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Cuomo: Long Island area of concern as NY coronavirus cases exceed 100,000; sending National Guard to get ventilators

State and local officials expressed concern over raising numbers of coronavirus deaths state wide, but some patients are recovering. Newsday's Cecilia Dowd has the story.  Credit: Newsday staff; Howard Schnapp

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 Tom Brune, Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, Matt Clark, Anthony M. DeStefano, Candice Ferrette, Bart Jones, Keldy Ortiz, Yancey Roy, Joie Tyrrell and Thomas Maier. It was written by Jones.

Long Island is an area of concern as coronavirus cases have surpassed 100,000 across New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, while declaring he will send in the National Guard to take ventilators and protective gear from hospitals and private medical facilities and redeploy them where urgently needed.

His plan, which could initially move resources from upstate to downstate, met immediate opposition from 12 upstate Republicans — including two members of Congress who are strong supporters of President Donald Trump.

The politicians called Cuomo's plan "reckless" and accused him of planning to take the machines "by force."

While Cuomo appeared headed for a showdown with the upstate politicians, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city could run out of ventilators as early as Monday. He called it a "D-Day" life-or-death situation when struggling hospitals could be overwhelmed.

Cuomo announced his executive order as he reported another one-day high of deaths from the virus, 562 since Thursday. Deaths from coronavirus now total 2,935 statewide, nearly as many people that died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

New York's death toll has nearly doubled in the last three days.

Nassau County reported 43 new fatalities Friday, its highest figure yet, less than a month after its first confirmed case of coronavirus. Suffolk County had 12 more deaths.

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For the second day in a row, the governor said he was troubled by the exponential rise in coronavirus cases on Long Island, where they jumped by more than 2,800 overnight for a total exceeding 22,000.

Nassau and Suffolk, Cuomo said, are starting "to light up."

It "is something we are concerned about," Cuomo said, explaining that Long Island "doesn't have as elaborate a health care system" as New York City.

Cuomo showed a graphic with eight “hot spots” in the state with the highest numbers of coronavirus patients. Six are on Long Island.

They are: St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, and Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook.

Nassau and Suffolk have the third- and fourth-highest figures for confirmed coronavirus cases among all counties in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University, behind only New York City and Westchester County.

      Hospital officials at Stony Brook expressed confidence they could withstand the onslaught of the virus. 

    " We have no fear, we’re not going to get overwhelmed," said Dr. James Vosswinkel, Medical Director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. "Our community can rest assured that we’re going to keep fighting for them.

      Vosswinkel added: "Everyone who walks into the hospital, including the housekeepers, the pharmacy techs, the laboratory techs, everyone … they’re all doing this as a team, and doing the right things to help our patients. If we get sick, we accept it. We’re not hiding from this; we accept the challenge."

For several consecutive days in Nassau and the past two days in Suffolk, the new daily number of COVID-19 infections detected has surpassed 1,000 cases in each county, state figures showed.

Nassau's 1,437 new cases on Friday are “our biggest increase so far,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

In Washington, D.C., as the crisis intensified, Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending voluntary use of masks outside, a shift in its advice that face covering should be worn only by the sick or at high risk of respiratory illness complications.

Long Island's jump of 2,845 new cases on Friday brought its total to 22,178.

Nassau and Suffolk now have lost 234 people to the pandemic.

“We mourn every one of them," Curran said. "These numbers are sobering.”

State seeks ventilators on loan

Cuomo said he is issuing an executive order to take the ventilators used to help patients in respiratory distress and personal protective equipment worn by medical personnel from institutions that don't need them now.

He said the state would pay for the machines and equipment, or return them when no longer needed, and he anticipated opposition but presented the move as necessary.

“I’m not going to be in a position where people are dying” and there are ventilators sitting elsewhere in the state, he said. “I’m not going to let people die because we didn’t redistribute ventilators.”

He added: “Am I willing to deploy the National Guard and inconvenience people for several hundred lives? You’re damn right I am.”

He said he believes the move will stand up in court, and, asked if he was worried about getting sued, responded: “If they want to sue me for borrowing their excess ventilators to save lives, let them sue me.”

His plan provoked ire among the upstate Republicans. The group — led by Reps. Tom Reed (R-Corning) and Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) and including six state senators and four Assembly members — issued a statement Friday afternoon calling Cuomo’s order “dangerous.”

“Taking our ventilators by force leaves our people without protection and our hospitals unable to save lives today or respond to a coming surge,” the Republicans said in a statement issued by Reed. “We stand together opposing the governor's very dangerous and reckless action. He is leaving our communities in a terrible position which will cost lives."   

Earlier Friday, Stefanik issued her own statement minutes after Cuomo finished his briefing.

“The North Country comprises the largest number of seniors of any Congressional District in New York State, the most vulnerable age group to COVID-19," she said. "Our critical needs and vulnerabilities must be considered.”

She said that upstate hospitals have told the state that, already, they have limited coronavirus testing supplies and ventilators.

Apparently in response to the upstate politicians, Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi issued a statement saying: "While the pandemic is primarily in downstate New York now — it is projected to peak and reduce in downstate and increase in upstate. It is essential that we all help each other and the Governor is asking upstate hospitals to loan 20 percent of their unused ventilators to struggling downstate hospitals."

He added: "Ventilators literally save lives. They will be returned or reimbursed to those hospitals. Moreover, when the pandemic wave hits upstate New York, the Governor will ask downstate hospitals for similar help."

Cuomo said on Thursday that New York State's stockpile of 2,200 ventilators could run out in about six days. He said Friday that the market to buy ventilators had "collapsed," and he is desperately seeking for states with low numbers of coronavirus cases to share their machines with New York as it heads for the apex of the crisis probably by late April.

The number of patients maintained on ventilators in Nassau County hospitals rose from 244 to 324 from March 30 to April 2, according to county data. That's a 33% increase. In Suffolk, from March 29 to April 1, the number of ventilator patients increased from 153 to 267, up 75%.

New York City is also making a desperate move to secure supplies.

De Blasio said 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.

The mayor said he expects most to comply, but "there will be others, who, you know try to resist."

"That always happens," he said. "Some people will be more motivated by greed than they will be helping others."

Among those who may have the to-be-seized items, such as personal protective equipment like masks: the construction industry, manufacturers, and sectors of private health care made dormant by the focus on the virus, like cosmetic surgery. 

De Blasio — furthering his administration's policy reversal a day earlier to advise shielding one's mouth and nose with a covering when in public — also said the city jails and homeless shelters would be providing items like scarfs and bandannas to combat the spread.

Over 100,000 confirmed NY cases

The state now has registered 102,863 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 10,482 new positives overnight, as an aggressive push for testing and measures to promote social distancing remain in force.

Cuomo renewed pleas for help from the federal government and the rest of the nation, as the state continues to face the brunt of the pandemic in the United States.

“Help the place that has the crisis," Cuomo said. "New York is in crisis. Help New York, and then pick up, decamp” and help the next place. “There’s not a perfect timing … but I do not see any operational practical alternative to dealing with this going forward.”

He cited the saying from the nation's Founding Fathers, recently added to the New York Seal, "E pluribus unum," or "Out of many, one."

"It’s the American DNA to say we are going to help one another," he said. "We are a family, we are brothers and sisters.”

New York City remained the locus of the outbreak, with 5,350 new positives since Thursday, adding up to 57,159 confirmed cases.

The state also saw a new high of hospitalizations, with about 1,400 admissions, though a similar number also were discharged, Cuomo said.

Park closed: 'disheartening'

Some Long Island officials have complained that some residents are not taking social distancing directives seriously. On Friday, one shut down a popular park.

Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino shut Argyle Park to the public until further notice after residents called in to complain about violators.

“It’s very disheartening that we have to end up like this,” Scordino said, adding that village officials also saw park visitors not adhering to guidelines. “We were very satisfied keeping the park open, but people weren’t following the rules. We had to take this extra step.” 

The closing of the park comes as officials already have closed Village Hall.

At Argyle Park, barricades and signs will be posted, Scordino said. Code enforcement will be patrolling to enforce the closure, and could issue fines. 

“It will be judgmental on what they saw and everything,” Scordino said about the fine. “We’re not about giving out fines. We just want to make sure people understand to follow the rules.”

Recently, no one was present during a March 24 public hearing, which was held under restricted conditions, Scordino said. On March 21, a village official who was trying to break up a large gathering of bicyclists near Argyle Park was coughed on by a rider.

A 'draft' of medical personnel

Earlier Friday, de Blasio called for an “essential draft” of the nation’s medical personnel to treat the surging number of coronavirus cases, first for New York City and then across the country as the virus continues to spread.

“They should be organizing a civilian enlistment of medical personnel. If you think about a doctor somewhere in the American heartland right now … we need that doctor at the front where they could be saving lives. We’re gonna lose lives that could have been saved,” de Blasio said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. 

De Blasio repeated his call for a mobilization of the American military to help, saying that without it, “You’re going to see people die who did not need to die, not just in New York, but in many parts of this country.” 

The influx of coronavirus patients into New York City hospitals is so great that Trump has given permission for the state-owned Jacob Javits Center to switch to accept non-virus patients at the 2,500-bed makeshift hospital, Cuomo said.

In Nassau, Curran said she hopes Trump will approve a similar move at SUNY Old Westbury, where the Corps is raising a temporary hospital, as he did at the Javits center.

Curran said that among the heads of hospital systems in Nassau, “the consensus is it needs to be COVID so that we can get relief for our hospitals and our health care workers.”

She added: “Obviously, it also has to be properly staffed. We know that our health care executives are scouring for health care workers and have put out the call for retired doctors and nurses, lab technicians to volunteer.”

Hospitals and health care workers, she said, “are stretched almost to the limit and they need relief.”

The Old Westbury hospital may open in about a week, Curran said. A similar one is being built at Stony Brook University in Suffolk.

Spring week for instruction

As schools remain shut and teachers struggle to instruct students online, some districts are informing parents that spring break is canceled, per Cuomo’s orders.

The governor has ordered schools closed at least through April 15, and instructed them to keep doing their best to teach, including through spring break. Meal distribution to needy students is also to continue.

Spring recess in some districts initially was scheduled to start April 9, with students returning April 20. Others were to have started April 3.

Westhampton Beach school district officials, in a letter sent to parents and students, noted spring recess was planned to occur during religious observances. Passover starts the evening of April 8, and Good Friday is April 10.

School officials said they will “design remote learning on those days to be as flexible as possible for our students.”

Testing for NYPD officers

As the virus hits the NYPD hard, some health care companies are offering free COVID-19 testing.

Three major health care entities, including Northwell Health, began offering free testing Friday to NYPD cops who are symptomatic, commissioner Dermot Shea said in a department message.

Montefiore Health Systems and ProHEALTH are also offering the tests, Shea said. The New York City Police Foundation facilitated the free testing with Montefiore. Shea added that Northwell and ProHEALTH have agreed to waive copays.

 "All told, there will now be 74 new locations available for our members of service who are symptomatic throughout the New York City and the surrounding area," Shea said.

 As of late Thursday, some 1,354 NYPD cops have tested positive for the coronavirus, or about 3.7% of the force.

LIRR on reduced schedule

One week after putting in place a reduced schedule, Long Island Rail Road president Phillip Eng said Friday he was “pleased” with the results.

Speaking to LI News Radio, Eng said riders have adjusted to the “Essential Service Plan” put in place March 27 throughout the MTA system.

The plan initially reduced regular weekday service by about 35%, although more changes have been made since — including the addition of more morning and afternoon peak period trains “to allow the riders that have to go in the ability to spread out,” Eng said.

“I've been watching as the trains pull in and out in Jamaica here over the last week … People now stay to themselves out on the platforms,” Eng said.

“They are now spreading themselves out across all the cars that make up the whole train. And that allows our employees on the train the ability to walk through more freely the ability to distance themselves as they ensure that the trains are moving safely for the riders.”

Eng also reminded commuters that they could seek refunds for unused April Mail & Ride monthly tickets and not have to pay the usual $10 refund fee. The railroad has said it received about 5,000 refund requests for March tickets. Many commuters complained at the time that, because of the LIRR’s system of calculating prorated refunds, they only got back a small fraction of what they paid, if they got back anything at all.

“We expect that now as people's locations have been adjusted, the refunds will diminish over time, until eventually when we get back to begin service,” Eng said.

MTA officials have said ridership across the transit system, including at the LIRR, has plummeted by about 90% as compared to the same time last year. But images shared by some riders continue to show crowded subway trains in some parts of New York City.

Responding to the conditions, the Transport Workers Union, which represents city bus and subway workers, said it was partnering with Amalgamated Transit Union to call for “aggressive action” to protect employees at transit agencies throughout the country, including the MTA, where 10 workers have died from the virus.

Among the unions’ demands is for public transportation agencies to “mandate social distancing among transit riders.” On Thursday, the MTA began urging riders to wear masks while riding trains and buses.

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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