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, Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, Scott Eidler, John Hildebrand, Bart Jones, David Olson and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo blasted a $2 trillion federal coronavirus rescue package from Congress for failing to help New York sufficiently as he announced a jump of more than 6,000 cases in the state, for a total of more than 37,000.
The news came as the United States surpassed China and Italy for the most coronavirus cases in the world, some 82,404 people who have tested positive, with New York contributing by far the largest amount of any state.
As the number of confirmed cases continue to rise, so are related hospitalizations and deaths — leaving the state facing what Cuomo called the “double whammy” of a growing health crisis and shrinking revenues.
In one day, the number of New York deaths jumped by 100 people — from 285 to 385, he said.
Four new deaths were reported on Long Island on Thursday, for a total of 41.
Underscoring the severity of the crisis, a three-week-old boy was diagnosed with COVID-19 and spent two days at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola before he was released Tuesday, a source said.
"He was in and out pretty quickly," the source said. The source declined to discuss what symptoms and other possible health problems the boy had. He is recuperating at home, the source said.
Meanwhile, county executives in Nassau and Suffolk, along with some school district officials, said they do not expect schools to reopen April 1, as initially scheduled.
The governor said that as the health crisis enters a progressively more dire phase, he is hunting for desperately needed ventilators around the country and globe. He also said he is looking for more sites to set up temporary 1,000-bed hospitals like the one at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, which the Army Corps of Engineers is converting into a health care facility.
Cuomo said he hopes to set up 1,000-bed facilities for overflow patients, with one each Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland counties, as well as in each of New York City’s five boroughs.
The government is setting up temporary hospitals at Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury to serve as backups to the regular health care system.
The state has 53,000 hospital beds but expects to require 140,000 as the pandemic peaks in New York by mid-April. The state government hopes to shift some of the burden from downstate to upstate, sending some patients from the New York City area to hospitals up north, he said.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that the USNS Comfort, a naval ship with 1,000 hospital beds he had promised, will be on its way to New York City on Saturday. It's expected to arrive at New York Harbor on Monday.
At his daily press briefing in Albany, Cuomo was steaming over the $2 trillion rescue package.
“I was shocked that they were so irresponsible in addressing the state and the city need,” he said. “They just did not address the revenue shortfall.”
Cuomo estimated the state expects a loss in revenue of between $10 billion and $15 billion. “That is a ton of money for the State of New York’s budget,” he said.
The rescue package gives the state $5 billion, but it is earmarked for coronavirus expenses only, “which means it does absolutely nothing for us in terms of lost revenue," he said.
“I'm disappointed,” he said. “I find it irresponsible. I find it reckless.”
Schools reopening in doubt
While Cuomo expressed frustration about the budget, local school officials said the prospects for reopening next week looked grim.
In Nassau County, County Executive Laura Curran said she does not believe they will because the governor has said "we will reach the apex of this crisis in two to three weeks and April 1 is only one week away."
She said she can't make any orders herself "because the state has taken action on closing schools, and they are the bigger entity, their order now supersedes ours on reopening … We are awaiting guidance from the state."
Her counterpart in Suffolk, Steve Bellone, said he agrees the April 1 date "will be extended.”
Hank Grishman, superintendent of the 3,200-student Jericho school district, said, “I’m telling staff members and parents that I seriously doubt we’ll reopen April 1."
He said that he expects Cuomo's next step "will be to coordinate with New York City, which is closed down until April 20."
Brad Lindell, a school psychologist with 30 years’ experience in the Connetquot district, said he was anticipating school staying on shutdown.
“Educationally, you’d rather be in a classroom, seeing children face to face,” he said. “But as far as coronavirus is concerned, I think it’s good we’re not being exposed to other people, or putting others at risk."
While the schools appeared poised to remain on shutdown, the Long Island Rail Road — after operating normal service since the pandemic struck — said it was shifting to a reduced schedule on Friday because of plummeting ridership.
Regular weekday capacity will be reduced by about 68%, with around 500 trains running, instead of the usual 740.
The LIRR’s parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, announced Thursday the first COVID-19 death among its workforce — subway conductor Peter Petrassi, 49, of Queens, who worked for the MTA for 20 years.
“Our hearts are absolutely broken,” interim New York City Transit president Sarah Feinberg said.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned of more turmoil in the economy and health care system.
He said about 500,000 New York City workers are or will soon be unemployed because of shutdowns related to the coronavirus outbreak. By comparison, about 174,100 city workers were unemployed last March, according to Baruch College's NYCdata website.
De Blasio said he wants New York City hospitals to triple bed capacity — to 60,000 — and hopes to bring in additional medical personnel to give staff treating COVID-19 patients a break.
The municipal government will cut at least $1.3 billion from the current year's and next year's budget, though "we have to protect the basics" such as police, sanitation and other agencies involved in handling the outbreak, he said.
'People are dying …'
New York City remains the center of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state, with 23,112 cases to date, but Nassau and Suffolk have a combined total of 6,649, officials said Thursday.
New York State has become a global coronavirus hot spot. If it was a country, it would have the sixth-largest total in the world, ahead of countries including Iran, France and South Korea.
A growing concern, Cuomo said, was the rising number of deaths of vulnerable patients. He said they were largely people who did not come off the ventilators, used for patients in respiratory distress, after many days of treatment.
"This is the really bad news. The number of deaths is increasing … People are dying and that is the worst news you can have," Cuomo said.
In Nassau, Curran reported two new deaths Thursday morning: women ages 59 and 66. She also said 39 members of the Nassau County Police Department have tested positive for the virus and that 90 department members are in quarantine to avoid spread.
Suffolk reported two more deaths as well, both men in their 80s with underlying health conditions. One died Wednesday at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital in Southampton and the other Monday at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.
The county was seeing a growing number of hospitalizations because of coronavirus, with 287 patients, 103 of them in intensive care units. That was more than double the number in ICUs than two days ago, the county said.
One of the victims in Nassau, who died Wednesday, was a 58-year-old immigrant from El Salvador. Long Island's Salvadoran consulate said it is helping his family with funeral preparations and to send his ashes to his homeland.
The state continues on the hunt across the country and the globe to fill a shortfall in the number of ventilators, Cuomo said. The state has about 15,000 but needs 30,000. The machines are critical because COVID-19 is a respiratory ailment for many patients, he said.
Cuomo said that the ventilators help keep many of them alive, but the length of time many are on the machines is increasing.
Non-coronavirus patients typically spend three to four days on ventilators, he said, while coronavirus patients are spending an average of 11 to 21 days.
Some are even spending 20 to 30 days, he said.
“The longer you are on a ventilator the more probability of a bad outcome,” he said. “The longer you are on a ventilator, the more likely you are not going to come off the ventilator, and that is what is happening.”
Curran said Nassau has purchased 100 ventilators to supply for treatment on an emergency basis.
"Right now, our hospitals are reporting that they have enough to handle what they have today," she said. "More is likely to come."
Medical professionals in the state are also converting some 2,000 anesthesia machines into ventilators, Cuomo said. Stony Brook University Hospital has started using the anesthesia machines as ventilators for COVID-19 patients, Bellone said.
“There are some unique things happening as we seek equipment and supplies,” he said.
Health workers around the state are also implementing an experimental procedure in which one ventilator is shared by two patients, connecting tubes for both patients to the machine, Cuomo said.
“It’s not ideal, but we believe it is workable," Cuomo said.
Cuomo said part of the reason for the skyrocketing number of cases in New York is because of the state’s extensive testing, calling it among the most rigorous in the world.
New York has conducted 122,104 tests, including 18,650 on Wednesday, he said. That translates into one test for every 160 residents, he said. By comparison, South Korea, considered the gold standard for coronavirus testing, has done one test for every 170 residents, he said.
Nurse was a 'hero'
Earlier Thursday, Mount Sinai Health System in Manhattan confirmed that a nurse who had been treating COVID-19 patients has died. Mount Sinai did not disclose the nurse's name.
In a statement published overnight, the health system wrote "we are deeply saddened by the passing of a beloved member of our nursing staff. The safety of our staff and patients has never been of greater importance and we are taking every precaution possible to protect everyone."
Mount Sinai added that the virus has devastated hundreds of families in New York. "Today, we lost another hero — a compassionate colleague, friend and selfless caregiver."
Mount Sinai did not say in its statement if the nurse had coronavirus.
'Facts are empowering …'
Cuomo disclosed that he speaks frequently with Trump’s scientific point-person on the coronavirus crisis, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become a nationally known figure during the president’s daily press briefings at the White House.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has been “so kind and helpful to me,” Cuomo said.
“I speak to health care professionals all across the globe literally, but Dr. Fauci I think is just brilliant at this and he has been so personally kind. I call late at night, I call him in the middle of the night, I call him in the morning, and he’s been really a friend to me.”
Cuomo also called for a fact-based approach to the crisis.
“Facts are empowering in a situation like this,” he said. “Not knowing the facts is worse because that’s when you feel out of control or when you feel that you are getting selective facts or you are being deceived by the information that you are getting. That is actually the worst situation.”
He also said the response of retired medical professionals volunteering to help has been tremendous. Some 40,000 have offered their services, he said, including 12,000 on Wednesday alone.
The number of mental health professionals offering to volunteer also jumped, from about 6,000 to about 8,600 in one day, he said. Some live out of state and are offering to counsel people electronically.
At least one person even volunteered to fly their own plane to China to try to pick up protective gear for health care workers, he said.
Corporations, philanthropies and celebrities also have made large donations to help combat the outbreak, he said, including masks, mattresses for field hospitals, hand sanitizer, hotel rooms for medical staff or patients, and free flights for incoming medical volunteers and supplies.
"New York is fighting a war against this virus and we need all the help we can get," Cuomo said.
COVID-19 cases on Long Island towns
The following are confirmed coronavirus cases by town as of March 26, 2020:
- Islip — 461
- Huntington — 423
- Brookhaven — 330
- Babylon — 306
- Smithtown — 130
- Southold — 111
- Riverhead — 47
- Southampton — 40
- East Hampton — 13
- Shelter Island — 2
- Town not known — 148
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