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Cuomo: All nonessential businesses in NY must shut down to fight coronavirus; LI has 5 new deaths

With more than 1,000 confirmed cases, businesses are thinking outside the box to survive. Watch our daily roundup of everything you need to know about the coronavirus on LI for March 20. Credit: Newsday / Staff

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 Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, Vera Chinese, Anthony M. DeStefano, Zachary R. Dowdy, Candice Ferrette, Michael Gormley, David Olson, Yancey Roy, Craig Schneider and John Valenti. It was written by Olson.

As the number of positive coronavirus cases surged above 7,000 in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday ordered employers to send workers home after Sunday evening, effectively shutting down all businesses except for essential services.

He also told individual New Yorkers to "remain indoors" in a series of measures he called the "ultimate step" to stop the outbreak.

The latest count of COVID-19 cases was a striking increase of nearly 3,000 new positives since Thursday. Less than three weeks ago, there were none.

Long Island now has 1,213 coronavirus cases, up 538 from Thursday, according to state and county totals.

Suffolk County has had four deaths reported since Thursday, bringing the county’s total to seven, County Executive Steve Bellone said Friday afternoon.

Three people — ages 96, 96 and 97 — were residents at Peconic Landing, a nursing, assisted-living, rehabilitative care and independent-living center in Greenport, Bellone said. Twelve other people there have tested positive for the virus, a statement from Peconic Landing said.

Details on the residence of the fourth person are pending family notification.

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Nassau County disclosed Friday it had recorded its fourth death: a 44-year-old man with underlying health conditions who died Thursday, County Executive Laura Curran said. Thirty-two people in Nassau are hospitalized, seven in critical condition. 

There have been 35 virus-related deaths in New York State, Cuomo said.

New York now has nearly 46% of confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide, Cuomo said.

“You can see that New York is in a dramatically different position and you can see why we are taking these actions," he said.

The state has tested 32,427 people — 10,072 since Thursday.

The drastic restrictions will be in place for the foreseeable future.

"This could be going on for months," Cuomo said.

The business shutdown evolved gradually, with the number of employees required to stay at home rising over the past two days from 50% to 75% to all nonessential workers, starting 8 p.m. Sunday.

“We are going to close the valve,” Cuomo said. "Because the rate of increase in the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system."

Among the "essential services" exempted from the order are grocery stores, pharmacies, health care operations, banks, plumbers, electricians, utilities, internet service providers, restaurants with takeout and delivery, gas stations, laundromats, homeless shelters, trash and recycling collection, hardware stores, warehouses and distribution centers, convenience stores and auto repair shops.

There will be civil fines and closure of businesses that violate the order, the governor said.

Individuals also are covered under the edicts, but “at this time” there are no fines for those who disobey them, he said.

The governor said he is aware of the economic damage his move will cause and accepts "full responsibility" for the consequences.

“These actions will cause disruption," Cuomo said. "They will cause businesses to close.”

But, he said, “I believe these policies will save lives, and I’m not willing to put a price on a human life.”

Banning unnecessary gatherings

All nonessential gatherings of any size for any reason are banned, and any concentration of people outside the home is limited to workers providing essential services, and they must practice “social distancing,” or stay at least 6 feet away from each other, he said.

Cuomo said he has spoken with the governors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware, and "they are considering" similar measures.

The governor said New Yorkers can go outside to buy groceries, medicine and other essential supplies, or to walk the dog or exercise.

But, he added, “Outdoor recreation is a solitary recreational exercise. It’s running, it’s hiking, it’s not playing basketball with five other people. That’s not what it is. It’s not laying in a park with 10 other people and sharing a beer.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would be enforcing social distancing restrictions — including at groceries and pharmacies that are exempt from the closure order.

“We’re gonna ask the NYPD and other agencies — keep an eye on places where people are getting a little too crowded, and go in and remind people to separate and spread out,” he said.

In Suffolk, playgrounds and dog parks in county parks are now closed because of the difficulty in maintaining social distancing, Bellone said. The parks remain open.

Cuomo said his most critical request of New Yorkers is to stay away from those most vulnerable: people who are over 70, are immunocompromised or have underlying illnesses.

Even if some young people or others are not worried about coronavirus — although he emphasized that some young adults are hospitalized with severe COVID-19 cases — they can infect and endanger the lives of others, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

Cuomo urged the most vulnerable to be especially vigilant, restricting even family visits, and to prescreen visitors such as home health aides by taking their temperature. All vulnerable people, and those who come in contact with them, should wear a mask, he said.

He deemed his rules for the vulnerable "Matilda's law," in honor of his 88-year-old mother, about whom he repeatedly has expressed concern.

“This is about protecting them," he said. "What you do highly, highly affects their health and well-being.”

Cuomo increasingly has tried to personalize the COVID-19 crisis, bringing up his mother regularly and mentioning his daughters, siblings and cautionary lessons learned from his grandfather.

Peconic Landing cases

Peconic Landing said in a statement that the three people who died there were two women, ages 96 and 97, who were in the skilled-nursing part of the facility, and a 96-year-old man who was in the memory-support section and died in a hospital.

The man and the 97-year-old woman died Thursday; the other woman died Wednesday, but was not diagnosed with COVID-19 until Thursday, the statement said. All had underlying medical conditions.

They lived in the "Health Center, where COVID-19 was first detected on campus March 10th in a per-diem employee who had unknowingly been exposed to the virus," Peconic Landing said.

Twelve other residents of the health center also tested positive, the statement said. One is in a hospital.

No one in Peconic Landing's 301-resident independent living area tested positive, the statement said.

Confirmed results keep rising

There are 7,102 New Yorkers who tested positive for COVID-19, Cuomo said Friday morning, with 2,950 of those cases registered as new positives. Nassau County has 754 cases, with 382 new positives, the state said.

Suffolk has 459 cases, up 156 from Thursday, said Bellone, who is under a mandatory quarantine because two of his staff members tested positive. 

Two more police officers on Long Island have tested positive for the virus, adding to one Nassau officer who earlier tested positive. A Suffolk County police highway unit officer in his 50s, and a state trooper from the Island, have COVID-19, Bellone and state police said. 

New York City has 5,683 cases, with 43 deaths, said Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for de Blasio. State and local numbers sometimes differ because of the timing of lab-result releases. 

New York faces a shortage of beds for the onslaught of patients needing care, the governor said, so he said he's issuing an order canceling all noncritical elective surgeries to free up space. A number of hospitals and hospital systems on Long Island and elsewhere already have canceled elective surgeries. That will free up 25% to 35% of all hospital beds statewide, he said.

In addition, the Department of Health will waive state regulations limiting the amount of hospital beds in a particular space, he said.

Temporary hospitals planned

Cuomo said state officials have been talking with the Army Corps of Engineers about converting buildings into space for hospital beds.

Already, 1,255 people have been hospitalized in New York for coronavirus, or 18% of all people who have tested positive, he said.

Possible locations to house patients include Stony Brook University and Farmingdale State College and several locations in New York City and upstate, including the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan and Queens College and St. John’s University in Queens.

Even more dire than the state's shortage of beds is its severe shortage of ventilators, which are critical to keep many people with severe cases of the respiratory illness alive.

“The ventilators are to this war what missiles were to World War II," Cuomo said. 

The governor said the state Department of Health would order all state-regulated medical facilities to make available to the state any "nonessential" ventilators.

The state will purchase the ventilators, or the medical facility can lend them to the state, he said.

New York is facing a crunch of personal protective equipment as well, he said.

Cuomo said if he had the power to order manufacturers to make masks, gowns and gloves, as the federal government does, he would, but in the absence of that, he said the state would “pay a premium for these products.” 

Other manufacturers who make different products will be given funding for equipment and personnel to switch to production of the items, he said. 

Cuomo and de Blasio have called on the federal government to help procure the supplies.

New York also needs more health care providers, and state officials are contacting nursing schools and medical schools for students to help care for patients and “asking retired doctors and nurses to come back into service," Cuomo said.

Trying to slow the spread

The state also will ban evictions of residential or commercial tenants for 90 days, Cuomo said, to help people facing financial struggles get through the crisis.

Earlier Friday, Cuomo ordered barbershops, hair salons, tattoo and piercing parlors, nail salons, hair removal services and all related personal care services closed to the public effective Saturday at 8 p.m.

The measure is in agreement with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf as part of a uniform, multistate approach to combating the virus, Cuomo said in a statement.

These new measures follow the closure of movie theaters, gyms, casinos, and on-premise service at restaurants and bars, as well as of indoor portions of retail malls, amusement parks and bowling alleys, earlier this week.

Meanwhile, de Blasio, speaking Friday morning on MSNBC, warned that absent dwindling supplies like gloves and masks, medical personnel won't be able to treat everyone who is infected with the coronavirus, and they could die unnecessarily. 

"If the president does not act within days" to activate the military and order factories under the law to make the supplies, de Blasio said, "thousands will die who didn't need to die."

There are 1,518 COVID-19 cases in Brooklyn, 1,406 in Queens, 1,314 in Manhattan, 667 in the Bronx and 242 on State Island, Goldstein said.

Twenty NYPD officers of all ranks have been confirmed as testing positive for the virus, a department spokesman said late Thursday. The total includes uniformed officers with the rank of chief, cops, and school safety agents, the spokesman said. They have been ordered to stay home and seek treatment. 

At the national level, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday morning in a tweet that President Donald Trump had Tax Day moved from April 15 to July 15 to give taxpayers and businesses "additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties."

The state tax deadline also will be extended, Cuomo said.

Transportation woes

Following calls from commuters for the Long Island Rail Road to facilitate refunds on unused train tickets, the LIRR on Friday announced it would waive its $10 surcharge for Mail & Ride subscription customers whose April monthly tickets have been processed.

“Do not remove the ticket from the clear seal. If we receive your ticket back prior to April 2rd, we will not charge your account for the ticket,” the LIRR said in a message to its customers. “Any tickets received after April 3rd will be billed and then refunded back to the account after we receive the ticket. There will be no $10 fee for either case.”

At JFK Airport on Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration evacuated air traffic controllers from the tower after a technician assigned to that location tested positive for coronavirus, officials said in a statement.

The airport remained open and controllers handled flights from an alternate location, the FAA said. The facility was cleaned and disinfected, and all personnel were working from the tower by 11:30 a.m. Friday, the statement said.

EXEMPT FROM ORDER

Among those exempted from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order to keep employees home are businesses deemed essential. Employers that don’t have to send all their employees home include: health facilities; veterinarians; nursing homes and assisted living facilities; public utilities; telecommunications; farming enterprises; trash haulers, construction companies; banks and insurance companies; homeless shelters and food banks; auto repair shops; cleaning companies; child care agencies, and essential government services.

Source: New York Governors Office.

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