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Cuomo paints a bleak portrait of the coronavirus crisis

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday announced more than 83,000 New Yorkers have now tested positive for coronavirus, with an additional 8,000 cases diagnosed overnight Tuesday.   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, Matthew Chayes, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday painted a bleak portrait of the coronavirus crisis, saying deaths and cases continue to spike with nearly 400 new fatalities, the peak is likely to come in late April, and the crisis could last until early summer.

As New York State's death toll neared 2,000, Cuomo ordered New York City playgrounds shuttered because some are still playing basketball and ignoring social distancing. He told the NYPD to get more "aggressive" in cracking down on it, and threatened to pass a law if residents don't comply.

More than 83,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for coronavirus, including 8,000 cases diagnosed overnight Tuesday in what continues to be the epicenter in the United States, Cuomo said.

New York State now has more reported cases than China.

Some 391 people have died from the virus since Tuesday — another one-day record for the state and top in the country — for a total of 1,941 New Yorkers who have become casualties of the COVID-19 virus.

Long Island's coronavirus deaths rose to 145, a trail of sorrow that has startled officials who less than a month ago had no cases here, much less fatalities. Since Tuesday alone, Long Island registered more than 1,900 new cases of the virus.

Cuomo said the state is now expected to reach its apex of infections at the end of April, but that coming down the other side of what he calls "the mountaintop" — or peak — will take weeks more.

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In Suffolk County, officials reported a total 69 deaths so far, including 25 in the last 48 hours, County Executive Steve Bellone said.

“For perspective, just a month ago, life was completely normal just one month go," Bellone said. "We had no cases. Our first positive confirmed case … was March 8 … We didn’t have a COVID-related death reported until March 16. Today, we have 69 individuals who have lost their lives from the coronavirus."

Suffolk announced a new effort to reach out to the Latino communities, where case levels are among the highest in the county. New York City said it was turning 20 hotels into temporary hospitals, with more to come.

Nassau County reported 13 new coronavirus-related deaths Wednesday, for a total of 76. The dead ranged in ages from 56 to 89.

Statewide, New York City remains a hotbed for the virus' spread, with 1,374 deaths and 9,775 remaining hospitalized.

Like President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening, Cuomo pulled out charts at his daily press briefing showing models with predictions of deaths from the highly contagious virus. His showed 93,000 fatalities in the United States, including 16,000 in New York State, a number Cuomo himself said seemed low for the state.

“This model projects you are going to have a high death rate through July," Cuomo said. “If this model is correct, this could go through the summer.”

He lashed out at New Yorkers, and especially young people, who continue to flout social distancing directives. Some people were shown in television images Monday crowding together to snap photographs of the USNS Comfort medical ship as it pulled into a pier in Manhattan.

“Young people must get this message and they still have not gotten the message," he said. “Who else has to die for you to understand you have a responsibility in this?"

He added: “No density. No basketball games. No close contact."

While stating that a social distancing law would be "absurd," he said he will pass one if New Yorkers don't shape up.

“How reckless and irresponsible and selfish for people not to do it on their own," he said, adding: “The NYPD has to get more aggressive. Period."

Open spaces in the city such as parks will remain open, Cuomo said.

He noted that his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, returned to his "Cuomo Prime Time" show on Tuesday night, even though he was diagnosed with COVID-19 that morning, a move the governor called "gutsy." Chris Cuomo broadcast the show from his home's basement, where he is quarantined.

The governor said his brother's case showed that “anyone can get this disease. There's no superhero who is immune from this disease. No one can be protected from it. I couldn’t protect my own brother."

During the White House's news briefing on coronavirus, Trump indicated again that some difficult days lie ahead for his hometown. “Each American heart is with New York,” Trump said. “... We are by your side. I love New York.”

Positives keep rising

Long Island now has registered 17,159 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 1,902 new positives in Nassau and Suffolk counties since Tuesday.

Nassau County has 9,554 confirmed cases, with another rapid rise of 1,010 people who tested positive since Tuesday's state figures were released. Suffolk has a total of 7,605 cases, with 892 new positives, the state figures show.

In Suffolk, police said they are sending Spanish-speaking officers into areas with some of the highest levels of confirmed cases, including Brentwood, Central Islip and Huntington Station. Starting Wednesday, the officers were to hand out flyers about coronavirus-related restrictions to retail businesses and also drive around in police vehicles, using their lights and sirens, and a public address system announcing a message in Spanish.

The message reminds residents to keep 6 feet away from other people, wash their hands often, and stay home. It also will state that only essential businesses can remain open.

Some of the vehicles have Spanish signs on their sides.

The Suffolk police department also said it has 45 of its own cases of coronavirus: 39 officers and six civilians.

New York City had 47,439 cases, including 4,300 new positives, according to state figures, though the city had issued a lower count of 45,707 cases Wednesday. State and localities have issued different figures, depending on when lab results were compiled for the day.

As the city absorbs an avalanche of coronavirus cases, and a growing number of deaths, officials are turning to hotels to help meet the crisis.

Some 20 hotels will be converted into makeshift hospitals, with a nurses station on each floor, and stocked with supplies like urinals, bed pans, walkers, feeding tubes, and wheelchairs, said Dr. Mitch Katz, head of the city's public hospital system. 

The hotels will begin to open as hospitals this month, with "many more" on top of the initial 20, he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the plan could add 40,000 hospital beds to the city's total.

Cuomo reported that the number of hospitalizations rose again, this time by 1,297 people, for a total of 12,226 patients statewide.

He said one bright piece of news amid the pandemic was that a growing number of patients are being discharged. Some 1,167 people left hospitals since Tuesday, for a total of 6,142 patients treated and released in New York so far.

However, another 3,022 patients remained in intensive care, according to state figures. 

Cuomo pushed back against the idea that this COVID-19 health crisis is only about New York, speaking to people who might be watching across the country.

"It’s a New York problem today," he said. "Tomorrow, it's a Kansas problem, and a Texas problem and a New Mexico problem … Look at us today. See yourself tomorrow and let’s address it in New York and let’s cooperate … because it’s going to be in your town tomorrow, metaphorically.”

Cuomo also said at some point the government will have to shift to repair economic damage caused by the virus, “… not picking between human life and the dollar bill … but can you come up with public health strategy that is consistent with people getting out of their home and getting back to work? Yes, you can.”

Long Island, 'a microcosm'

Both Long Island county executives were live on WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show" Wednesday morning to talk about Long Island's response to the pandemic.

One listener, who identified herself as a physician from Port Jefferson, became emotional discussing the need for the governor to send more ventilators to Long Island, immediately. The ventilators are needed for patients in respiratory distress.

The caller said Long Island is “one week behind” New York City, in terms of the crisis hitting full-bore.

The listener, named Abby, said, “We’re facing the option of thinking to ourselves, what do we do if we have 50 ventilators” and a 51st patient needs one? “How can we do this? This is America,” she said.

Bellone responded that he has been in communication with Cuomo and is calling on the federal government to coordinate an effort to get ventilators and send them from areas that aren’t hit as hard yet. 

“You fight a war as a nation, yet the supplies we need haven’t come," he said. "It’s great Ford will produce thousands of ventilators in three months. That’s great, but it’s not going to help us here.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county has purchased 100 ventilators through an emergency order, but they won’t arrive until April 6, and she is pressing to get them sooner. There are 11 hospitals in Nassau, and they are all doing a surge plan, she said.

“Beds and space are relatively easy. The issue is personal protective equipment, staff becoming more and more stretched and depleted … and making sure we have enough ventilators,” Curran said.

“This is the moment right now where, in the upside of the surge, you hear the pressure,” which she called a “microcosm of the whole health system."

Help is on the way to some hospitals, Cuomo said. Some 1,500 retired doctors and nurses who have volunteered to supplement staff will be signed on by Thursday. A total of 80,000 people have volunteered.

Cuomo has pleaded with health care professionals from around the country to come to New York to help it weather the crisis as hospital workers become physically and emotionally drained, and some become stricken with the virus themselves.

He confirmed that some patients were transferred from a hospital in New York City to one in Albany in what may serve as a precursor to a wider practice of having overwhelmed facilities downstate ship patients to others upstate.

He also said that if New York City's police and fire departments become depleted because of coronavirus cases among their ranks, State Troopers and firefighters from upstate could be deputized and sent south to fill in for them.

Pediatric testing center opens

On Long Island, New Hyde Park-based PM Pediatrics said Wednesday it has opened a drive-up COVID-19 testing center at 1457 Northern Blvd. in Manhasset.

Only pediatric patients who have been evaluated by a medical professional from PM Pediatrics, either in-person or via its PM Pediatrics Anywhere telemedicine app, are eligible for the test.

Parents can drive to a secure tent in the parking lot, where the child’s nose will be swabbed and a sample collected. Results will be reported in approximately four days. All COVID-19 screening appointments must be booked in advance.

Transformative crisis

During his news briefing in Albany, Cuomo waxed philosophical, wondering about how the crisis will affect the United States in the future.

“This is going to be transformative,” he said. “We’re never going to forget what happened here.”

He said the pandemic could have a traumatizing effect.

“You could get wary of intimacy and contact and density,” he said. “Social distancing — don’t go near anyone. What a terrible thing to live with as a human being. What a cruel torture.

“Isolate yourself from other people. Be afraid of hugging someone. Just think how emotionally and personally repugnant that concept is. We crave human connection and now we are being told that could be dangerous. You can’t kiss, you can’t hug, you can’t hold hands.”

Still, he said those are questions for the future — right now the state has deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“One crisis at a time,” he said.

TO HELP IN CORONAVIRUS FIGHT

  • NASSAU COUNTY: The Nassau County Police Department is requesting medical supplies, including N95 surgical masks, eye protection, Nitrile rubber gloves, disposable gowns, shoe covers, no-touch thermometers, HEPA filters for ventilators and anesthesia machines, antibacterial and disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers. Donations will be accepted at Field 3 of Eisenhower Park on Park Boulevard in Westbury. Collection hours will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and then again from March 30 to April 3.
  • SUFFOLK COUNTY: In Suffolk County, a medical safety equipment drive is ongoing, officials said. The county is collecting gloves, N95 masks, gowns, ear loop masks and other medical supplies. Donations can be dropped between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays at the Suffolk County Fire Academy, located at 102 East Ave. in Yaphank. For large donations of supplies, email FRESfinance@suffolkcountyny.gov.
  • LONG ISLAND: The New York Blood Center said it is in urgent need of donors, since coronavirus concerns have resulted in "critically low blood and platelet appointments" across Long Island. The NYBC has six centers in Nassau and Suffolk and said safety protocols are in place as they urge healthy individuals, not exposed to the virus, to donate. The NYBC said if you are unsure if you can donate, you can ask their experts at 800-688-0900.
  • MATHER HOSPITAL: The hospital has established an emergency fund to help support hospital staff and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund will help the hospital buy patient activity packs to occupy their time; thank-you care packages to departments and patient-care units; iPads that will connect patients with their loved ones; and medical equipment and personal protective equipment for staff members. Donations can be made at www.matherhospital.org/emergencyfund or mailed to the JTM Foundation, Mather Hospital, 75 North Country Rd., Port Jefferson, NY 11777.
  • STONY BROOK HOSPITAL: Stony Brook University Hospital is accepting donated items that would help comfort their COVID-19 patients, including puzzles, activity books, pens, colored pencils, sleep masks, aromatherapy, ear plugs, as well as donations of iPads for telehealth, or medical supplies. For donations drop-off, schedule an appointment, emailing COVID19donations@stonybrook.edu or calling 631-219-0603.

SOURCES: Mather Hospital, Nassau County, New York Blood Center, Suffolk County, Stony Brook Hospital

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