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Cuomo: NY past 10,000 coronavirus deaths, but data shows continued progress

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the death toll

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the death toll in New York State has surpassed 10,000 as 671 people died from the coronavirus on Easter. Credit: NY Governor's Office

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This story was reported by Jim Baumbach, Rachelle Blidner, Alfonso A. Castillo, Robert Brodsky, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones, Michael O’Keeffe, David Reich-Hale and David M. Schwartz. It was written by Jones.

The coronavirus death toll in New York has surpassed 10,000, with 671 people perishing on Easter Sunday, even as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared Monday that “the worst is over” with the spread in the state.

The death toll in New York is now double Iran's total and nearly triple China's. The only countries with more coronavirus deaths than New York are Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom.

Long Island's toll also ticked up, reaching 1,478 deaths.

New York State has diagnosed more coronavirus cases than any country in the world, outside the United States, reaching more than 195,000 confirmed cases.

Amid that devastating landscape, Cuomo said the good news is that ICU admissions and intubations of COVID-19 patients both moved into negative territory over the last 24-hour period. Overall hospitalizations remained stable — indicating the state has reached a high point and will hopefully start seeing declines.

“It appears we have a plateau,” Cuomo said at his daily press briefing in Albany, as he explained that the number of coronavirus patients has hovered at about 18,000 patients. “That’s definitely a flattening. That is good news.”

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He added: “The worst can be over and it is over, unless we do something reckless,” saying it is imperative that people continue to observe social distancing and stay-at-home measures to curb the spread. “The worst is over … if we continue to be smart going forward."

Suffolk and Nassau counties were showing encouraging signs, too, with state figures issued Monday tallying new positives of coronavirus around 800 each after at least a week of totals of more than 1,000 every day. Nassau had hit a high of about 1,900 new positives last week.

As the numbers started to improve, Cuomo became involved in some internecine political brawling with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Donald Trump over who has the authority to order schools and economies to reopen.

While Cuomo called the latest deaths “terrible” and “painful” news, bringing the state total to 10,056, it was also the first time in a week the daily toll fell below 700. Nassau had 64 new deaths, for a total of 910. Suffolk had 50 new deaths, for a total of 568.

Cuomo declared that “we are controlling the spread” of the deadly virus, but that “there is going to be no epiphany. There is going to be no morning where the headline days, 'Hallelujah, it’s over.’ That’s not going to happen.”

Instead, the crisis will fully end only when a vaccine is discovered and widely distributed, probably 12 to 18 months from now, he said.

New York State now has 195,031 cases of coronavirus, but Department of Health figures show it only added 6,337 since Sunday, after logging 8,000 to 10,000 new positives a day for more than a week.

Long Island had a total of 1,632 new positives for 46,001 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Suffolk showed some encouraging trends, with the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients dropping by 19, and the number in ICU beds dropping by 48, County Executive Steve Bellone said. Intubations also fell.

“To see all three of those numbers down, however slightly, is a good thing,” Bellone said.

Hospitalizations decreased for the second day in a row, a small reprieve after those numbers had risen for weeks, Bellone said.

“It’s not enough to tell us we’ve seen the worst of this at this point, but it is another positive indicator,” Bellone said.

States working together

After his daily update on the COVID-19 response, Cuomo in the afternoon held another news conference with the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island, who were phoning in to announce a coordinated regional approach toward reopening economic activity and returning to life in general.

Massachusetts joined the multistate effort later in the day, Cuomo's office said.

Each state committed to appoint three officials to the ad hoc group. The governors emphasized that officials in the interconnected region must work together, because the coronavirus does not respect state borders.

Meanwhile, Trump weighed in on who can order states to reopen their economies: He can.

The president first took to Twitter, where he said that opening up the states would be his decision. He repeated that assertion at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus response. “I have the ultimate authority,” Trump said. 

Cuomo and other governors contend it is their legal right, and they are the ones who shut down their schools and economies in the first place. Some cited a lack of federal leadership or a broad national plan for their actions.

Cuomo, speaking later on CNN, said, “Either it’s A or it’s B … either the federal government does it or the states do it … he [Trump] has to put forth the model.”

While Cuomo had said he wants to reopen the state as much as anyone, he's seeking to manage "a delicate balance" to prevent a resurgence of the virus.

"So, yes, open the valve, slowly, advised by experts, keep your eye on the meter," he said. "The meter is the infection rate … and if you see that infection rate ticking up … then you know you’ve opened the valve too fast."

The return to usual activities will have to be deliberate and gradual, and guided by data, he said.

“It’s not going to be, we flick a switch and everybody comes out of their house and gets in their car and waves and hugs each other and the economy all starts up," Cuomo said. "What will happen is there will be points of resolution over time … and it will be incremental."

For his part, de Blasio said earlier Monday that it would be "weeks and weeks" before New York City's economy can fully reopen.

On Long Island, there were other signs the pandemic is hitting a plateau and a reopening could be inching closer.

Northwell Health said its number of coronavirus patients dipped below 3,300 for the first time in more than a week. Northwell reported it had 3,267 COVID-19 patients at its 19 hospitals, including 11 on Long Island.

The New Hyde Park-based health system had been reporting between 3,300 and 3,400 daily patients throughout last week.

Northwell said no hospital was above 100% occupancy, but many facilities were close to reaching that as of Monday morning.

Catholic Health Services, which operates six hospitals on Long Island, also said Monday afternoon its numbers were dropping: from 956 on Friday to 918.

Managing the crisis

In Nassau, which reported 805 new coronavirus cases for a total of 24,358 confirmed cases since the outbreak's start, County Executive Laura Curran said the numbers showed the effectiveness of containment efforts.

"We are managing this crisis. The evidence is because of these numbers, as high as they are, they're not as high as they predicted they could have been mounting because we've been able to flatten the curve."

She also cautioned the public not to relax in observing preventive measures.

 "Please keep your foot on the gas, we are keeping our foot on the gas, so we don't get a boomerang effect," she said. "We have more … COVID patients leaving the hospital than we do have new patients coming in. That's been happening for a good week now."

She added that models are not necessarily predicting how much longer the health crisis will be sustained.

"The models don't indicate whether the climb down will be any longer or shorter than that torturous climb up to the plateau where we are now," Curran said. "So we will continue to manage this crisis by focusing on the numbers, by focusing on the models and by coordinating with our regional partners on how we get back to a new normal on how we get back to a balance in life."

Suffolk County reported 827 new cases for a total of 21,643. New York City had 3,555 new cases, for a total of 106,763, the state figures showed.

All state testing locations were closed Monday, and appointments were rescheduled due to bad weather.

In Albany, Cuomo reiterated his position that he has the authority, and not de Blasio, to decide when to open the city's public schools. De Blasio had announced Saturday that the schools would stay shut for the rest of the academic calendar.

Despite what he called "a horrific level of grief and pain and sorrow" from the lives lost to the virus, Cuomo tried to sound an optimistic note that the number of total admissions in hospitals and the severity of illnesses indicate "a basic flattening, as opposed to increasing gaps" in the outbreak.

Still, he cautioned New Yorkers not to let up in observing social distancing and staying home to prevent further spread.

“If we do something stupid, you will see those numbers go right back up tomorrow," he said. Cases are decreasing "because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Fate did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that."

Hospitalizations in areas surrounding New York City also remained steady over the last week, with the governor saying the state had been aggressive in responding to hot spots in the suburbs, including Long Island: "You have to run over to those embers and stamp them out.”

Curran on Monday reported that as of Sunday night, there were 2,464 COVID-related hospitalizations in Nassau, an increase in 10 from the day before. There were 145 discharges as of Sunday night, significantly higher than the number of new admitted patients. There were 481 COVID-patients on ventilators, a decrease of eight from the day before.

"We're at this plateau, we have about seven or eight days now where we've had more leaving than coming into the hospitals, that indicates a plateau," she said. "However, we don't know how we're getting down yet, we haven't seen this movie yet."

Focal points for cases

Nearly a quarter of all COVID-19-related deaths throughout New York have been residents of nursing homes or other adult care facilities, according to new data released by the state Monday.

Of the 10,056 coronavirus-related deaths in the state, 1,979 are people who were living in nursing homes, making up 19.7% of cases, and another 479 were residents of other adult care facilities, making up 4.8% of cases, such as various group homes and assisted living programs.

In Suffolk, the number of deaths coming from those type of facilities is higher than the rest of the state, representing more than 40% of the county's reported fatalities.

Of Suffolk's 568 virus-related deaths, 141, or 24.8%, are from people living in nursing homes, and 95, or 16.7%, from adult care facilities.

In Nassau, of the county’s 910 virus-related deaths, 180 have been nursing home residents, making up 19.8%, and 81 from other adult care facilities, adding up to 8.9% of cases.

The state has declined to release the number of nursing home and adult care residents who have contracted the virus, citing privacy concerns of individual residents.

NYC 'weeks and weeks' from relaxing rules

Earlier Monday, de Blasio said New York City is at least “weeks and weeks” from relaxing restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

He called on the federal government to boost testing so the city and the economy can begin to open up. He said he is not convinced the area has hit a plateau in the rate of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations yet, and fears a resurgence.

“I’m saying to my fellow New Yorkers, hold the line now because we have beat it back some,” he said. “But we are going to have to hold for weeks and weeks before we get to a place where we could possibly relax some of these restrictions and start to move to something more normal.”

The city needs to see a 10-day or two-week period where key health indicators are positive before his administration can start to think about relaxing restrictions, de Blasio said.

MTA facing crew shortages

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Monday it was installing plexiglass shields on New York City buses to separate drivers from riders.

The MTA has been running a reduced schedule on its trains and buses since late last month. New York City Transit interim president Sarah Feinberg suggested the agency couldn’t resume a normal schedule even if it wanted to.

“We have faced massive crew shortages, so we are running the service that we can right now,” Feinberg said. “The reality is that we are running every single train and bus that we possible can right now with the workers that we have.”

More than 2,000 MTA workers have tested positive for COVID-19, including 50 who have died. Another 5,000 remain under self-isolation. Even with drastic drops in ridership — including a 97% reduction on the Long Island Rail Road — reports have surfaced of crowding on some buses and trains.

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