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Cuomo: Virus crisis on Long Island 'is like a fire spreading'

At his daily briefing on Saturday, Gov. Andrew

At his daily briefing on Saturday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that 22% of those hospitalized with the virus statewide are on Long Island; a number, he said, that is growing as the state scrambles for more medical equipment. Credit: NY Governor's Office

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This story was reported by John Asbury, Catherine Carrera, Matthew Chayes, David Olson, Keldy Ortiz, Craig Schneider and Joie Tyrrell. It was supplemented with an AP report and it was written by Olson.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday that the growing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Long Island “is like a fire spreading,” as Nassau gained the grim distinction as the county with the most cases nationwide outside the five boroughs of New York City.

In the past two weeks, the percentage of coronavirus hospitalizations statewide that are on Long Island rose to 22% from 15%, as the proportion from New York City declined, Cuomo said. There are 3,413 COVID-19 patients hospitalized on the Island, according to Nassau and Suffolk data.

“The fire, it doesn’t max out in one place, but it consumes where it is and it’s moving out,” he said, noting that the number of cases is growing at a faster pace east of New York City than to the north.

Westchester, where the state’s first major cluster of cases was located, had long been the county with the most cases outside New York City, but the growth there is now much slower than on Long Island.

Nassau as of Saturday has 13,346 cases, up 1,322 from Friday.

“The news remains difficult,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Saturday afternoon. “We are in a war and it feels like the heat of battle.”

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Suffolk’s caseload grew to 11,370, up by 1,216. Westchester had 730 additional cases and now has 13,081.

Asked whether the size of the increase on Long Island stems from New York City residents migrating onto the Island, Cuomo said, “I don’t think we know.” 

Officials on the East End have noted the large number of city residents who fled there in the past several weeks, including to second homes typically used only during warmer weather.

On March 28, East End town, village and tribal leaders wrote to Cuomo expressing concern about the strain on the area’s health care system and on essential businesses like grocery stores, and asked the governor to consider limiting nonessential travel from New York City to the East End. Cuomo has not imposed those restrictions.

Northwell Health has transferred hundreds of COVID-19 patients from its hospitals in Queens and western Nassau County to other Northwell hospitals, including on Long Island, to lessen the strain on hospitals hardest hit by coronavirus cases.

Cuomo said Wednesday that more patients could be moved from city hospitals to Long Island as city hospitals reach capacity, and patients on Long Island could be moved upstate when Island hospitals fill up. 

The state as a whole on Saturday saw its biggest one-day increase in cases, 10,841, which brought the total to 113,704.

The number of deaths rose by 630, to 3,565.

Huntington Hospital announced Saturday that a nurse of 13 years died of coronavirus. John Abruzzo is believed to be the first nurse working on Long Island to die of COVID-19.

The hospital did not say on what day Abruzzo died. He "was among the brave caregivers dedicated to their patients during this challenging time…," Susan Knoepffler, chief nursing officer at the hospital, said in a statement. "We at Huntington Hospital are devastated by the loss of our colleague.”

In addition, a Copiague school board member and two veterans at the Long Island State Veterans Home died of COVID-19.

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In Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone said 28 more people died since his report on Friday — the largest single-day death total in the county. Most had underlying health conditions, he said.

There have now been 124 deaths in Suffolk, of people from their mid-30s to mid-90s, he said.

In Nassau, 149 people have died, including 11 in the past day, aged 49 to 92, Curran said. The county’s calculation of deaths is lower than the state’s tally of 396 for Nassau; Curran said some of those deaths could be of non-Nassau residents who died in Nassau hospitals.

Bellone spoke of the heartache felt by those who are alone in the hospital fighting the virus, as well as for families of patients, “the anguish of not being able to be with their loved ones” because of hospital no-visitor rules.

He added, however, “They are not alone. They are with some of the best medical professionals in the world,” people who he said “are literally in the middle of the medical equivalent of a war zone.”

Statewide, there are now 15,905 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, with more than 4,100 in intensive care. Another 10,478 have been discharged.

Cuomo said the peak of the pandemic in New York is now projected to be within four to eight days.

“We’re not ready for the high point," he said. "We’re still working on the capacity of the system. The more time we have to improve the capacity of the system, the better.”

The search for equipment, personnel

Cuomo said the state continues to scramble to find more ventilators, which are critically needed to help patients with severe forms of the respiratory illness to breathe. With demand high worldwide for ventilators, he said China, the main manufacturer, likely doesn’t have enough. The state has officials in China looking for ventilators and recently signed paperwork to buy 17,000 — but only 2,500 came through because of the massive demand, he said.

Curran said Nassau hospitals are strained and struggling for supplies. The county has ordered 100 new ventilators and so far received five, she said. Hospitals are splitting ventilators and using BiPAP machines — typically used for conditions like sleep apnea — paired with parts made from 3-D printers to convert them into ventilators.

“It is dire, it is urgent and we need ventilators as soon as possible,” Curran said. “Our hospitals are stretched thin and we need all the help we can get.”

Bellone said Suffolk has distributed 1.7 million pieces of personal protective equipment such as masks and “we’re down to zero.”

The day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that all Americans wear cloth face masks in public places, such as grocery stores, where social distancing is difficult to maintain, Bellone urged residents to make their own makeshift masks, to leave the existing stock to medical personnel and first responders.

On Long Island and New York City streets and at stores Saturday, adherence to the guideline was mixed.

On sidewalks in Huntington village, not many people were wearing them.

Some shoppers were wearing masks as they were lined up outside a local grocery store waiting to go in. Workers who delivered groceries to people waiting in cars had them on.

On the streets near Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and in Ridgewood, Queens, many pedestrians walked with face coverings — masks, scarves, bandannas and what appeared to be homemade masks made of cloth.

One thousand ventilators arrived at Kennedy Airport on Saturday, a gift to New York from the foundation of Joseph Tsai, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets and co-founder of the Chinese technology giant Alibaba, and his wife, Clara Wu Tsai, the governor's office said.

The Jack Ma Foundation — Ma is another Alibaba co-founder — donated to the state 2 million masks and more than 100,000 pairs of goggles.

The donations were facilitated by the Chinese government, the governor's office said.

The National Basketball Association is contributing 1 million surgical masks for workers deemed by the state as essential, in collaboration with the Nets, the New York Knicks and Huang Ping, the Chinese consul general in New York, Cuomo's office announced.

In addition, Oregon is, unsolicited, donating 140 ventilators, which Cuomo called “a kind gesture” but  also “smart,” because stopping the spread of the virus in New York will help reduce the number of new cases in Oregon. “We will return it double-fold” to Oregon, to assist that state when its numbers spike, he said.

Other help is coming from out of state. Cuomo said 22,000 of the 85,000 medical professionals who have volunteered to help New York deal with the pandemic are from out of state.

He said he would sign an executive order allowing medical school students who were set to graduate to start practicing now. 

“We need doctors, we need nurses, so we’re going to expedite that,” he said.

Cuomo said the 2,500-bed makeshift hospital at the Javits Center in Manhattan, originally intended for non-COVID-19 patients, will house only patients with the virus.

“That will be a significant relief valve for much of downstate if they get that running,” he said.

President Donald Trump said later Saturday that the hospital will be staffed by the military. Similar hospital projects are being built in Louisiana and Dallas, he said.

“There will be a lot of death, unfortunately, but a lot less death than if this wasn't done," Trump said.

The president said he’d like to hear a more resounding “thank you” from Cuomo for helping quickly add hospital capacity and for providing medical supplies.

“We have given the governor of New York more than anybody has ever been given in a long time," he told a news conference in Washington.

Cuomo has repeatedly thanked Trump.

Other developments

Testing statewide continues to expand, as New York saw a one-day high in new tests, 23,101, the governor said. More than 283,000 New Yorkers have now been tested for the virus.

New York City's caseload stood at 63,306 on Saturday, according to state data, an increase of 6,147 from Friday. There have been 2,254 deaths, the city reported. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, in an appearance on MSNBC Saturday morning, reiterated his call for more involvement from the federal government to help get medical personnel and equipment to the city.

"I need 45,000 more trained medical personnel to get through April into May," he said, adding later: "There is no national structure to address this right now."

On Friday, de Blasio said the city could run out of ventilators as early as Monday, and that he would deploy the NYPD, FDNY and city sheriff to seize private stockpiles of protective gear like masks and gloves if the owners don't turn them over voluntarily to the government.

New York City is also moving to further discourage public gatherings in city parks, according to a tweet by Jane Meyer, a spokeswoman for de Blasio.

Cuomo Wednesday ordered city playgrounds closed, and over the coming days, the city parks department is locking all sports courts with a gate, removing all basketball rims and tennis-court nets, and closing handball courts, she said.

Two veterans died of coronavirus and other underlying conditions this week at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, officials at the home said in a letter on Friday.

The 350-bed nursing facility serves veterans and their families. As of Friday, it had 20 cases of coronavirus, with 18 getting care at the home and two at Stony Brook University Hospital, said Fred Sganga, executive director of the home.

On Friday, Christopher Madden, vice president of the Copiague Board of Education, died of the coronavirus, his wife, Jennifer Madden, said. He was 49 and had no underlying illnesses, she said.

Madden had been on the school board since 2017. That year, Madden unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for Suffolk County’s 15th Legislative District against Democratic incumbent DuWayne Gregory.

Madden is survived by his three children, ages 14, 18 and 20.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced Saturday it will distribute nearly 250,000 N95 respirator masks to 74,000 employees. More than 40,000 will be for Long Island Rail Road workers.

The masks will be cleaned and reused, MTA chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye said in a statement. The CDC allows reuse during the pandemic, but only under certain circumstances and for a limited number of times. Foye did not give details of reuse, or on whether employees will be trained on how to wear the mask, which is critical for full protection.

Cuomo, who often in his daily COVID-19 briefing goes beyond the numbers and projections to talk of the emotional toll of the virus' spread, told New Yorkers to gird themselves for the long haul. He said, “You’re not going to wish this away. You have to get through it. And you have to get through it intelligently, saving as many lives as you can."

"This day will end," the governor said. "And we will get through it and we will get to the other side of the mountain and we will be the better for it.”


  • NASSAU COUNTY: The county is extending the supply drive at the Nassau County Police Department on Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nassau County police have a drive-up collection at the rear entrance on 14th Street in Mineola. The county is seeking supplies of unopened N95 surgical masks, goggles and face shields, unopened nitrile gloves that have not expired, disposable paper or plastic medical gowns, shoe covers, no-touch thermometers, thermometer probe covers, HEPA filters for ventilators and anesthesia machines, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer.
  • 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
  • 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 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 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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