

BEN WALSH: I'm currently sitting in my kitchen, where I'm in quarantine for the second time in about a month. Thankfully, I have not contracted the virus, nor have my - any of my family members.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But cases in Syracuse have tripled since Halloween. Walsh says he knows people have gotten tired.

WALSH: We've all been through so much. People have experienced personal losses, professional losses. And it's taken a toll on the community. And I think that you've seen that when there have been opportunities to gather, whether it be at restaurants or bars or at private gatherings, I think people have generally felt like, after having sacrificed so much, that it might be worth the risk. But we're seeing in a relatively short amount of time where people have let their guard down - that the numbers have responded very quickly. So we've certainly learned a lot since the spring. And when we look at hospital stays, hospital stays are actually shorter right now, and that's because we've figured out how to better treat the virus. I think we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccine continues to make progress. But now's the time that we really need to hunker down and get through these last difficult months.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's hoping the local hospitality industry gets through, as well, with help from the city in getting protective equipment for service and heat lamps, so people can eat safely outdoors. The average low in January in Syracuse is 14 degrees.

WALSH: We're a hardy breed up here in Syracuse. We do spend a good amount of time outdoors, even in the winter. But this winter, we're going to have to spend a little bit more. But I think we're ready for it. And we're trying to get creative about it. So we're going to make the best of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The city is also home to Syracuse University, where more than 200 students currently have the virus and hundreds more are in quarantine. Kristy Liu (ph) is a senior studying forensic science and psychology. She's also a contact tracer for the school.

KRISTY LIU: If we get a positive case, our job is to find out who those people were in contact with - for example, I'll ask them, is there anyone you could've seen in the past two days before you started feeling symptoms? And they'll be like, yeah, I have a roommate. Oh, yeah, you know, I did go to see my friend. We went out to dinner together or something.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it hasn't just been dinners and roommates. Halloween was a big weekend for off-campus parties.

LIU: I was very worried about Halloween weekend. And I think my prediction might have come true, unfortunately. There's a couple hundred at least that we have put into quarantine or are going to be. Like, we've all been slammed at work at the office. It's just, like, a pile of folders of cases that we need to go through. And I do feel a little disappointed that we were doing so well, and then all of these cases popped up so suddenly. It's like we couldn't even curb the spread, you know?

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Tonight, another upstate New York college is moving online early due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That Monday announcement from Syracuse University may have been a surprise, but there was always going to be a winter break. Liu says she's worried about students returning home for the holidays. They'll be leaving one of the many places in America seeing an alarming rise in infections and could be bringing the virus with them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.