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Cuomo: 'A possible flattening of the curve' as state tops 130,000 coronavirus cases

On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the tracking of hospitalizations, intubations and deaths "suggests a possible flattening of the curve" of infections. Credit: NY Governor's Office

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 Rachelle Blidner, Robert Brodsky, Matt Clark, Candice Ferrette, Bart Jones, Michael O’Keeffe and Olivia Winslow. It was written by Jones.

Coronavirus cases have increased 8,658 statewide since Sunday, even as the tracking of hospitalizations, intubations and deaths "suggests a possible flattening of the curve" of infections, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

But Cuomo on Monday warned against complacency and said he is extending a statewide shutdown of schools and nonessential businesses two more weeks, until April 29.

And showing a flash of irritation, Cuomo complained that many people, especially in New York City, are ignoring social distancing rules as the weather warms. He announced he is hiking the fine for violations from $500 to $1,000, and commanded local authorities to enforce the regulations.

“Now is not the time to be playing Frisbee with your friends in the park. It’s just not,” Cuomo said at his daily press briefing in Albany.

“Now is not the time to go to a funeral with 200 people,” he said in response to a question about reports that weddings and funerals in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County are attracting large crowds.

Cuomo's moves came on a day when the United States surpassed 10,000 deaths from COVID-19, as Christians, including Long Island's major Catholic population, found themselves at the start of Holy Week, remembering the crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.

This week also marks Passover, a major Jewish religious festival.

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Cuomo said he found a glimmer of hope in the latest COVID-19 trends. While the number of deaths increased by 599, from 4,159 reported on Sunday to 4,758 on Monday, the numbers have remained effectively flat for two days. On Saturday, the figure hit a one-day record of 630.

At least 580 people have died on Long Island as a result of the virus, officials said Monday.

Nassau and Suffolk continued to add more than 1,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases each in the last 24-hour period, indicating the crisis is far from over. New York State's total rose to more than 130,000 cases. 

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran echoed Cuomo's call for self-discipline to keep the virus from surging.

“I don’t want to have a false sense of security right now. I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, OK it’s not as bad as we thought, we can all get back to normal,’” Curran said. “No. If you let your guard down, that’s when the virus can really take hold again.”

Nassau County reported 381 deaths since the crisis started, but switched from tracking and confirming its own numbers to using the state's tally, so the count couldn't be immediately compared to the one issued the previous day.

Suffolk County reported 199 deaths, though that figure was last updated as of Sunday night, so the number of deaths is likely higher.

Despite some promising numbers statewide, the governor cautioned the data are not yet definitive and said stringent measures to contain the virus need to remain in force.

If New York is indeed plateauing, he said, it's because social distancing rules and other measures are working.

"Whether we hit the apex or didn’t hit the apex … This is an enemy that we have underestimated from Day One and we have paid dearly” for doing so, he said.

He added that the apex of coronavirus cases can still evolve in different ways, either as a curve, a peak or a plateau, and much will depend on how prevention measures are observed.

“We are going to have a rough week, but there is tremendous light at the end of the tunnel," President Donald Trump said Monday about the difficult climb to the apex. “We will win this battle. We will defeat this enemy and we will rise from this crisis with tremendous unity and resolve.”

Trump said the number of medical military personnel in New York City will rise to 3,000 within the next few days.

Not the time to be lax

Long Island has surpassed 29,000 confirmed infections, with 15,616 in Nassau and 13,487 in Suffolk. Nassau, which added 1,218 positive tests since Sunday, has passed Westchester County with the second-most confirmed cases in the state. //

Suffolk added 1,082 new positive test results since Sunday.

Epidemiologists monitor the number of new coronavirus cases confirmed daily to track how fast the epidemic is growing and look for signs that factors such as social distancing are “flattening the curve,” or slowing its spread.

The number of new cases on the Island began an almost steady increase on March 26. From that date though April 3, new confirmed cases grew by an average of 2,218 a day, with the number of new cases hitting a peak of 2,845 on April 3 and then starting to drop. In comparison, the count of new cases on April 6 was 2,300, down 19% from the peak.

Cuomo announced Monday night that Trump had agreed to his request to convert the USNS Comfort hospital ship to a COVID-19 facility since New York City’s medical system is at the breaking point. Trump agreed to do so.

The Comfort, which docked in the city a week ago, originally was supposed to handle only non-coronavirus patients. Trump already had agreed to allow the Jacob Javits center, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned into a temporary hospital, to accept people being treated for the virus.

The two facilities combined would have 3,500 beds and serve as what he called a “major relief valve” to the city hospitals.

“That is the only way that we sustain this level of intensity in the hospital system,” said Cuomo, a car buff. “This is a hospital system where we have our foot to the floor. And the engine is at red line. And you can’t go any faster, and by the way you can’t stay at red line for any period of time because the system will blow.”

Long Island-based Northwell Health system will help manage the conversion of the two sites to COVID-19 facilities, Cuomo said. They will be staffed mainly by military personnel.

Cuomo said 1,100 military personnel are headed to New York to assist in the health crisis. Some 300 have arrived and were sent to city hospitals. The rest will be arriving Tuesday and Wednesday, and will be sent to the Javits center to get it fully up and running.

“Only the military could bring in that many people that quickly with that logistical operation,” Cuomo said. “God bless the U.S. military.”

New York City remains the center of the state's outbreak. There were an additional 4,630 positive test results since Sunday, with the total confirmed cases in the five boroughs ascending to 72,181.

Cuomo had some tough New York talk for those who aren't taking the threat seriously.

"Now is not the time to be lax," he said. "What right do you have to act irresponsibly in a way that could get you sick or someone else sick," including senior citizens, medical professionals and first responders, " … because you were reckless and irresponsible? You don't have that right."

He said his comments were not aimed at any particular religious group. 

“They should enforce the rule. I don’t care if you are Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Muslim. I don't care what. It's not about religious observation."

Death toll vs. projections

At the press briefing, James Malatras, a member of Cuomo’s coronavirus task force and president of SUNY Empire State College, said some new projections indicate the death toll nationwide might be lower than previous estimates.

Initial projections suggested at least 110,000 deaths, while later ones estimated 55,000, he said. At the current rate, it might come in significantly lower than that if people continue to adhere to strict social distancing guidelines, he said.

“It’s not settled yet,” he said. But current numbers “could suggest that we are indeed potentially at the apex or beginning to be at the apex at this moment.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said that while Suffolk also saw some signs of hope, such as smaller numbers of people being hospitalized, it is unclear if that means the county has hit the plateau of the apex.

“If that’s the case, it’s confirmation of everything we’re doing … it means these sacrifices will and have saved lives,” Bellone said, noting social distancing orders and school and business closures.

But because so much is unknown, “That doesn’t mean we take our foot off the pedal now.”

“The worst thing that could happen is we see some positive news and adjust our lives back to normal and then we see a rise in cases again,” he said, urging “everyone to stay the course.”

He said there is no doubt more deaths are coming. “We know there is more loss to come, but I’m hopeful we may be getting to the point where we’re turning the corner.”

Getting people to comply with social distancing orders is not only a problem in New York City, officials said. Long Island has the same issue.

Suffolk has received 342 calls about noncompliance, including 24 on Sunday, Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. The county has not issued fines because reports either have been unfounded, groups disperse, or businesses become compliant once police have spoken with them, officials said.

The county is also having a hard time reaching immigrant communities and those who speak other languages with messages about social distancing.

“We have been focused on how we ramp up the messaging there,” Bellone said.

COVID-19's regional impact

Meanwhile, the MTA reported the death toll of its workers has risen to 33, subway chief Sarah Feinberg said.

The number of MTA employees infected with COVID-19 is up to 1,167, while another 5,600 are in quarantine because of potential exposure, said Feinberg, the interim president of New York City Transit.

She criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for being too slow to recommend people wear face masks in public. The MTA began urging its riders to cover their faces Thursday.

“We just threw our hands up in the air and said telling healthy people not to wear masks just doesn’t make sense anymore,” Feinberg said.

On Long Island, some 34,223 Nassau County residents have been tested for COVID-19 as of April 5, with 45.6% coming back positive, according to a county spokesperson, citing state health department information.

Suffolk County reported that as of Monday, about 30,900 county residents had been tested for the virus and 43.6% tested positive for COVID-19, according to statistics posted by the county health department.

Earlier on Monday, during an appearance on "Fox & Friends," Bellone thanked Trump for his commitment to shipping 200,000 N95 masks to Suffolk but said the county still faces a rising death toll and challenges securing medical equipment.

Holding a copy of Newsday’s front page from Sunday, which featured a photo of a health care worker wearing a garbage bag for protection, Bellone said: “That’s not who we are.”

While he thanked Trump for the masks, he also said: “What we need more than anything else, in addition to PPE, we need ventilators. We need 500 in this county in the next two weeks to make it through this crisis period.” 

‘A wartime factory’ for NYC

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday toured the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where local companies Crye Precision and LaFayette 148 came together nine days ago to manufacture hospital gowns for medical workers.

“By the end of the day, 9,200 surgical gowns will have been created, by the end of the week, almost 19,000, by the end of the month, 320,000. Amazing contribution to this effort,” de Blasio said.

He called it "a wartime factory.” But he said the hospitals still need more gowns and masks. The city also needs an additional 45,000 medical professionals, he said.

Amazon workers protest again

On Monday afternoon, some employees at the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island walked off the job, for the second time in less than a week, to protest conditions at the facility.

Jordan Flowers, who works in robotics at the JFK8 warehouse, complained that the building was a “breeding ground” for COVID-19, with at least 26 employees reportedly testing positive.

“There are thousands of lives here that are at risk,” Flowers said.

Flowers and other protesters are calling for Amazon to shutter the warehouse for at least two weeks for a thorough cleaning, with staffers continuing to be paid during that time.

Amazon officials said that of more than 5,000 employees at the facility, less than 10 people protested — and half were not Amazon employees.

Calling Amazon workers “heroes,” Amazon spokesperson Rachel Lighty said the company is taking steps, including “tripling down on deep cleaning,” social distancing enforcement, daily temperature screenings and handing out masks.

Anyone registering more than a 100.4 temperature will be sent home and asked to return when they have gone three or more days without a fever. All employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine will receive up to two weeks of pay, the company said.

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