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Trump extends social distancing guidelines to April 30; Cuomo says April 15 for NY

Neighbors and members of the local fire department held a parade for a 5-year-old boy from Rockville Centre who had his 26th and final spinal tap in his fight against leukemia.  Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

This story was reported by Laura Figueroa Hernandez, Vera Chinese, Lisa Colangelo, Michael O'Keeffe, Rachelle Blidner and Jesse Coburn. It was written by Chinese and Colangelo.

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

Trump and Cuomo said they were keeping the directives in place in an attempt to head off further escalation of the pandemic that a top federal official said Sunday could kill up to 200,000 people nationwide.

Both Trump and Cuomo acknowledged the worst was yet to come.

"Easter should be the peak number," said Trump, speaking at the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing and referring to the number of confirmed cases nationwide. He said he hoped federal restrictions could be eased soon after that.

There are more than 139,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the country and more than 2,400 people have died, officials said.

The number of confirmed cases in New York State climbed to almost 60,000 on Sunday, officials said. The number of deaths in the state spiked by 237 on Sunday, for a total of 965.

Earlier Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said 56% of all new infections in the country are coming from the New York City area. 

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Fauci warned that millions in the United States could become infected with the coronavirus and between 100,000 and 200,000 could die. Fauci cautioned he was only projecting based on the latest data and the numbers of confirmed positive tests and deaths could vary widely.

Later Sunday at the White House briefing, Fauci stood by his earlier estimation of deaths, saying it's "entirely conceivable that if we do not mitigate, to the extent that we're trying to do that, you could reach that number. What we're trying to do is not let that happen."

 Fauci said the decision "to extend this mitigation process until the end of April, I think, was a wise and prudent decision."

 At the same White House Briefing, Trump also suggested without evidence that there were hospitals and health care workers hoarding or even possibly stealing supplies. 

“Something's going on, and you ought to look into it,” Trump told reporters. “Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door?”

Asked if he was suggesting there was “improper conduct” surrounding the distribution of supplies and equipment, Trump said he wanted “the people in New York to check.”

"We're delivering millions and millions of different products and all I hear is, 'Can you get some more?' I don't think it's hoarding. It might be worse than that,” Trump said.

Earlier Sunday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio again stressed the need for more medical staff and hospital equipment for coronavirus patients, saying the city has just another week before it runs out of many critical supplies and loses the ability to keep up with treating those critically ill with the virus.

Speaking of his earlier conversation with Trump, he said: "I went over with him again the reality in New York City, the fact that we have until next Sunday, April 5, to get the reinforcements we need, particularly when it comes to ventilators,” he said.

As of Sunday, 172,000 New Yorkers had been tested for the coronavirus, Cuomo said. Of the 59,513 confirmed cases, 8,503 remain hospitalized and 2,037 are in intensive care. The governor said 3,572 patients have been discharged.

Earlier Sunday, Cuomo said the outbreak will reach a "rolling apex," with different areas hitting the "high water mark" of infections at different times. New York City will reach its high point first, followed by Westchester County and Long Island, Cuomo said.

"If you are not in a highly affected health area now, that doesn’t mean you're not going to have a real situation to deal with because these numbers are just going to continue to go up all across the state," Cuomo said.

The federal guidelines recommend against large group gatherings and urge older people and anyone with existing health problems to stay home. People are urged to work at home when possible and avoid restaurants, bars, nonessential travel and shopping trips.

The New York State PAUSE ACT require all nonessential workers to work from home and that everyone is required to maintain a 6-foot distance from each other in public, among other restrictions

At the White House briefing, Trump — who was born and raised in Jamaica Estates, Queens — spoke about the surge of patients at Elmhurst Hospital in personal terms. "I mean, I know it very well," he said of the facility.

 Trump described recent news coverage of the hospital, saying there were "body bags, all over the hallways."

 "I've been watching them bringing trailer trucks...because they can't handle the bodies," Trump said. "I've seen things that I've never seen before. I mean I've seen them, but I've seen them on television, in faraway lands. I've never seen them in our country."

Trump said 1,100 New Yorkers diagnosed with COVID-19 have started clinical trials of drugs aimed at treating the disease.

"It’s very early yet, it’s only started two days ago," he said, noting six patients are also trying immune therapy using antibodies in plasma from those who have recovered from the virus.

The two drugs in the clinical trials are hydroxychloroquine, an anti-Malaria drug, and azithromycin, also known as the Z-pack, a common antibiotic for upper respiratory infections.

Trump also lauded the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in converting the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan into a makeshift hospital with federal resources.

“I just want to say that was unreal,” Trump said. “They did it in less than four day, people have never seen anything like that. It’s an incredible complex.”

Cuomo, in his daily news conference, also said researchers at a state-run laboratory in Albany have developed a less-intrusive saliva and short-nasal swab test for the coronavirus. He said the new test, which could be ready as early as next week, would allow health care workers to wear less personal protective equipment and they could administer it to themselves. The time it would take to process results would not be changed.

On Long Island Sunday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the county had grown to 5,023 with three additional deaths reported.

He said Saturday marked the highest number of new positive cases with 885 reported in 24 hours.

The three latest Suffolk residents to die of the coronavirus were all men with underlying health conditions, Bellone said. They include a man in his 60s who died at his home in Southampton on March 26, a patient in his 70s at Southside Hospital who died March 27, and a patient in his 30s at St. Joseph's Hospital who died March 28. That patient, a resident of Babylon Township, is the youngest death in the county so far, Bellone said.

There are now 40 deaths in Suffolk County attributed to COVID-19. “Everyone of every age can contract this disease, and everyone can transmit it,” Bellone said.

He said necessary restrictions that keep families apart when a loved one is sick in order to stem the spread of the virus is "agonizing."

“You cannot be with a loved one, it’s a struggle to see or visit a loved one who is dying," Bellone said. "It is so unnatural and so different from anything we have ever experienced."

Officials at the Atria South Setauket, an assisted living facility, said 17 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and two have died.

"We remain in close communication with our residents and their families and we will continue to provide our support as we navigate this unprecedented situation together," Mike Gentry, senior vice president of care at Atria said in a statement.

In Nassau County, there are 908 new confirmed cases, bringing that total to 6,445, and five more deaths reported for a total of 39, said Mike Fricchione, spokesman for County Executive Laura Curran

New York Coty officials said Sunday night there are 33,474 confirmed cases and 776 deaths. 

De Blasio talked about “confusion” after Trump said he was thinking about a quarantine in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. He called it “counterproductive and obviously unfair to so many people.”

The CDC instead issued a travel advisory for the region. “Not a lockdown, something much more consistent with what we have been actually saying and doing in the city and state already, which is telling people to stay home unless they have an essential reason to go somewhere,” the mayor said.

He said he spoke to Trump Sunday morning and said the advisory is something “we can live with.” 

Trump, asked about his decision to back off the idea of quarantining the tristate area. an idea he floated as a possibility on Saturday, said the “concept of quarantine was thrown out to me....and I thought it was too much to do.”

“Also it’s very hard to enforce,” Trump said.

The mayor said earlier he has talked with the Department of Defense to get medical personnel deployed to the city. The USNS Comfort, a navy hospital ship, departed Norfolk, Virginia Sunday for Manhattan. Another Navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, departed San Diego March 23 and arrived in Los Angeles on Friday.

De Blasio acknowledged that some supplies were coming in and he thanked the United Nations for sending New York 250,000 surgical masks Saturday. “We are their home and they did something very good for their hometown,” he said.

De Blasio said he has asked the federal government to send 400 ventilators by April 1 to help the city get through the week, when the numbers are expected to spike. 

He said Mount Sinai is working with a relief organization called Samaritan's Purse to create a 68-bed field hospital in Central Park. "This is the kind of thing you will see now as this crisis develops and deepens,” he said, adding that it is going up right now in the park's East Meadow, and will be operational on Tuesday.

The mayor said more than 650 people have been released from city jails and more than half the juveniles incarcerated have been released. 

Cuomo encouraged New York State hospitals across the public and private sectors, institutions that operate largely independent of one another, to work together during the pandemic.

“We have to change that mentality, and we have to change that mentality quickly,” he said. “No hospital is an island. No hospital in this situation can exist unto themselves.”

Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, a Democrat, on Saturday repealed a Thursday executive order mandating a 14-day quarantine restriction on travelers from New York State and instead revised the directive to anyone coming from any state for non-work-related purposes.

Cuomo had called the order absurd. It had police and members of the National Guard stopping those with New York license plates.

With AP

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