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Cuomo: NY has 142 coronavirus cases; top Port Authority official tests positive

On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York State is making its own hand sanitizer called NYS Clean.  Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Alfonso A. Castillo, Vera Chinese, Lisa L. Colangelo, Scott Eidler, Candice Ferrette, Michael Gormley, Deborah S. Morris and Yancey Roy. It was written by Colangelo.

There are now 142 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York, as more testing is done across the state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

Cuomo said Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York overseeing airports, tunnels and other regional transportation infrastructure, has tested positive for the virus.

One EMS worker with the New York City Fire Department became the first confirmed case of a first responder who tested positive, his union said.

Also, the Manhattan and Queens campuses of the United Nations International Schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, according to UN officials and the schools’ website.

Public schools in Plainview and Shoreham decided to close and colleges suspended face-to-face classes as more people were placed in quarantine to contain the spread.

Earlier in the morning, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran had announced there are 10 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, leading to a total of 17 cases in the county. Forty people in Nassau are in mandatory quarantine and that number is expected to increase, county officials said, noting another 72 people are in precautionary quarantine. Twenty tests are pending. 

Suffolk County had confirmed its first coronavirus case Sunday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases on Long Island to 18.

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Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County Executive, said the man who tested positive is at Southampton Hospital. His condition is improving and a close contact is in quarantine.

The Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. confirmed in a statement that the individual is an employee who had not been in the Peconic brewery and eatery since Feb. 24. The brewery at that location will remain closed through the end of the week while it undergoes a deep cleaning, the statement read.

Bellone said Suffolk County is waiting on test results on nine people, out of 18 tested.

“Given the limited amount of testing that has been done we can expect there are people who have coronavirus who may be unaware," Bellone said at a news briefing. "This is something we will overcome and we will do in a calm, rational fashion. There is no reason to panic."

On Monday afternoon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced eight new confirmed cases bringing the total in the five boroughs to 20. He said 25 people are in mandatory quarantine and 2,019 in voluntary isolation.

Weschester County, the center of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the state, continues to have the most confirmed cases in the state with 98, Cuomo said.

"Westchester is our problem, as you see from the numbers," Cuomo said. He added that the virus "communicates, transmits more easily than the flu and in Westchester what happened was there was a number of large gatherings, several hundred people, and it transmitted through that congregation." 

The governor also said that any school with a positive case of coronavirus will be shuttered for at least 24 hours.

Cuomo said there are no plans to cancel or postpone the state legislative session, though, as lawmakers work over the next three weeks to adopt a state budget by the April 1 start of New York’s fiscal year.

State making hand sanitizer

At his Albany briefing, Cuomo also announced the state, using prison labor, will begin to mass-produce hand sanitizer and distribute it to “hot spots” to try to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The decision for the state to produce its hand sanitizers was prodded by widespread reports of price gouging, he said.

The state will employ Corcraft, a manufacturer run through the state Division of Correctional Services, and using inmate workers, he said. It currently can produce about 100,000 gallons of the fluid per week, but will be “ramping up” from there, Cuomo said.

“We are introducing New York State Clean hand sanitizer, made, conveniently, by the state of New York,” Cuomo said at a State Capitol news conference where he displayed dozens of bottles of the new product, in various-sized containers.

Cuomo called it a “superior product” because it is made of 75% alcohol, compared to a federal recommendation that sanitizers contain at least 60% alcohol. The popular brand Purell contains 70%, he said.

He said the state can produce the sanitizer for $6.10 per gallon and will be providing it to local authorities for free.

“It’s much cheaper for us to make it ourselves than to buy it on the open market,” Cuomo said.

He said it will be first sent to Westchester County's New Rochelle, “which is a hot spot for us.”  

Corcraft is the brand name for a host of products manufactured through the state prison system and sold to local governments, courts, police departments, schools and some nonprofit organizations.

The hand sanitizer will be produced at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, about 65 miles north of Albany.

“All we’re trying to do is reduce the spread,” Cuomo said.

Meanwhile, Northwell Health announced its lab in Lake Success received federal approval Sunday to start testing for the coronavirus. The number of confirmed cases will grow as more tests are completed, officials said.

MTA monitoring response

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said Monday they had activated their “situation room” to continue to monitor and coordinate outbreak response.

MTA chairman Patrick Foye said that officials do not yet have "meaningful data" on whether there’s been a dip in ridership, but "there seemed to be fewer people" on Monday using the transit system that includes the Long Island Rail Road, New York City subways and Metro-North.

"Our first priority is public health. That means, if there's less crowding … that, in the short-term, is a good thing, because it will reduce the risk to the public," Foye said. "If telecommuting is an option, do it.”

The agency, though, will keep the subway, buses, commuter rails and paratransit running, Foye said.

The MTA is continuing its intensified effort to disinfect its entire fleet every 72 hours and all its stations every day. Foye said crews completed the latest round of disinfecting nearly 1,400 LIRR trains over the weekend, and all 124 railroad stations over the last 24 hours.

Foye sent well-wishes to Cotton, who succeeded him in the Port Authority executive role. Although Foye said he did attend a Manhattan transportation event attended by Cotton last week, he has not been in contact with him recently. Other MTA officials who attended are "talking to medical staff and will act accordingly."

"He is a dear and valued colleague and our thoughts and prayers are with him," Foye said of Cotton.

Precautionary measures

Nassau County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said Monday it's likely that state officials will limit visiting hours to hospitals and nursing homes as a precautionary measure, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Officials provided no additional information about the new cases in Nassau County. Of the first seven confirmed cases, six are part of the same cluster in the Town of Hempstead, while an additional person is in the Town of North Hempstead. The investigation into how the North Hempstead individual contracted the virus is ongoing, but that case is not believed to be related to the first six.

"Many of our departments … are all on the front lines of this outbreak, and we're all working very hard to protect the health and safety of our residents, and to get the information out there," Curran said.

She postponed the State of the County address, which was scheduled for Wednesday.

"It's very important that we marshal all of our resources to deal with coronavirus. I don't want to distract those resources," she said.

She stood with religious leaders who discussed precautionary measures that their congregations are taking, from shortening Friday service and distributing hand sanitizer throughout church to not giving handshakes, but instead, nodding heads.

In Huntington, town supervisor Chad Lupinacci said  facilities including town hall and the Flanagan Center, where the town's senior center, adult daycare and youth bureau are based, are getting increased cleanings, including sanitizing frequently-touched surfaces. He said the town-run HART and paratransit bus service are getting additional cleanings as well.

"We're not stopping residents from visiting town facilities but as a precaution for themselves and others, residents should not visit town facilities if they don't have to," he said.

The state's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is implementing a new screening protocol for visitors to each of its 52 correctional facilities. Visitors will be asked about any illness or symptoms they may be experiencing; travel outside of the United States within the past four weeks, including that of family members; and any direct exposure to an individual diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in the past four weeks.

In Suffolk, the Sheriff's Office said Monday that it is immediately suspending "all contact visits" until further notice at its correctional facility and office complex. Newly arriving inmates are being screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and would be quarantined if needed, jail officials said.

CORONAVIRUS, SO FAR

The following are the number of confirmed cases reported by official sources.

  • Worldwide cases: 109,577 (Updated 3/9/20)
  • United States cases: 423 (Updated 3/9/20)
  • Cases in New York: 142 (Updated 3/9/20)
  • Cases in Nassau: 17 (Updated 3/9/20)
  • Cases in Suffolk: 1 (Updated 3/9/20)
  • Cases in New York City: 20 (Updated 3/9/20)

SOURCES: New York State, Nassau County, Suffolk County, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization

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