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Cuomo looks to increase hospital capacity as NY virus cases pass 10,000

On Saturday, Newsday's Pat Dolan reported on the

On Saturday, Newsday's Pat Dolan reported on the latest confirmed cases and fatalities of the coronavirus and what the new normal looks like for Long Islanders. Credit: Newsday Staff

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday he was looking to increase hospital capacity in New York State amid the coronavirus pandemic, including sites on Long Island, as the state scrambles to find protective masks for health care workers, the number of New Yorkers who tested positive passed the 10,000 mark, and five more Long Islanders died of COVID-19. 

In addition, the governor said, President Donald Trump has issued a federal disaster declaration for New York, which allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help the state financially in combating the coronavirus crisis. Under the declaration, FEMA would pay 75% of certain coronavirus-related costs. Cuomo asked for a waiver for the state's 25% share. 

"If there’s any situation where FEMA should waive the 25%, this is the situation," Cuomo said, later noting that New York now has nearly half the country's COVID-19 cases.

The governor reminded New Yorkers that the crisis, and the closure starting Sunday night of nonessential businesses and an edict that with limited exception residents "remain indoors," could last for months.

The governor said he is reviewing temporary hospital sites at locations including SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury, the Javits Center in Manhattan, and what he called the Westchester convention center — apparently referring to Westchester County Center, a convention center and concert and sports venue in White Plains.

He said he is discussing sites with the Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to help convert buildings into temporary hospitals.

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SUNY Old Westbury said in a statement that “the exact scale at which our campus will be used is yet to be determined. SUNY Old Westbury will do all it can to fully support the governor’s effort to stem the tide of COVID-19 and to help those who are impacted by this disease.”

In addition, the state is hoping to obtain four field hospitals from the Army Corps and may install them all in the cavernous Javits Center, Cuomo said. Each is a tent with medical equipment and a 250-bed capacity, he said.

After the state waived limits on how many hospital beds can be in a certain area, "we are now working with hospitals to reconfigure the space in the hospitals to get more beds," Cuomo said.

The goal is to increase the number of beds statewide from about 50,000 to at least 75,000, he said, a day after announcing hospitals are required to cancel or postpone all noncritical elective surgeries.

More LI victims

The three Nassau residents who died were a man, 46, who lived in the Town of Hempstead; a woman, 86, of Hempstead; and a 72-year-old North Hempstead woman, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Saturday morning. 

“We have to get mentally ready that these numbers are going to get bigger in the coming weeks," she said.

In Suffolk, another resident of Peconic Landing, a nursing, assisted-care, rehabilitative-care and independent-living center in Greenport, died, County Executive Steve Bellone said. The woman was in her late 80s, he said. Three other residents, all in their 90s, died Wednesday and Thursday. 

The virus was first detected at the facility on March 10, in a per-diem employee, Peconic Landing said.

In addition, a woman in her 80s died Friday at Huntington Hospital, Bellone said.

Nine people have now died of the disease in Suffolk, and seven in Nassau.

Nassau County had 1,234 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 480 from Friday morning, Cuomo and Curran said Saturday. Suffolk County had 662 cases, with 291 new cases, according to state and county numbers.

Medical supplies needed

Health care workers on Long Island and elsewhere have expressed alarm at the dwindling supply of masks, gowns and other equipment that help protect them from contracting COVID-19.

Cuomo announced he is sending 500,000 N95 respirator masks — which offer more protection than regular surgical masks — to Long Island, and 1 million to New York City.

The state has identified 2 million more N95 masks that suppliers have agreed to sell to the state — at a price.

“Masks that normally cost 80 cents are now $4," he said. "But look, it’s price gouging, but we need them, and most of these are coming from overseas.”

“We are literally scouring the globe looking for medical supplies,” he said.

Cuomo said some apparel companies responded to his call Friday to convert operations — with the state's help — to make masks and protective gowns, and the state may also start manufacturing them.

Cuomo repeated his call, also made loudly by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for federal help in acquiring medical supplies.

Bellone said the half-million masks “is a great start but more needs to be done" and asked residents and businesses to donate protective equipment. 

Nassau County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said local hospitals have been requesting additional masks and other supplies, and he urged healthy residents to not hoard masks and instead save them for those most vulnerable to the disease, and for first responders. 

Statewide, there have been 1,603 hospitalized with COVID-19, or about 15% of all cases, a number that grows daily. There's no doubt, the governor said, that the number will continue to rise.

Cuomo said the drastic restrictions on businesses and individuals congregating are designed to slow the rate of spread over time, so those who are sick can receive care.

"Over a period of months our health care system can deal with the numbers," he said.

Global and U.S. health experts estimate that 40% to 80% of New Yorkers, or up to 15 million people, may eventually contract the virus, Cuomo said.

Cuomo announced progress in obtaining ventilators, which are critical for people with severe cases of the respiratory illness.  

The state has identified 6,000 that it can purchase, and he said that separately, ventilators are being gathered from facilities statewide. On Friday, the state Department of Health ordered all state-regulated medical facilities to make available to the state any "nonessential" ventilators, which the state would borrow or buy.

Overall, the state had 10,356 COVID-19 cases as of Saturday morning, an increase of 3,254 from the previous day.

Those statistics do not include about 1,900 of the cases from New York City, which Saturday night reported 8,115 positive test results and 60 fatalities, with 1,450 people hospitalized and 370 in intensive care, according to Freddi Goldstein, spokeswoman for de Blasio. 

In Nassau, 39 people are hospitalized, seven in critical condition, Curran said. Fifty-five are hospitalized in Suffolk, and 14 of them are in intensive care units, Bellone said.

Cuomo noted that the rate of growth in coronavirus has lessened in Westchester County, which was the site of the state’s first big outbreak, traced to a New Rochelle attorney who had attended large gatherings before being diagnosed with the disease. The state March 12 set up a “containment zone” in New Rochelle, with the National Guard helping to deliver food and clean public spaces.

“The numbers would suggest that has been helpful,” he said.

New York State has performed 45,437 coronavirus tests, Cuomo said, nearly double that of any other state, and likely one reason the state has so many more reported cases.

"The more tests you take the more positives you find," he said.

Eisenstein said hundreds of tests are done daily at a drive-thru center at Jones Beach State Park and at private labs in Nassau. There also is a drive-thru test site at Stony Brook University.

Curran urged anyone who gets a positive result and has only mild symptoms to not call 911 or an ambulance.

“Please don’t call unless you’re having chest pains or shortness of breath,” she said. ”There’s no reason to call an ambulance. You’re putting health care workers and the health system at risk.”

Cuomo announced the state has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for 10,000 doses of the combination of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, and the antibiotic azithromycin, to conduct drug trials with New Yorkers with COVID-19. The combination has shown some promise as a treatment for COVID-19, although it’s unclear how effective it ultimately may be.

“As soon as we get those doses, we’ll work with doctors, hospitals and families on using those drugs and seeing where we get,” he said.

“In a situation where a person is in dire circumstance, try what you can,” he said.

The ban on gatherings

On Friday, Cuomo said all nonessential businesses — essential services include grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores and gas stations — must close or have all employees work from home beginning Sunday night, and he told individual New Yorkers to "remain indoors" in a measure he called the "ultimate step" to slow the outbreak. All gatherings of any size for any reason are banned, as are trips other than to buy essentials like food and medicine, and to, for example, exercise or walk a dog outside.

Cuomo first took less drastic steps, including a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people that went into effect Monday night.

Nassau fire marshals have been patrolling businesses to enforce the measure and have shut down two weddings and made multiple visits to other locations, Curran said.

The enforcement will continue with the new restrictions, with a warning for a first offense, Eisenstein said.

“We’re trying to be compassionate, but by the third visit people can expect a citation ... ,” he said. “Our fire marshals are not allowing people to congregate.”

Cuomo reiterated Saturday that the rate of the spread of the virus depends on New Yorkers practicing social distancing — staying at least 6 feet away from each other — and complying with other aspects of the new directive.

Those measures likely will be in place for months, and “how long and well it takes us to get through it is up to us," he said. "It depends on what we do."

He again expressed alarm at scenes of people — especially young people in New York City — congregating in groups, saying “it has not gotten any better” and “has to be stopped.”

Even though older adults and those with underlying health conditions are most vulnerable to COVID-19, more than half of the cases in the state are among adults ages 18 to 49, he said. Young adults not only can contract the virus but can also pass it on to their loved ones or others, possibly putting those people's lives at risk, he said.

“This is a public health issue and you cannot endanger other people’s health,” he said. “You shouldn’t be endangering your own, but you certainly have no right to endanger someone else’s.” 

In other developments Saturday:

  • Suffolk is asking for donations of N95 masks, as well as ear-loop face masks, gowns and gloves, including those that are used on construction sites or in personal care services, such as hair salons, barbers and nail salons, which were ordered closed effective 8 p.m. Saturday. The supplies can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays at the Suffolk County Fire Academy, 102 East Ave., Yaphank. Residents with large donations should email FRESfinance@suffolkcountyny.gov.

  • Bellone also announced that all nonemergency incidents must be reported online or by phone starting Monday. To file a report, go to www.suffolkpd.org/onlinereporting or call 631-852-COPS. 

  • Attorney General Letitia James urged New Yorkers to alert her office’s labor bureau if their employer is violating the governor's recent executive orders. Violations can be reported by emailing labor.bureau@ag.ny.gov or by calling 212-416-8700. 

  • De Blasio announced he is expanding and shuffling his senior leadership team, because, he said in a statement, “our city is facing an unprecedented threat, and we must respond with a wartime mentality.” A “COVID-19 food czar,” he said, would oversee food supply and distribution, and a “COVID-19 public-private partnership czar” would coordinate relief efforts with the private sector.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights to New York City-area airports Saturday afternoon because of coronavirus-related staffing issues at a Long Island air-traffic control center. The halt, which also affected Philadelphia International Airport, was lifted after about 30 minutes.

With John Asbury, Matthew Chayes and Craig Schneider

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