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'Troubling news': Cuomo said rise of Long Island cases is concerning; more than 92,000 cases in NY 

The coronavirus pandemic has affected business owners across the island and left thousands unemployed. Newsday's Cecilia Dowd has the story. Credit: Newsday staff / Stony Brook University Hospital; AP Photo/Alex Brandon

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, Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, Matt Clark, Scott Eidler, Michael Gormley, Paul LaRocco, Bart Jones, Sandra Peddie, David Reich-Hale, Ken Schachter, David M. Schwartz and John Valenti. It was written by Jones.

A rising tide of coronavirus cases on Long Island is “troubling news,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo warned Thursday, as he also reported the state’s stockpile of critical ventilators has dwindled to about 2,200.

Cuomo said Long Island's hospital system is getting "stressed" by the pandemic, and that the state rushed 200 potentially lifesaving ventilators to the Island on Wednesday night.

“At the current burn rate, we have about six days of ventilators in our stockpile," Cuomo said at his daily news briefing in Albany. About 350 people "come in every night who need a ventilator. So 2,200 … disappears very quickly."

Some Long Island hospitals said use of ventilators has soared in the last few days, and supplies are growing scarce, according to data obtained by Newsday.

The state also released 200 ventilators to Westchester County and 400 to New York City hospitals, Cuomo said.

He expects to send more to Long Island as the crisis escalates, but the state does not have enough and is desperately hunting for more as far away as China, to little avail.

As one sign of the stress being put on the hospitals, Northwell Health said it is transferring dozens of COVID-19 patients from some of its hospitals in Queens and western Nassau County to Mather and Southside hospitals in Suffolk County.

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The massive health care system is looking to house patients in conference rooms, tents and lobbies as regular rooms fill to capacity, Northwell officials said.

In New York City, the influx of coronavirus patients into hospitals is so great that President Donald Trump has given permission for the state-owned Jacob Javits Center to accept some of them, Cuomo said. The center, converted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into a temporary 2,500-bed emergency hospital, initially was intended for non-coronavirus patients.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reversed course and started recommending city dwellers, even children, wear a face covering — a bandanna, a scarf, a mask, even something homemade — when outside and near other people. He cited the possibility of asymptomatic transmission.

He urged people, though, not to use the sorts of masks needed by medical personnel. "I am not anticipating enforcement" to compel people to wear masks, as in some other jurisdictions, he said. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for its part, started recommending passengers wear face masks, including while riding on the Long Island Rail Road, and to avoid using trains, subways and buses as much as possible.

More than 92,000 New Yorkers have now tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, Cuomo said. Long Island accounts for more than 19,000 of them. This came on a day when the worldwide count of cases from the pandemic reached one million.

A heartbreaking statistic underscored the growing seriousness of the crisis: 432 people died since Wednesday, for a total of 2,373 lives lost in New York to the virus.

Nassau reported 19 new deaths, for a total of 95 in the county. Laura Curran, the county executive, said there were now 10,587 positive cases, an increase of 1,033 overnight. 

Suffolk reported 15 new deaths, for a total of 84. It also added 1,141 cases since Wednesday for a total of 8,746. And for the first time, the county has more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, County Executive Steve Bellone said.

Cuomo said the number of cases in suburban areas, including Westchester County, is troubling when seen by percentage in comparison to New York City, which is much more dense and has been logging positive test results in the thousands each day.

Suffolk and Nassau each reported more than 1,000 new cases on Thursday.

"Those numbers are concerning and we are watching those … That is troubling news," Cuomo said. "You see those growing numbers in Nassau and Suffolk and that is starting to stress that system."

A Newsday analysis of the data now shows Long Island with 680 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents, a rate that is 11% higher than New York City's at 614 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents.

At the same time, the share of those tested on Long Island is 31% higher than the city's share, a factor that can influence the number of confirmed cases.

Cuomo has repeatedly touted the state's significant level of testing as exemplary and surpassing "the Gold Standard" established by South Korea and China. More testing leads to more confirmed cases of coronavirus. The state's figures show nearly 239,000 people have been tested for the virus, with 45,761 of those administered on Long Island.

Social distancing complaints

Some Long Islanders have complained of people congregating in large groups despite state and county orders against it. Crowds have packed beaches in the Hamptons and the boardwalk in Long Beach — to the point where officials in the latter city shut it down.

At a coronavirus testing site in Farmingdale on Wednesday, scores of cars were lined up outside waiting while motorists got out the vehicles and, in some cases, stood in groups near each other.

Altogether, Long Island has reported 19,333 confirmed coronavirus cases since the outbreak's start, with 2,174 new positives since Wednesday.

As the number of cases soars, hospitals are struggling to ensure they have enough ventilators to help some of the most seriously ill patients breathe.

In Nassau, the number of patients on ventilators jumped from 244 to 324 between March 30 and April 2, according to county data obtained by Newsday. That’s a 33% increase.

In Suffolk, the numbers rose from 153 to 232, a 52% increase.

Northwell Health currently has 937 ventilators in use throughout its 23-hospital system and has access to another 207, said Renee McLeod-Sordjan, Northwell’s director of medical ethics.

Long Island Community Hospital in East Patchogue is using 44 of its 66 ventilators, said hospital spokeswoman Katherine Heaviside.

The hospital has requested 50 more ventilators from Suffolk County officials, who are responsible for coordinating all local hospitals’ requests with the state.

“We anticipate significant additional need over the next 21-plus days,” Heaviside wrote in an email.

County and state officials either declined to provide numbers on ventilators or did not respond.

To help meet the crisis, the state has received 4,400 ventilators from the federal stockpile, Cuomo said, and is awaiting more. New York has also placed orders to purchase more ventilators, but there have been delays in delivery, he said.

If the rate of hospitalizations, and patients placed in intensive care continues apace, the state will run out of ventilators, he said.

The state is converting some ventilators to serve two patients and jury-rigging anesthetic equipment to serve as ventilators with limited functionality, Cuomo said. It is getting ready to place into service handheld ventilators that Cuomo said are manually squeezed to force air into the patient's lungs.

The state is also transferring ventilators between patients as they get better, or die.

“If you don’t have a ventilator and a person comes in, that person dies,” he said.

Hospitals stretched thin

As the coronavirus crisis intensified, Northwell Health said it has transferred 44 COVID-19 patients from its hospitals in Queens and western Nassau County to Mather Hospital over the past week, where the Port Jefferson hospital is at capacity.

The system has transferred a total of 269 patients from Long Island Jewish Medical Center Forest Hills and Long Island Jewish Medical Center Valley Stream over the past week to lessen the strain at the hospitals hardest hit with coronavirus patients. Some went to Southside, said Northwell spokesman Terry Lynam.

As the numbers grow, health care workers are in “an incredibly difficult, stressful, traumatic environment in which they are working overtime and double shifts, day after day, in a struggle to save people’s lives,” Bellone said.

And, Bellone added, “while they are doing that, in the back of their minds they’re thinking about their own safety and the risk they’re taking for their own health.”

“It emphasizes the point and importance of why we’re doing social distancing, why whole parts of the economy have been shut down," he said.

Ventilators are not the only item in short supply in the hospitals. Cuomo made a plea for manufacturers to step forward to produce critically needed safety gear for health care workers, who face a shortage of medical masks, gowns and gloves.

He essentially sought to implement his own, voluntary version of the national Defense Production Act which allows a president to force companies to produce certain items during wars or other national emergencies. Trump has been reluctant to use the act to its full extent.

“I don’t have a New York Defense Production Act,” Cuomo said. But “I ask businesses just to think about the situation we are in and a possible opportunity.”

“If you are a manufacturer who can convert to make these products and make them quickly … we will purchase them, and we will pay a premium and we will pay to convert or transition your manufacturing facility to a facility that can do this,” he said.

“But we need it, like now. We’re not talking about two months, three months, four months.”

He called it “the cruelest irony that this nation is now dependent on China for production of many of these products.”

Enforcing the rules

Nassau County officials said they were taking steps to address the problem of people flouting social distancing rules.

The Nassau County fire marshal's office said it has handled at least 474 complaints, and is working with Nassau police on outdoor social distancing issues, including at residential construction sites.

Fire marshals and police "are advising businesses to ensure social distancing good practices with visual aids like tape marks on floors and sidewalks, and there has been widespread cooperation with visited sites," the fire marshal's office said. They have issued less than five appearance tickets "so people are listening and heeding warnings."

In Suffolk, Bellone said officials are doing what they can to address the matter but it is impossible to completely monitor more than one million people and authorities are counting on people to act responsibly.

“It’s not going to be possible to put a public safety officer or police officer or park ranger everywhere," he said. "People have to make choices that respect what is happening now. What you do today or tomorrow will have an impact on how many people die in this county”

County officials have been coordinating with towns and villages, which are working to put code enforcement and public safety officials out to enforce social distancing guidelines, Bellone said. He added that Suffolk police graduated 60 new recruits early “to get them out there in enforcement.”

"Suffolk County Police Department officers know if they see large gatherings that they should break those up, explain what needs to be done and send people home," he said.

He added that “we’re looking out at beaches, at parks. If there’s a change that’s necessary, we will look to have those conversations with our partners and with the state as well.”

People are encouraged to call 311 if they see people not complying with the pause order, Bellone said.

COVID-19 trend line up

New York City continued to lead the state for the number of people diagnosed with the virus, with 51,809 confirmed cases since the outbreak started and 4,370 new cases overnight.

As of Thursday, every county in the State of New York "has now reported a coronavirus case," Cuomo said.

The number of patients in ICUs grew since Wednesday by 374 for a total of 3,396, but the number of patients discharged after treatment has also been rising, with 1,292 patients sent home since Wednesday for a total of 7,434 treated and released since the outbreak's start.

"That's good news," Cuomo said.

In what was at times a humorous, strange and heartfelt exchange between siblings, the governor turned the tables on his brother, CNN show host Chris Cuomo, diagnosed earlier this week with the virus, and had him as a guest via video in his briefing.

Chris Cuomo said he's doing pretty well, but talked about visions in dreams as he coped with the disease's symptoms at home, including one where he saw his governor brother dancing ballet and waving a wand. In the dream, he said the dancing governor told him, "I wish I could wave my wand and this would go away."

Saliva test via local dentist

The demand for diagnostics prompted a Hewlett dentist, Dr. Ron Kaminer, to begin offering a saliva test for the virus to his patients and others.

After sending an email to patients and posting on a Facebook group on Wednesday, Kaminer said he received about 60 requests for the tests, mostly from Nassau County’s Five Towns area, which has been hit hard by the virus.

The molecular test made by Lubbock, Texas-based MicroGenDX LLC is not covered by dental insurance and costs $225, he said. The sample is shipped to the laboratory and results usually are available in 24 hours, he said.

Kaminer, who said he has been primarily doing tele-dentistry during the coronavirus outbreak, predicted dentists would take an increasingly prominent role in diagnostics for things like COVID-19.

“Every dentist should be doing this,” he said.

Reduced transportation

The Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, announced it will shift to a “COVID-19 modified service plan,” following a drop in ridership. It follows The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, parent agency of the Long Island Rail Road, which said recently it was scaling back service to accommodate a 90% drop in ridership.

Under the reduced service plan, most bus routes will operate on a Saturday schedule “until further notice,” the agency said. Routes that don’t operate on Saturdays will operate a normal weekday schedule.

Jamaica-bound N1 buses, N15 County Seat Drive trips, and N35 buses serving Nassau Community College remain suspended.

Also on Thursday, the MTA, for the first time, formally recommended that all its customers wear masks when using the transit system, which includes the LIRR.

Foye said the MTA has already distributed 240,000 masks to its own employees, with another 100,000 coming on Friday. Some 744 MTA employees have tested positive for the virus, including Foye.

With some parts of the MTA system, such as the Bronx subway lines, still carrying heavy crowds, the authority is increasingly urging customers to stay off of trains and buses, unless absolutely necessary.

Posters that have gone up on some LIRR trains ask customers who are not essential workers, “Why are you even here reading this? Go home.”

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.
  • HUNTINGTON HOSPITAL: The hospital is asking for donations of iPads with front-facing cameras, which will be used to allow COVID-19 patients to communicate via FaceTime with their loved ones when no visitors are allowed. The iPads need to be new or factory-reset by the owner before donation. Donations can be dropped off at the front circle, in the section labeled “For the Command Center” (include contact information with name and address of donor). The hospital is located at 270 Park Ave. in Huntington.
  • 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, N.Y. 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: Huntington Hospital, Mather Hospital, Nassau County, New York Blood Center, Suffolk County, Stony Brook Hospital

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