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Cuomo: More than 75,000 New Yorkers diagnosed with coronavirus; more than 9,000 of those overnight

On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that his brother Chris, who is a TV host on CNN, has the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Brendan McInnis, a second-grader from Garden City, found a heartwarming way to make health care workers at NYU Winthrop Hospital cheer up. Here is your daily wrap up of all things COVID-19 related on Long Island for March 31. Credit: Newsday staff; Facebook / Gov Andrew CuomoSuffolk County Executive Steve Bellone; Photo Credit: Justin Burke/NYU Langone Winthrop; Charles McInnis

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, Matthew Chayes, Vera Chinese, John Hildebrand, Candice Ferrette, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale, Nicholas Spangler and Olivia Winslow. It was written by Jones.

A somber and weary Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday told New Yorkers to brace for weeks of bad news as coronavirus cases and deaths shot up by record numbers in the state, a global hot spot.

As fatalities across the United States climbed past 3,600, eclipsing China's toll, the latest victims on Long Island included the eighth resident of a skilled nursing facility in Greenport and a worker at a hospital in Smithtown where at least six nurses are also stricken.

The foreboding message from the governor came as he disclosed that the virus has hit close to home — his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, has it.

He warned that there will be no miraculous turn when the crisis will suddenly resolve or fall into a sharp downswing.

“This is not one week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, six weeks,” he said at his daily press briefing in Albany. “This is not going to be an Easter surprise.”

He went on: “We underestimated this virus. It’s more powerful, it’s more dangerous than we expected.”

The number of New Yorkers diagnosed with coronavirus since Monday shot up by more than 9,000 new cases, Cuomo said, the biggest one-day increase yet. The state's total of 75,795 confirmed cases puts it ahead of Germany and has it closing in on China, where the outbreak began.

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Deaths linked to the COVID-19 virus jumped by 332 from Monday, another one-day high, for a total of 1,550, state figures showed.

Nassau County reported 15 new deaths for a total of 63. Nassau also said 80 police officers have the virus, and 174 are quarantined, though 20 who had the virus have returned to work.

“These next few weeks will be very challenging and that’s something we have to be clear-eyed about," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. "Very challenging for our economy, for our society, for our families — most immediately for our health care system and our health care workers.”

Suffolk County reported nine new deaths for a total of 53, which Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called "a staggering number." 

In Greenport, Peconic Landing, an upscale retirement and assisted-living community, reported the coronavirus-related death of an 88-year-old man. He was the facility's eighth victim.

Ten facility residents and 15 employees have the virus, Peconic Landing said in a statement.

At St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, an administrator said Tuesday that a hospital worker had died of COVID-19 complications, while a union official for the hospital’s nurses said the virus had infected other staffers.

Six nurses had been diagnosed positive and 24 were considered “PUI,” or persons under investigation for contact with the virus, said Michael Chacon, Long Island representative for the New York State Nurses Association.

In Washington, President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening said he has been moved by television images of doctors and nurses entering Elmhurst Hospital Center in his native Queens "like military people going into battle, going into war," and refrigerated trucks parked outside waiting for victims. 

He extended a national directive on social distancing by two weeks until the end of April. “I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead … This is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks."

In New York State, most coronavirus infection cases continue to be in New York City, which saw an increase of 5,686 positive test results since Monday for a total of 43,139 people infected.

“We are still going up the mountain," Cuomo said. "The main battle is on the top of the mountain … the apex of the curve. And then we come down the other side of the mountain.

“We need a social acceptance of the time expectation. We are all anxious. We are all tired. We are all fatigued. It’s been all bad news for a long time. Everybody wants to know one thing: When is it over? Nobody knows. But I can say this: It is not going to be soon.”

Still, he said experts expect the peak to hit New York in seven to 21 days.

In both Nassau and Suffolk counties, the cases continued to mount: a combined 2,122 new positive test results since Monday for a Long Island total of 15,257.

“We’re at the heart of the war, Long Island is at the heart of the war,” Bellone said, noting New York is the epicenter of cases.

“It’s hard to believe as we’ve gone through this, looking back just a few weeks ago, we were talking about cases in the single digits. And now we’re discussing daily increases of nearly 1,000."

CNN host quarantined in basement

Cuomo said his brother is now confined to his basement for the next two weeks because of a virus Chris Cuomo has been discussing on his show every night, including in interviews with the New York governor.

The governor said just one person in a household, who is exposed to the virus, can put others who are vulnerable at risk, and he said that it had been a mistake for his mother to have recently spent time in Chris Cuomo's house.

"My brother is smart, he was acting out of love; luckily, we caught it early enough," but it was an unnecessary risk, Cuomo said, adding that their experience shows everyone is affected.

"But it’s my family, it’s your family, it’s all of our families," Cuomo said. "Remember who is vulnerable here, and protect them … Your stupid actions don’t just affect you. You come home, you can infect someone else and you can cause a serious illness" — or even death. 

Cuomo said his brother is worried about the possibility of infecting his children and wife but that he's "young, in good shape, strong" and "is going to be fine." Most people know him as a combative show host, but Cuomo described him as "a really sweet, beautiful guy and he’s my best friend."

Before telling of his family's concerns, Cuomo had chided, once more, New Yorkers who have not been heeding calls to stay home and practice social distancing.

"It's not just your health and your life that you are playing with, my friend," Cuomo said. "Everyone is subject to this virus. It is the great equalizer," regardless of status or age.

Tired of this virus

Cuomo appeared more exasperated and grim than he has at other briefings. "I am tired of being behind this virus," he said. "We have been behind this virus since Day One.”

He noted that the crisis is already taking a toll on health care workers and the general population, even though there are weeks more to go. He pleaded again for health care professionals from around the country to come to New York to provide relief.

Health care workers "are physically exhausted. Even more, they are emotionally exhausted,” Cuomo said.

“This is unlike other disasters — hurricanes, earthquakes, floods. They happen, they are fast, they are over, you start rebuilding. This is different. This is ongoing and the duration itself is debilitating, and exhausting and depressing.” Cuomo said the United States knew the virus was spreading in China for weeks but did not prepare.

While the death and case toll kept mounting, state officials said they are seeing evidence of the economic damage the virus is also inflicting.

Cuomo and other officials said the state website for unemployment applications has been overwhelmed and crashed repeatedly.

The state usually gets 50,000 inquiries a week, but on Monday got 1.2 million, officials said. Last week, it received 7.8 million.

“The site is so deluged that it keeps crashing because you literally have hundreds of thousands of people at any time trying to get on," Cuomo said.

Nearly 11,000 hospitalized

Meanwhile, the state continued to prepare for strains to the health care system, Cuomo said. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized grew by 1,412 since Monday for a total of 10,929 people in hospitals statewide, the latest figures show.

Cuomo said hospital networks across private and public systems need to coordinate better to avoid exceeding capacity, citing the example of Elmhurst Hospital Center, where health care staff was overwhelmed by the influx of patients.

He said hospitals "have to get better and faster at transferring patients to other facilities" and needed a "shock to the system" to operate as one health care system. 

“Any link breaks, the chain breaks," he said. "The health care system is a chain. If it breaks anywhere, it breaks everywhere. That has to be our mentality.”

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said about 20,000 hospital beds — every single one, before emergency reinforcements started to be added — could be needed soon to care for critically ill coronavirus patients.

Speaking on NBC’s “Today” show, de Blasio said the worst peak of infections could extend well into May — and that the beds will be needed for ICU care. 

The federal government already has sent a 1,000-bed Navy ship that arrived Monday, and the Army Corps of Engineers has constructed a temporary hospital with more than 1,000 beds at the Javits Center. Makeshift hospitals are also rising in Central Park and at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

De Blasio spoke later Tuesday in Queens at the site of what will become another makeshift hospital, this one at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It will start accepting patients next week. 

The mayor announced that about 2,000 nurses, contracted by the city, will begin working soon to relieve beleaguered staff at hospitals like Elmhurst Hospital Center.

De Blasio said the federal government is sending about 250 ambulances and 500 medics from around the country to help the city cope with the outbreak. 

As jails turn into hot spots for coronavirus, de Blasio said 900 inmates of about 5,000 have been released, with more to come. Rikers Island, the city's main jail complex, has among the highest rates of positive coronavirus tests in the city, according to the Legal Aid Society.

De Blasio also said the city will close 10 playgrounds where parkgoers consistently have failed to observe social distancing rules. The majority of parks will remain open for now.

The hunt for ventilators

Cuomo said the state continues to struggle to obtain enough ventilators, used to keep coronavirus patients alive through respiratory help, to meet demand at the apex of infections. He partly blamed the federal government and FEMA.

“It is almost impossible to buy a ventilator,” he said.

New York has ordered 17,000 from China, but expects to get only 2,500 because of fierce competition and a shortage of the machines.

Places from California to Illinois to the U.S. government to Italy are vying to buy the machines from China, he said.

“The ventilators are coming out of China, and FEMA basically big-footed the states in China, so to the extent that anyone is buying it, it’s FEMA,” he said.

Cuomo said the state is paying $25,000 per machine, "and we are broke," proof that it really does need them. “And the last thing I want to do is buy a single ventilator that I don’t need.”

De Blasio urged oral surgeons, plastic surgeons and veterinarians to lend ventilators to the city and its hospitals. Donors can visit nyc.gov/helpnow

"If you've got a ventilator in your office, in your operating room, we need it now. It should not be sitting there doing nothing," he said. "This is a war effort. Everyone needs to contribute. You'll get it back when this battle is over." 

Meanwhile, some Long Islanders were debating a state directive that schools make up for lost instructional time during what would normally be mid-April’s spring break.

Cuomo has said districts will not lose state aid due to class days missed because of the crisis. But he also wants them to keep studying at home and online during what is normally spring break since they have missed regular school already for weeks — and possibly until the end of the academic calendar year.

Some see the new rule as an effort to ensure continuity of learning and fill in the gaps in what some say is turning into an educational debacle. Others who have witnessed parents and students alike spending long hours on home instruction say enough is enough.

“Spring break is important,” said William Belmont, president of Lynbrook’s school board. “Parents are working from home, trying to survive while home schooling their own children. Everybody needs a break.” 

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.
  • 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 Road, Port Jefferson, NY 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: Nassau County, New York Blood Center, Suffolk County, Stony Brook Hospital

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