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Trump: NY to get 1,000 beds for coronavirus patients, more to come

President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task

President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on Sunday in Washington. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

Newsday is opening this story to all readers so Long Islanders have access to important information about the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates.

This story was reported by Vera Chinese, Lisa L. Colangelo, Scott Eidler, Anthony M. DeStefano, Laura Figueroa-Hernandez, Rachelle Blidner, Jesse Coburn and Michael O'Keeffe. It was written by Chinese and Colangelo.

President Donald Trump promised Sunday that an additional 2,000 badly needed hospital beds are en route to New York — one of the epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic — with half of them arriving within 48 hours.

Trump said the federal government has already provided the state with more than 186,000 masks, 84,000 face shields and 68,000 surgical gowns to fight the virus. But that figure was a fraction of the millions of masks Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said the state is seeking.

Within the next two days, however, the federal government will also send four large medical stations that will provide 1,000 additional hospital beds, the president said. Within three weeks, the 1,000-bed hospital ship USNS Comfort will also be sent to New York, Trump said.

The president said he approved Cuomo’s request for FEMA to set up 1,000 additional hospital beds, which Cuomo said earlier in the day would be set up at a makeshift hospital at New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Trump added that the agency will provide staff and equipment for the makeshift hospital.

Cuomo had announced FEMA will erect the four federal hospital facilities within the Javits Center, in addition to a temporary hospital to be constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Each of the four federal hospitals will have 250 beds.

Trump said the federal government will also cover 100% of the cost involved with mobilizing the National Guard in New York, waiving the 25% that the state usually contributes for utilizing the Guard.

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He also confirmed that he approved New York's request "for a major disaster declaration.” The declaration “makes federal funding available for Crisis Counseling for affected individuals in all areas in the State of New York,” the White House said in a statement.

“We’re enduring a great national trial, and we will prove that we can meet the moment,” Trump said.

The White House said New York’s disaster declaration will also provide federal funding to “state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, for all areas in the State of New York impacted by COVID-19.”

"We're sort of a backup for the states," Trump said. "These are three states that really do need help because they have been hit very hard," he said, referring to New York, California and Washington.

The administration has been under pressure from Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials to step in to help health care workers who are running short on supplies.

Earlier Sunday, Cuomo had called on Trump to nationalize efforts aimed at securing medical equipment to combat the coronavirus pandemic and said New York State leads the nation in confirmed cases.

Cuomo, who also announced Sunday clinical trials for drugs to combat the coronavirus are starting Tuesday, said states are competing with each other and other countries for breathing ventilators and other medical supplies.

"The states can't handle it," Cuomo said during his daily coronavirus briefing. "That's why I believe the federal government should take over that function."

The governor also urged the federal government to invoke the Defense Production Act, enacted in 1950 at the start of the Korean War, which would order privately owned factories to produce masks, gowns, ventilators and other equipment.

With 6,000 ventilators, the state is still far short of the 30,000 projected to be needed if the outbreak surges, Cuomo said. Without that equipment, which costs between $16,000 and $40,000 per unit, "we can lose lives that we could have otherwise saved," he said.

New York has surpassed 15,000 confirmed cases, with 10,764 in New York City alone, making it the hardest-hit state in the nation, Cuomo said. Of those statewide cases, 1,974 or 13%, are hospitalized, he said. There have been 374 deaths nationwide, and as of Sunday night, 114 in New York State and 99 in New York City.

Cuomo said he is backing the recommendation of the Army Corps of Engineers to create the four temporary hospital sites in the state to handle the expected increased need in beds due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The sites include the Javits center, SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury and the Westchester Convention Center. The Army Corps of Engineers will construct indoor facilities at the SUNY campuses with outdoor tent support. Health care staff will reside in campus dorms.

The governor said the lack of medical equipment like ventilators, gloves and masks will stress health professionals' ability to treat patients to the breaking point.

"The president should step it up," Cuomo told CNN host Wolf Blitzer before Trump's Sunday evening news conference. "He is a fellow New Yorker. He is a get-it-done guy. This is how you get it done. … We need the essential medical equipment."

Cuomo said the state has secured thousands of samples of the drugs hydrooxychloroquine, zithromax and chloroquine for testing to see whether they can be effective against the coronavirus.

"We're going to get this supply and the trial will start this Tuesday," Cuomo said at an Albany news conference. The president, he said, "is optimistic about these drugs and we are all optimistic that it could work. I've spoken with a number of health officials and there is a good basis to believe that they could work."

Hospitals are directed to increase their capacity by a minimum 50%, with a goal of 100%, the governor said.

Cuomo also called on the Food and Drug Administration to approve testing to detect coronavirus antibodies and determine who has recovered from the disease, noting those who have fought off the virus will likely be immune.

"That can help us get our medical staff back to work faster," he said.

On Long Island, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said on Sunday that three more people in the county have died from the virus, bringing the total number of fatalities to 12. 

Bellone said the latest victims included a man in his 80s who passed away in his home on March 18, a man in his 60s who passed away at Stony Brook Hospital on March 14 and a man in his 50s who was deceased upon arrival at Southampton Hospital. The victim in his 60s had also been involved in an automobile accident.

In Nassau, there have been 6,171 tests completed with 1,900 confirmed positive, according to figures presented by the governor. In Suffolk County, 4,809 tests have been completed with 1,034 positive.

Bellone, who has been in voluntary quarantine with his family since a top aide tested positive for the virus, said 89 people with the virus are in Suffolk County hospitals including 28 in the intensive care unit. Over 2,000 tests have taken place at the Stony Brook drive-thru facility so far, he said.

The county has shifted to a “mitigation strategy,” where health officials are reaching out to patients with confirmed cases and contacting people they have been in contact with who are in “essential businesses,” such as first responders and health care workers, he said. Officials are encouraging patients to notify anyone they’ve had close contact with of their case. Previously, officials were tracking each case and contacting everyone who came into contact with those patients.

In addition, Bellone said, starting Monday, riders on Suffolk County Transit buses will be required to board on the back of the bus. The first few rows of seats will remain empty in an effort to create social distancing between the riders and drivers.

de Blasio — who has also called on the Trump administration to invoke the Defense Production Act — said on Sunday said the city will organize production of essential materials within the five boroughs. Specifically, top aides will work with city agencies and the business sector to maximize production of ventilators, masks and other essential items. 

“The notion of this city left in so many ways on its own to deal with this crisis is deeply painful but we don’t take it lying down," de Blasio said during a Sunday afternoon news conference. "We are going to fight for all the resources and support we deserve and need.”

De Blasio also said he spoke to Cuomo about reducing density in parks and other public spaces and the possibility of closing city streets to give people a place to exercise and get fresh air.

He said the next 10 days are critical to preventing more deaths and protecting medical personnel from getting sick.

"This is only just beginning," de Blasio said. "April is going to be a lot worse than March, and May could be worse than April. … We are 10 days away now from widespread shortages of fundamental supplies."

The mayor said the city will release 23 inmates Sunday from correction facilities. They are all over age 50 and at a low risk to reoffend, he said. There are another 200 under review for release.

De Blasio said they are trying to come up with a plan that balances safety in the jail with public safety. 

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said 98 members of the NYPD have tested positive for COVID-19. Of that number, 70 are uniformed officers and 28 are civilian employees.

An NYPD official said that the sick call rate for the department was over 5%, which means that about 1,800 to 1,900 officers have called in to use sick time related to any variety of illness or child care or personal issues. The rate is expected to hit 6% or 2,100 officers soon.

Also Sunday, local members of Congress penned a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking her to include a repeal of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as part of the phase three COVID-19 economic relief package. The act capped state and local tax deduction and property tax deduction at $10,000.

"The cap is unfair to moderate-income Americans and disproportionately harmful to taxpayers in states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California that have been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic," the letter read. "Furthermore, at a time when the nation is relying on its governors and mayors to be effective and proactive in response to this historic public health crisis, high earners are moving to lower tax states because of the SALT deduction cap. The loss of these tax revenues to state and local coffers is further hindering the ability of these and other hard-hit states to address the current crisis."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), appearing Sunday on "The Cats Roundtable," a radio program hosted by John Catsimatidis, said “people have to do what they’re asked to do,” and stop congregating. 

“Let’s work together as Americans the way we did during World War II … during the race to the moon … after 9/11 … we have to get that true American spirit back and working," King said.

Meanwhile the extent of the virus's reach continued Sunday as the office of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced on his Twitter account that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

"[Paul] is feeling fine and is in quarantine," the tweet said. "He is asymptomatic and was tested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events. He was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person."

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