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'A lot of tears': NY State surpasses 1,000 deaths as coronavirus fight continues, Cuomo says

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise, surpassing 66,000 in what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called a "staggering" toll, the USNS Comfort, a 1,000-bed Navy medical ship, arrived in New York. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware; News 12 Long Island, YouTube / NYGovCuomo, Facebook / Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone

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 Alfonso A. Castillo, Rachelle Blidner, Candice Ferrette, Laura Figueroa Hernandez, Bart Jones, Michael O’Keeffe, David Reich-Hale and Olivia Winslow. It was written by Jones.

New York passed a grim milestone of coronavirus deaths Monday, reaching 1,218 lost to the pandemic in what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called an already "staggering" toll that is only going to grow.

The state, a global hot spot, lost another 253 people overnight as Cuomo announced he may shut down New York City playgrounds because of crowding and pleaded for health care workers across the country to come to New York to help, as a "tsunami" of cases bears down on the state.

On Long Island, the death toll reached 92.

"That's a lot of loss. That's a lot of pain. That's a lot of tears. That's a lot of grief," Cuomo said. "We have a national crisis. We are at war."

New York's confirmed coronavirus cases hit 66,497, Cuomo said. If New York State was a country, it would have the fifth-highest total in the world, behind only Italy, Spain, China and the United States itself as a whole.

On Long Island, cases jumped to more than 13,000. That included 899 new ones in Nassau County, one of the largest one-day jumps in any county in the state outside of New York City, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

Suffolk County reported 768 new cases.

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As of Monday night, New York City had 38,087 confirmed coronavirus cases and 914 deaths, city officials said.

The somber news came as one sign of hope — a 1,000-bed U.S. Navy medical ship — arrived in Manhattan, and New Yorkers saw the surreal site of a temporary hospital with white tents being set up in Central Park.

As some gathered in groups in apparent violation of social distancing directives to snap photos of the USNS Comfort, Cuomo said he was losing patience with residents who continue to bunch together.

"In New York City you have too many places with too much density. I don’t know how many different ways to make the same point," he said. “You want to go to the park, go to the park. But not in a dense area. Not in playgrounds where you are playing basketball with other people.

“I have said that New York City is trying to reduce the density in those playgrounds. Thus far they have not been successful. If that continues, we’ll take a mandatory action to close down playgrounds, as harsh as that sounds, but it can actually save people’s lives.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the NYPD will enforce social distancing on subways if problems persist and urged people to call 311 if they see a packed train. “Nobody should be getting on a crowded train.”

Speaking at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, which the Army Corps of Engineers converted into a temporary hospital in just days and opened for patients Monday, Cuomo complained about the rising cost of ventilators needed to keep many coronavirus patients alive.

He said they have skyrocketed from $20,000 to $50,000 because states, the U.S. government and hospitals are all competing against each other in what he described as a chaotic system lacking overnight by the federal government.

“We’ve created a situation where you literally have hundreds of entities looking to buy the same exact materials basically from the same place, which is China, ironically enough,” he said. “And we’re fighting among ourselves. We’re competing among ourselves. We’re driving the prices up."

Walkout at Amazon facility

Meanwhile, scores of workers at Amazon’s JFK8 facility in Staten Island staged a walkout Monday to protest what they said was a lack of protections against the coronavirus, which they say has sickened at least 10 workers.

“The workers are pretty outraged over Amazon’s lack of response to protect workers from the coronavirus,” said Zack Lerner, labor organizer with New York Communities for Change. More than 60 took part, he said. (An Amazon spokesperson disputed this Tuesday, saying only 15 workers — less than half a percent of the more than 5,000 employees at the facility — participated in the walkout.)

Workers said that while they had latex gloves, they didn’t have face masks.

The workers said the company is taking the temperature of employees as they enter the building as a precautionary measure, but they said they wanted more done, such as shutting down the facility to have it thoroughly sanitized.

Amazon, in a statement released Sunday, said the individual cases of employees testing positive for COVID-19 were not linked and that those diagnosed had no contact with one another.

Amazon is letting anyone who had been in close contact with workers who tested positive to stay home with pay for 14 days in self-quarantine, the statement said. All those diagnosed with the virus or placed in quarantine will receive up to two weeks of pay.

The company said it is tripling down on deep-cleaning of its facilities, obtaining safety supplies and modifying processes so employees keep safe distances.

Amazon did not say how many employees tested positive for the virus.

Chris Smalls, the worker who helped organize the walkout, said he was fired Monday afternoon. "Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe," he said in a statement.

In a statement Tuesday, an Amazon spokesperson said Smalls "received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk." Smalls was also asked to stay home, with pay, for 14 days after coming into close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, the spokesperson said.

"Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite on March 30, further putting the teams at risk," the spokesperson said. "This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues."

New York Attorney General Letitia James said her office was "considering all legal options," and she called on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate.

"In New York, the right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited," James said in a statement. "At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane."

In Manhattan, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced that five more employees had died from the coronavirus, bringing the total number of casualties at the transit agency to seven.

All five worked for the New York City Transit bus and subway system. They included subway track workers, a station cleaner and a bus mechanic.

“This is a devastating day, and it's been a devastating couple of weeks for New York City Transit,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of the bus and subway system.

Even though it has been operating reduced schedules since last week, Feinberg said the authority has been struggling to maintain service levels with “a lot” of employees out sick and “thousands” more in quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus.

Even the MTA's chairman, Patrick Foye, tested positive, the agency said last week.

“As a result, we do not have sufficient crews to run the kind of service that people are used to at this point,” Feinberg said.

Meanwhile, James Villecco, 55, of Staten Island, on Sunday became the first FDNY employee to die from coronavirus. He worked in the FDNY’s Bureau of Fleet Services.

Preparing for the apex

At his daily briefing, Cuomo shot back at allegations by President Donald Trump that New York was unnecessarily stockpiling ventilators and safety equipment for health care workers at a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey, and suggested the federal government's approach had been a "blunder."

Not stockpiling "defies the basic concept of planning,” Cuomo said. “If you are not preparing for the apex and for the high point, you are missing the entire point of the operation. It is a fundamental blunder to only prepare for it today.

“That’s why in some ways we are where we are. We’ve been behind this virus from Day One. Prepare for the high point of the curve, and do it now. When are you going to do it, the night before?”

Cuomo also said the coronavirus threat is not unique to New York, and will engulf the entire nation.

"Anyone who says this is a New York City-only situation is in a state of denial," Cuomo said. "You see the virus move across this nation. There’s no American who is immune to this virus. I don’t care if you live in Kansas. I don’t care if you live in Texas. … What is happening to New Yorkers is not an anomaly."

The United States now has about 164,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the highest of any country in the world and nearly double the amount of China, where the outbreak started. More than 2,400 people have died in the United States, officials said.

“The number is already staggering," Cuomo said.

He praised the nurses and doctors caring for sick New Yorkers, saying, "In this battle, the troops are health care professionals." 

"We love them for what they're doing," he said, and need to provide them with "every piece of equipment" required to do their jobs safely.

He sent out a nationwide plea for help.

“I am asking health care professionals across the country, if you don't have a health care crisis in your community, please come help us in New York now," he said. "We need relief. We need relief for nurses who are working 12-hour shifts one after the other after the other."

He promised that if workers came, "we will return the favor" when other states need help.

For his part, de Blasio called for the federal government to provide military medical personnel to give the city’s health care workers a break.

Cuomo announced what he called an unprecedented system of cooperation among private and public hospitals in New York to take on the crisis.

“This is a statewide battle," he said. “No politics. No partisanship. No division. There is no time for that. Not in this state, not in this nation. This is a deadly serious situation.”

He emphasized the need for unity across the political spectrum.

“In this situation, there are no red states and there are no blue states and there are no red casualties and there are no blue casualties. It’s red, white and blue. This virus doesn’t discriminate. It attacks everyone, and it attacks everywhere.”

Cuomo emphasized that despite the growing number of cases, the state is also testing more than any other and that many people have recovered after hospitalization.

'... A morale boost'

As Cuomo called for unity, Trump touted the arrival of the ship and predicted New York will weather the crisis.

“New York is really in trouble, but I think it’s going to end up fine. We’re stocking it up,” Trump said  Monday morning TV show “Fox and Friends."

But de Blasio took issue with Trump's recent remarks alleging that hospitals were hoarding ventilators and that face masks were "going out the back door." The mayor called it an insult to health care workers who are putting their lives on the line to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t know what the president is talking about," de Blasio said. "It is not true.”

“It’s insulting. It is outrageous. It is completely insensitive to people right now who are giving their all … Our health care workers are suffering. They are literally watching some of their own lost to this disease.”

Trump repeated his argument that New York will have enough ventilators to help keep critically ill coronavirus patients alive, despite desperate pleas by Cuomo and de Blasio that the state and city are thousands short.

Cuomo has said the state will need about 30,000, but Trump argued that the 4,000 ventilators the federal government sent last week and the state’s current stock should satisfy the need.

“I think New York, based on the numbers that we see, they should have more than enough,” Trump said.

De Blasio disagreed.

“We have got to get more ventilators,” he said. “The need is only going to get greater over the next week.”

Cuomo said Trump was "right, they sent 4,000 ventilators. I'm not using them today because I don't need them today. I need to assemble them in a stockpile. A stockpile, by definition, is to be used at the high point."

He pleaded: "The science people, the government professionals have to stand up and look the president in the eye and say this is not a political exercise. This is not press relations. It's not optics. The tsunami is coming … Now is the time to gather supplies."

Cuomo, appearing Monday on MSNBC'S "Morning Joe," said that in New York "we know the apex is still two, three, four weeks away depending on whose projection model you use. Prepare for the apex. Have the materials for the apex. That's when the system is going to collapse."

Trump on Sunday extended the current federal social distancing guidelines to April 30, just hours after Cuomo said New York's restrictions will continue until April 15 in an effort to slow down the rapidly growing cases of COVID-19. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top federal infectious disease official who is helping to lead Trump's coronavirus team, said Sunday the virus could kill up to 200,000 people nationwide.

New COVID-19 testing site in Suffolk

On Long Island, Lake Success-based ProHEALTH opened its fourth drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in the New York region, and its first in Suffolk County. The new drive-thru is located at 1149 Old Country Rd. in Riverhead.

ProHEALTH's other drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites are in Jericho, Lake Success and Little Neck, Queens.

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