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 Rachelle Blidner, Tom Brune, Matthew Chayes, Mark Harrington, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones, Antonio Planas, David Olson, David Reich-Hale and Yancey Roy. It was written by Jones.
As the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread in New York, escalating to 30,000 confirmed cases across the state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday banned basketball and other contact sports in New York City playgrounds and pleaded for more federal funding.
But, even as he reported that another 5,000 cases were detected overnight, Cuomo said he saw some signs of hope.
The projected rate of hospitalizations for coronavirus patients appears to be diminishing, thousands of retired medical professionals are volunteering their services to confront the crisis, and a five-star Manhattan hotel is offering to put up health care workers for free.
An initial hot spot in the coronavirus outbreak in Westchester County's New Rochelle that Cuomo called "the hottest cluster in the United States of America" has been slowed by closing schools and nonessential businesses, banning gatherings, increasing testing, and encouraging social distancing, he said.
A day after harshly criticizing the federal government for failing to deliver emergency health equipment, Cuomo sounded a more conciliatory note toward President Donald Trump, but he emphasized the need for more federal help for New York.
"We have ten times the problem that the next state has, which is New Jersey," Cuomo said at a news conference in Albany.
“We still have the trajectory going up. We have not turned the trajectory” of increasing coronavirus cases, he said. “Nor have we hit the apex. We’re still on the way up the mountain.”
At his daily coronavirus press briefing at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said, “We’ve been spending a lot of time with New York officials because that is by far the hottest spot. They’ve got a number of very tough weeks ahead of them."
"I’m doing everything in my power to help the city pull through this challenge," the president said. "It’s by far our biggest challenge.”
He added that "the governor’s doing a very good job."
Nassau County on Wednesday reported seven new deaths linked to the virus, for a total of 17. One of the latest victims was a resident of the A. Holly Patterson Extended Care, a publicly run nursing facility in Uniondale. Ten patients in the county are in critical condition.
Suffolk County reported three more deaths for a total of 20, the seventh successive day in which the county announced it had lost people to the virus.
“I fear this is something that will be occurring on a daily basis moving forward, based on the trajectory,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
New York City said it now has 280 coronavirus-related deaths.
Long Island accounts for 5,545 of the state’s COVID-19 cases, with Nassau and Suffolk combined adding nearly 800 overnight as testing in the region increases. As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, New York City reported 20,011 cases.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, clarified at Wednesday's briefing that every resident of the New York City metropolitan area, not just the city, who have left the area to travel elsewhere should "carefully monitor their temperatures and self-isolate from the communities where they went" for 14 days.
Cuomo addressed young people in the state and particularly New York City, saying they may be getting misinformation about coronavirus and need to take it seriously.
“You can catch the coronavirus. You may think you are a superhero. You’re really not. You can catch it and you can transfer it,” he said.
Cuomo said he was banning contact sports in New York City’s playgrounds, including basketball. “You cannot do it,” he said.
The directive is voluntary, but if people do not follow it, he said he will close the playgrounds. The city is also implementing a pilot program to close certain streets to give people more room to walk and jog, he said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed those plans at an afternoon news conference and said hoops will be removed at 80 out of 1,700 basketball courts in city parks, where authorities have seen people playing basketball in violation of the state order.
While hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders remained holed up their homes to avoid possibly contracting coronavirus, on the East End, some appeared to be ignoring official warnings to stay home and practice social distancing.
In the Hamptons over the weekend and on Tuesday, hordes of people were seen jogging, dog walking and going to the beach.
Grocery stores were still short of supplies and popular walkways on Dune Road from Westhampton to Hampton Bays, normally barren this time of year, were busy with people.
Some locals weren’t happy.
“They’re hanging out here like it’s a party,” said Bonnie Brady, a Montauk resident. “I didn’t see meat for a week in the IGA. After three days I found bread.”
Long Beach officials have also warned people about packing that city’s boardwalk and beaches, which were crowded last weekend, and said they might shut them down.
People appeared more dispersed on Tuesday, police and officials said.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church on Long Island said it was stopping all funerals, wakes, weddings, baptisms and any other gatherings in churches because of the epidemic.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre is also suspending the distribution of palms for Palm Sunday on April 5, diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said. Palms will be made available at a later date for those who mark the religious observance.
Some burial services may be offered if possible but only at grave sites and while maintaining “safe distance precautions,” Dolan said.
The diocese, home to 1.4 million Catholics on Long Island, had previously banned people from attending Masses, though priests can still celebrate them and have them broadcast or livestreamed. That remains in effect, Dolan said.
A critical need for hospitals
In Albany, the governor repeated what has become his mantra about the critical need for machines that help people in respiratory distress after being struck by the virus.
“Ventilators, ventilators, ventilators,” he said.
The state needs 30,000 ventilators to prepare for an expected apex of hospitalizations within 21 days, Cuomo said. New York had 4,000, purchased 7,000 and the federal government has sent another 4,000, he said.
That leaves the state 15,000 short of the projected need.
"Our single greatest challenge is still ventilators," Cuomo said. "No one has these ventilators and no one ever anticipated a situation where you would need this number of ventilators. … We have purchased everything that can be purchased."
Trump, at the White House, said Cuomo and de Blasio were "very happy" about the 4,000 ventilators the federal government sent. "It’s hard not to be happy with the job we’re doing, that I can tell you," Trump said.
Cuomo also said the state has been “shopping around the world” to find protective gear such as masks and gloves for health care workers — items the workers have said they were lacking as the crisis unfolded, putting their health and that of patients at risk.
Cuomo said the state recently procured and distributed large amounts of the safety equipment.
“Today, no hospital, no nurse, no doctor can say legitimately, ‘I don’t have protective equipment.’ Right now and for the foreseeable future we have a supply. We do not yet have secured a supply for three weeks from now, four weeks from now, five weeks from now. But we are still shopping.”
Cuomo suggested that the federal government implement a “rolling deployment” of limited equipment like the ventilators to focus on hot spots such as New York first, and then transfer the equipment to other states when the epidemic intensifies there.
He pledged to personally manage the deployment of the supplies to other states as New York gets the crisis under control.
“We need help from the country right now,” he said. “We will return the favor. … We will repay it with dividends.”
Federal relief questioned
New York is set to receive at least $40 billion under a coronavirus relief package expected to pass in the U.S. Senate, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. He said that "big help" is "on the way" to New York.
Cuomo disputed that, citing smaller anticipated allocations of $3.8 billion for the state budget and $1.3 billion for the New York City budget, and said that would not be enough to cope with the crisis.
“This response to this virus has probably already cost us $1 billion. It will probably cost us several billion dollars when we're done," the governor railed at his daily briefing. "I spoke to our House delegation this morning. I told them ‘This doesn’t do it.’ ”
However, the governor focused only on aid that goes directly into state’s budget: $3.1 billion.
He did not count other elements of the stimulus that will help New Yorkers, such as $15 billion in unemployment benefits, $4 billion to mass transit, $2.5 billion to local governments, $180 million for airports and the opportunity for small businesses to receive millions of dollars in grants.
The Cuomo administration defended its focus on direct payments to the state, arguing the state budget is what will be used to cover costs of ventilators and other expenses. A Cuomo aide said that, as a percentage of the state’s budget, $3.1 billion amounts to 1.9%, the second lowest in the nation by that measure.
The state should get more because it’s the “epicenter” of the virus in the country, the administration said.
De Blasio also said the city should get more assistance.
"We are one-third of the cases in this country right now. Someone do the math down there in Washington in the Senate Republican majority!" de Blasio said, adding: "They gave us less than 1 percent of the money that they were giving out to cities and states, and we have a third of the cases in the nation. That is just immoral."
In contrast to Tuesday and other days when he was more critical of the White House's slow or insufficient reaction to the crisis, Coumo spoke in a conciliatory manner about Trump and his team on Wednesday, saying "what we are working on is a common challenge."
"I want to thank the president for his support," he said.
Cuomo also had kind words for Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, a fellow New Yorker. “He’s been extraordinarily helpful,” Cuomo said.
A good sign on hospitalizations
Cuomo said he had some good news in the projected rates of coronavirus patients being hospitalized in the state. On Sunday, the projected rates were doubling every two days. On Monday, the rate was every 3.4 days. On Tuesday, the rate was every 4.7 days.
“Now, that is almost too good to be true,” he said. But by reducing density, observing “social distancing,” closing nonessential businesses, and other steps, the spread can be reduced, he said.
“This is a very good sign and a positive sign,” he said. “The arrows are headed in the right direction, and that is always better than the arrows headed in the wrong direction.”
Slowing the hospitalization rate “is everything,” he said, so that the hospitals are not overwhelmed by a wave of patients.
He also said he saw some good news in what has happened in Westchester County, where the state took aggressive steps to stop the spread. Westchester now has about 4,000 cases, while Nassau is up to nearly 3,000.
“We have dramatically slowed what was an exponential rate of increase,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said that 40,000 health care workers, including retirees and students, have signed up to volunteer to work as part of a “surge” state health care force during the crisis.
He also said more than 6,000 mental health professionals have signed up to provide free online mental health services. “How beautiful is that?” he said.
The governor said hotels in New York have started stepping forward to offer rooms to health care workers during the crisis. The 350-room Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street will provide free housing to nurses, doctors and medical personnel, he said.
The five-star hotel is located on Manhattan’s “Billionaire’s Row.”
More drive-thru testing
Lake Success-based ProHEALTH said Wednesday it has opened a third drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in the area.
The center, at 3 Delaware Dr. in Lake Success, is in addition to drive-thru testing centers in Jericho and Little Neck, Queens.
At Stony Brook University, faculty and students said they are pitching in to help with the crisis. They are using 3-D printing to make 40 to 45 protective face shields a day, and the chemistry department is creating hand sanitizer, said the university’s interim president, Michael Bernstein.
The state Public Service Commission chairman on Wednesday approved an emergency request by New York American Water to postpone a scheduled April 1 rate hike across its Nassau and upstate territories until Sept. 1.
The commission chairman, John Rhodes, also approved a similar request by National Grid that delays until this summer any rate hikes for Long Island and New York City that would result from ongoing rate proceedings before the state.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Suffolk County
The following are confirmed coronavirus cases by town as of March 25, 2020:
- Islip — 461
- Huntington — 423
- Brookhaven — 330
- Babylon — 306
- Smithtown — 30
- Southold — 111
- Riverhead — 47
- Southampton — 40
- East Hampton — 13
- Shelter Island — 2
- Town not known — 182
Nassau County did not provide a breakdown of cases by town.
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 sanitizer. 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.
SOURCES: Nassau County, New York Blood Center, Suffolk County