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Cuomo: NY schools closed another two weeks; state's COVID-19 cases pass 44,000

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks to

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks to the press at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan on Friday. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/BRYAN R. SMITH

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 Matthew Chayes, Candice Ferrette, Joan Gralla, Mark Harrington, John Hildebrand, Bart Jones, Craig Schneider and John Valenti. It was written by Jones.

Schools across the state will remain closed until at least April 15 as New York continues to battle a coronavirus upsurge that has made it a global hot spot, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday.

As the state reported its worst day yet for coronavirus deaths, jumping by 134 — from 385 to 519 — officials announced they were shutting down nonessential construction in New York because of complaints that workers laboring in close quarters could be a breeding ground for the deadly and highly contagious virus.

Statewide, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases shot up again, by more than 7,000 since Thursday, for a total of 44,635.

On Long Island, cases of the COVID-19 virus soared to about 8,000, almost as many as South Korea. Cases in the United States topped 100,000, the most in the world.

Nassau and Suffolk counties reported a total 57 deaths, with eight new ones each.

“This is going to get difficult," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. "This is going to become more of a challenge as we start to see the numbers increase and right now on the front lines of this war — and it has been likened to a war — the front lines are being fought at our hospitals.”

In Nassau, the newly reported dead were five men and three women, ranging in age between 51 and 83 years old. In Suffolk, another three men and five women, ranging in ages from their 40s to their 90s, died this week.

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“This drives home the point of why we need to do the right thing, how each of us has a role in bringing down the numbers,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio predicted that April 5 would pose "a decisive moment for the City of New York."

"After next Sunday, April 5, is when I get very, very worried about everything we're gonna need," de Blasio said, meaning ventilators, personnel and supplies.

There were at least 26,697 confirmed cases of coronavirus of New York City residents, and 450 deaths as of Friday afternoon.

Among those who have died, he said: a public school principal, an NYPD custodian, a meter maid, a jail investigator and a hospital nurse manager. 

"Everyone's feeling these losses deeply," he said.

As the toll mounted, Cuomo said the state has settled on four more locations where the Army Corps of Engineers will construct 1,000-bed temporary hospitals similar to four already underway at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, Stony Brook University, SUNY Old Westbury and the Westchester convention center.

The four new sites are in New York City and include Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.

Cuomo said he planned to ask President Donald Trump on Friday to approve sending the Army Corps to the new sites.

The hospital at the Javits Center has been completed, Cuomo said.

“This is an amazing accomplishment. In just one week, the Javits Center looks entirely different," he said. "And this is a place that is literally going to save lives.”

The Long Island sites are expected to be ready by mid-April.

Cuomo said the 1,000-bed USNS Comfort should arrive in New York  from Virginia on Monday. He said the ship will have 1,200 medical personnel, 12 operating rooms, a pharmacy and a laboratory.

The looming apex

The governor estimated the apex of the outbreak in New York could hit in about 21 days, or mid-April, though projections are shifting as the virus wreaks havoc.

He rejected assertions by Trump on Thursday night that New York officials were exaggerating when they said that to handle the coronavirus crisis, they need 30,000 ventilators that help patients breathe.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Cuomo said. "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. But I don't operate here on opinion. I operate on facts and on data and on numbers and on projections."

Some of the projections for New York are coming from universities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

Cuomo initially had closed schools until April 1, but said that period is now extended as the health crisis intensifies and the state braces for a potential apex of infections within weeks, adding "it only makes sense to keep the schools closed."

Cuomo said he will consider keeping schools closed another two weeks after the April 15 date, if the situation warrants it.

“At the end of two weeks, if the same trajectory is going up and there hasn’t been a change … then we’ll extend it,” he said.

“Why not today say we are going to extend it for four weeks or six weeks or eight weeks? Because I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know what is going to happen next week. Nobody knows what is going to happen next week.”

'A moment in history'

Cuomo spoke at the Javits Center, with National Guard members in uniform seated before him — at 6-foot intervals.

He delivered stirring remarks to the Guard members, telling them the work they're doing is critical at an important juncture in the country's history, and that they had transformed the center almost overnight.

"You are living a moment in history," Cuomo said. "This is a moment that is going to change this nation. This is a moment that forges character, forges people, changes people — makes them stronger, makes them weaker."

"Ten years from now, you will be talking about today to your children and your grandchildren and you will shed a tear because you will remember the lives lost … and you’ll remember how hard we worked and that we still lost loved ones,” he said.

But "you will also be proud. You’ll be proud of what you did. You’ll be proud that you showed up. … When other people played it safe, you had the courage to show up and you had the courage and professionalism to make a difference and save lives."

8,000 cases on Long Island

Long Island added 1,393 positive test results since Thursday for a total of 8,042 cases, state figures showed. Nassau County has 4,657 confirmed cases, with 743 new ones since Thursday. Suffolk County has 3,385 confirmed cases, with 650 added overnight.

Cuomo said hospitalizations of coronavirus patients in New York have continued to rise, also, jumping in nine days from 496 to 6,481.

And he warned that the death toll is far from over.

“That is going to continue to go up,” he said. “And that is the worst news that I could possibly tell the people of the State of New York.”

Meanwhile, in New York City, the mayors office said the crisis was taking an emotional toll on the population.

Calls, texts and chats from the public to the city’s ThriveNYC mental-health service — nearly 8,000 — were up 25% last week compared with a month ago, said Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office.

Construction work halting

De Blasio said the state and city were taking action on another front, agreeing to order the immediate suspension of nonessential construction work statewide.

"Anything that is not directly part of the essential work of fighting coronavirus and the essential work of keeping the city running and the state running — any construction that’s not about the public good — is going to end. So, luxury condos will not be built until this is over, you know, office buildings are not gonna be built,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio also said New York City could be days from the NYPD beginning to issue summonses to people who fail to observe the legally mandated minimum of 6 feet of distance from people they don’t live with.

"Right now, we’re not doing summonses: We’re trying to educate and warn and break things up and move people along and get them used to a new reality," he said. "If we have to get a lot tougher in terms of penalties, we can do that."

He added: "The next step, of course, would be to up the ante and bring penalties into play if we have to do that. And that may just be days away if we don’t see people handle it better."

De Blasio also said that, if discovered, any religious service in the city will be shut down starting this weekend by the NYPD, FDNY or the Buildings Department for violating government orders banning gatherings. He said fines and closedowns were possible.

The ventilators debate

Like Cuomo, de Blasio rejected assertions by Trump that New York State is exaggerating its need for ventilators to treat the growing number of coronavirus patients.

“With all due respect to him, he’s not looking at the facts of the astronomical growth of this crisis,” de Blasio said on “Good Morning America.”

A ventilator, de Blasio added, “Means someone lives or dies.”

Trump on Thursday said he doubts the pleas made repeatedly by Cuomo that New York needs 30,000 ventilators.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity in a phone interview.

“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes, they’ll have two ventilators, and now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’ ”

Bellone finishing quarantine

In Suffolk, Bellone said he’s done with quarantine, which began March 15 after deputy county executive Peter Scully tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bellone has been working in a 10-by-12 room in his West Babylon home the past two weeks. When he gets back to his office, he said, "I’m going to be keeping my distance from everybody. We are going to be following the guidelines."

Bellone said the county is expecting a surge in new cases of COVID-19, probably in the next 14 to 21 days. He said he and his staff, including county health officials, are working hard to ensure “that wave doesn’t topple over the health system.”

Bellone said he has not been tested for the virus. He said he experienced only mild symptoms — a runny nose and some headaches.

“If I’m getting around the rules, that sends the wrong message,” he said.

In Nassau County, Curran said she has been speaking with the hospital executives.

“They have three main concerns: personnel, safety equipment and ventilators. There’s been a lot of talk about beds — it’s not so much about beds. Beds are easy. Ventilators are not so easy, and the personnel, the professional personnel that can work those ventilators, that’s the key.”

Feeling the strain

As the virus outbreak continued to bring the region to nearly a halt, some parents said they were working through stressful days with their children and that some communities were ill-equipped because they lacked internet access.

In Brentwood, a union representative said staffers were feeling a growing strain, but would continue providing off-site services. Those include daily distribution of thousands of paper bags containing breakfasts and lunches, along with home-school instructional packets available both online and for pickup at local schools.

Kevin Coyne, president of the Brentwood Teachers Association union, said one father told him his children couldn’t begin daily studies of online materials until evening, when he returned home from work. The reason, he said, was that the family did not have Wi-Fi service at home, and relied on the father’s cellphone to provide a connection.

“So the disparity and the inequity of what we’re dealing with on Long Island — that is exacerbated tenfold by what’s happening with the coronavirus,” said the union leader, who represents more than 1,300 teachers.

Return home

There was some good news for a couple who were stuck overseas.

Oyster Bay native Sam Aitken, 32, and his bride of 18 months, Marisa, 30, had been stranded in Argentina after a delayed honeymoon and penguin-watching expedition in Antarctica. The couple arrived in Houston and is quarantining at home, said Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who helped get them back to the United States.

The couple was in Argentina when the South American nation went into lockdown because of the pandemic, and as flights to the United States were canceled.

They work at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center; he is a clinical pharmacist, while she is a cancer researcher.

Working with federal agencies, Suozzi’s office has helped a dozen Americans, stranded in places from Peru to Macedonia, return here. He is assisting another 18 still in Latin America.

“There is already so much anxiety today,” Suozzi said. “Families with family members stuck abroad have extra anxiety.”

COVID-19 cases on Long Island towns

The following are confirmed coronavirus cases by town as of March 27:

  • Islip — 662
  • Huntington — 594
  • Brookhaven — 452
  • Babylon — 424
  • Smithtown — 157
  • Southold — 129
  • Southampton — 65
  • Riverhead — 56
  • East Hampton — 20
  • Shelter Island — 1
  • Town not known — 175

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.
  • 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: Nassau County, New York Blood Center, Suffolk County, Stony Brook Hospital

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