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Cuomo: New York's curve of illness flattening, despite rising deaths, including 1,000 on Long Island

More than 1,000 people on Long Island have

More than 1,000 people on Long Island have died from coronavirus, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says overall New York is flattening the curve. Credit: Newsday Staff

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This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, Lisa L. Colangelo, Candice Ferrette, Joan Gralla, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale, Paul LaRocco, Craig Schneider and John Valenti. It was written by Jones.

New York State is flattening the curve of severely ill coronavirus patients and beating dire projections of hospital bed shortages, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared Friday, even as he announced a one-day death toll of 777.

The virus has killed 7,844 people in New York, Cuomo reported, capping a week that U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams had warned would be this generation's Pearl Harbor and 9/11 moment. On Friday, Long Island's death toll passed 1,000.

But Cuomo said that, for the first time since the crisis started more than a month ago, the number of intensive care unit admissions for the COVID-19 virus dipped into negative territory, meaning more patients were released than entered ICU.

“Overall, New York is flattening the curve,” Cuomo said at his daily news briefing in Albany.

Hospitalization rates and intubations from the virus have been on a steady decline for the past week, he said, indicating the state has reached a peak and hopefully will maintain the trend. Flashing a graph on a large screen, Cuomo showed that coronavirus hospitalizations dropped in the last week from about 1,400 to 290.

With that news in hand, he spoke in the most detail yet about reopening the economy and society in general, though he cautioned that people must continue practicing social distancing. Otherwise, the state could see another wave of cases, which is what happened across the country in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

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And he defended himself against critics who point out the number of coronavirus hospitalizations, now at 18,569, has come in substantially lower than he projected and prepared for, based on figures from experts. Their estimates ranged from 55,000 beds statewide to 136,000 in New York City alone.

"The actual curve is much, much lower than any of them projected,” Cuomo said. But his job was to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” and New Yorkers have performed admirably in practicing social distancing and keeping the numbers lower, he said.

Cuomo said one key to restarting the economy will be massive testing of people to determine who has had the virus and can return to work. Experts said between 25% and 50% of people who get COVID-19 have no symptoms.

He called on President Donald Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act so manufacturers can be forced to quickly produce the tests on a mass scale — at least to start with New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The governor proposed establishing a “heroes compensation fund” for front-line medical personnel in the coronavirus crisis, similar to a fund for victims' relatives in the 9/11 attacks.

He raised questions about the larger issue of how the virus became rampant in the first place in the United States, even though it had ravaged other countries weeks earlier, from China to Italy to Spain.

“Where were the horns that should have been triggered back in December and January? Where were the warning signs? Who was supposed to blow the whistle?” Cuomo said. “How did this happen? I mean I still want to know. … Because the warning signs were there.”

He noted that China, with a population of about 1.4 billion, kept its caseload far lower than the United States, which has about one-fourth the population.

“Did we really need to be in this situation where the United States winds up with a higher number of cases than the places that went before. We sat here and we watched China. China winds up having 84,000 cases, we end up having 474,000 cases … We saw South Korea. They wind up with 10,000 cases.”

Seeking hope amid pain

While the numbers statewide were improving, Long Island remained a hot spot.

Another 90 Nassau County residents died from the virus, for a total of 723. Its number of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped by 1,372 to a total 21,512, state figures released Friday showed.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran called it "a pretty dramatic change from yesterday."

Suffolk added 1,279 new cases Thursday for a total of 18,692, and 52 new deaths for a total of 414. Long Island's total death toll was 1,137.

Nassau and Suffolk combined have had 40,204 confirmed cases of coronavirus, more than double Canada's total and four times South Korea's.

New York State added 10,575 cases, for a total of 170,512, more than any nation in the world besides the United States as a whole.

Cuomo said he has had trouble coming to terms with how many the virus has killed in New York alone, more than doubled the number of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. New York's daily toll has been above 700 for the last four days in a row, including a record 799 reported Thursday.

“The bad news is we continue to lose a tremendous number of lives … I understand intellectually why it’s happening. It doesn’t make it any easier to accept,” he said.

Despite the pain, “As someone who searches for solace in all this grief, the leveling off in lives lost is a somewhat hopeful sign” that the steps to contain the spread are working.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, noting it is Holy Week, tried to ease that pain by offering a “message of hope” while Jewish people are celebrating Passover and Christians are celebrating Good Friday and Easter.

“It is a good time to think about hope,” he said. “We will get through this. We will get to the other side.”

Trump bemoaned the deaths nationwide as "so horrible," but also said, "Tremendous progress is being made."

"In the midst of grief and pain, we're seeing clear signs that our aggressive strategy is saving countless lives," he said, pointing to models forecasting far fewer U.S. deaths than predicted.

Trump, who had once set Easter Sunday as the date he hoped to "reopen" the country, said he is listening to scientific experts as he weighs what he called the "biggest decision I've ever had to make."

'The spirit of New Yorkers'

Cuomo said officials should continue studying the outbreak and working to prevent a second wave of infections as well as prepare for such emergencies, so local governments don't have to scramble again when faced with a major health crisis.

"We are in total control of our destiny. What we do will affect, literally, life and death" for hundreds of thousands of people, Cuomo said.

New York City added 5,356 new positives of COVID-19 for a total of 94,409 confirmed cases, state officials reported Friday. The city's death toll rose to 5,820, a jump of 540 from Wednesday to Thursday.

As one sign the crisis may be hitting its peak and starting to decline, Cuomo indicated the Jacob Javits center in Manhattan, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has turned into a temporary 2,500-bed hospital, and the 1,000-bed USNS Comfort hospital ship, which is docked nearby, have not had to receive many COVID-19 patients.

Of the 269 patients at Javits as of Friday afternoon, more than 40 had been transferred from Long Island hospitals, said Terry Lynam, a spokesman for Northwell Health, which is helping the Army and state health officials run the facility’s operations. Of 60 patients on the Comfort, less than a half-dozen were from hospitals in Nassau and Suffolk, he said.

The most local patients, 10, came from Huntington Hospital, followed by Long Island Jewish Valley Stream, with nine, and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, with eight. One patient had even been transferred from Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, though Lynam said it was likely that person resided in the city, as the patient or their family must consent to such transfers.

On Long Island, the Northwell Health care system said it, too, was seeing signs that the crisis is hitting a peak, and hopefully will start to subside in coming days, as the number of new COVID-19 patients remained steady after rapid increases in previous weeks.

Northwell said Friday it has about 3,300 COVID-19 patients in its 19 hospitals, 11 of them on Long Island. That number remained stable this week, which suggests “we remain in the midst of a plateau regionally,” Lynam said.

The New Hyde Park-based health system discharged more than 400 patients, but the number of patients being admitted was about the same, Lynam said. "The numbers are still pretty high," he noted.

Lynam said Long Island Jewish Medical Center has the most COVID-19 patients, with 658.

Some hospitals have seen a decrease in the number of coronavirus patients since Monday. Huntington Hospital went from 232 on Monday to 214 patients on Friday morning. Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson fell slightly as well. However, Southside Hospital in Bay Shore rose from 275 patients on Monday to 290 patients on Friday.

Northwell said its overall acute hospital occupancy rate is 84% as of Friday morning. 

Cuomo praised New Yorkers for staying home, respecting the closing of nonessential businesses, and practicing social distancing — despite complaints from the governor himself along the way, when crowds were observed in public areas.

The scientists who prepared the predictive models "didn’t know how unified New Yorkers can be," Cuomo said.

Curbing the outbreak

Even so, the virus has left a trail of destruction. The death toll among workers at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has reached 50, according to the MTA, the parent agency of the Long Island Rail Road.

“That’s tragic, and we mourn every one of those,” MTA chairman Patrick Foye said.

Nearly 1,900 of the MTA’s 72,000 workers have tested positive for the virus, Foye said. But the MTA’s statistics also show some signs of flattening the curve. The number of employees under quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus is about 5,200, down from a high of 6,000.

And some 1,800 employees who were sidelined since have returned to work, including 435 in the last 36 hours, Foye said. Some of those have been checked by the MTA’s “Temperature Brigade,” a team of medically trained workers checking 2,000 employees a day for fevers.

Ridership throughout the MTA “continues to decline precipitously and stay at depressed levels,” said Foye, noting the LIRR is carrying just 3% of the riders it did during the same period last year.

On the East End, Southampton Village officials did their part to try to curb the outbreak by issuing an emergency order, effective Friday, instructing shoppers to wear face masks if they enter the few essential businesses still permitted to open, such as groceries and drugstores.

Mayor Jesse Warren issued the order as the resort town’s population has swelled with out-of-towners who usually do not arrive until Memorial Day.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio, outlined three indicators the city will look at to decide whether, when and how to begin to relax restrictions. They are: how many people are hospitalized with suspected coronavirus; how many are admitted to intensive care; and the percentage of those who have tested positive to hospitals.

Those indicators would need to decline, in unison, for 10 days to two weeks, he said.

Also Friday morning, Cuomo said New Yorkers shouldn't be surprised the pandemic has hit minority communities the hardest, citing health care issues, lack of funding, and the inability of the poor to escape to a second home or work at home due to job considerations.

"Are we shocked that rates are higher in the African American community, in the Latino community?" Cuomo said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "We shouldn't be, if we're honest. We know that the poorest communities pay the highest price in these kinds of situation."

He added: "Let's fix it."

According to the state health department, 34% of all coronavirus fatalities are of Hispanics, with 28% African American, 27% Caucasian and 7% Asian.

Cuomo also used an appearance on MSNBC to criticize Republicans as playing politics with any emergency funding packages, accusing them of favoring red states over blue states.

"The Senate almost treats this as a pork barrel bill … This was not supposed to be a grab-bag of politics, where you help your own state," Cuomo said, adding he believes New York has been shortchanged in funding.

Some signs of hope

While the death count continues to grow, there are signs of hope and miraculous stories of recovery and perseverance.

World War II veteran Anthony Saylor, who turns 94 next month, beat the odds while recovering at home in North Bellmore under the care of two daughters, each of whom also contracted the virus.

“I can’t believe it, but God has always been good to me,” said Saylor, a Navy veteran and father of eight. “I feel good. In tiptop shape.”

Jillian Raimondi, a nurse at Long Island Community Hospital in Patchogue who cared for COVID-19 patients before contracting the virus, is ready for duty again. She felt burning sensations in her chest and nose, would wake up gasping for air, and eventually refused to go to sleep, worried she would never wake up.

Raimondi, of Bellport, returns to work Sunday, determined to share her story with patients and show them there is a way to defeat COVID-19.

“I can tell my patients that I know what you are going through. I went through it,” she said. “I have a way of connecting with them on a whole other level. It is possible to beat the virus.”

With the AP

With the AP

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