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Cuomo seeking federal help for NY with coronavirus testing; looking to reopen economy by region

The coronavirus daily death toll on Tuesday was under 500 for the second day in a row in New York, and there’s a $261M budget deficit projected for Nassau County. Newsday's Cecilia Dowd has the latest. Credit: Newsday staff; YouTube / NYGovCuomo; Facebook / Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone

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, Matt Chayes, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

New York will allow hospitals to perform some elective surgeries in upstate regions not hard-hit by the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday, as the state recorded daily deaths from the virus dipping below 500 for a second straight day.

As Cuomo headed to the White House to plead with President Donald Trump for help in getting testing supplies, the governor also said New York will lift stay-at-home orders initially in places less devastated by the virus — mostly rural parts of the state with “more cows than people.”

The 481 deaths reported Monday followed 478 the previous day, and represented a steady decline from a high of nearly 800 two weeks ago. Hospitalizations, intubations and other indicators also fell or remained flat.

“The overall curve is on the way down, and that is good news certainly,” Cuomo said. “Our definition of good has changed. Good is now not terrible."

The meeting at the White House focused on what Cuomo called a critical need to safely rolling back restrictions: obtaining mainly from overseas sources specialized chemicals needed to conduct widespread testing to determine who has the infection.

There was some movement in Congress, as well, with the U.S. Senate approving a $480 billion compromise package expected to fund help for small businesses as well as health care and testing needs across the country.

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The state can organize ramped-up testing and recruit an army of people to trace back possible contagion of the COVID-19 virus, Cuomo said, but complex dealings with different manufacturers from other countries should be a federal responsibility.

The testing results can serve as guideposts, Cuomo said, "and the testing tells you where to pause … that's why I'm going to Washington."

In particular, the states need help in obtaining reactive chemicals known as "reagents," needed to process the coronavirus test results, Cuomo said.

Cuomo later told MSNBC that the meeting generally went well. He said he told Trump New York no longer needs the USNS Comfort hospital ship. He also said he doubts schools will reopen before the summer, saying, "Frankly to reopen a school would be a major undertaking at this point."

In Nassau, County Executive Laura Curran said Tuesday that hospitalizations “continue to go down," dropping in the last day by 44 patients, for a total of 1,999. Use of ventilators dropped by 12, for a total of 458. Another 402 residents tested positive for coronavirus on Monday.

The county now has 31,079 positive cases of COVID-19, and 1,390 residents deaths, with an additional 61 tallied on Monday.

Suffolk County had 492 new positives, for a total of 28,154 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 29 deaths of residents Monday for a total of 888.

“If there’s any solace to be taken out of that number, it is the increase is smaller than we’ve seen in a long time,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said, referring to the deaths. “It’s still an extraordinary number, but it’s lower than we’ve seen, and hopefully that is a sign.”

Cuomo said the reopening of the state's economy and other activities will vary by region, depending on how hard hit each one is.

“Just like some states will reopen before other states because they have a different circumstance when it comes to COVID … It’s also true across the state. North Country has a totally different situation than New York City. Central New York has a different situation.”

He went on: “We operate as one state, but we also have to understand variations, and you do want to get this economy open as soon as possible, and if a situation is radically different in one part of the state than another part of the state, take that into consideration.”

From 'plateau' to 'descent'

Hospitalizations, intubations and other indicators continued mainly to drop statewide, though Cuomo noted that western New York appears to be on a COVID-19 plateau while downstate, including Long Island, is on the descent from the outbreak's peak.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients fell for the eighth straight day, to 16,076 from a high of nearly 19,000. The number of intubated patients — the most seriously ill — had the biggest one-day drop to date, falling by 127.

And the number of newly admitted coronavirus patients remained at about 1,300 from the previous day, but that is down from about 2,000 four days ago.

In Suffolk, Bellone said hospitals have substantial bed and ICU capacity available now, after officials initially feared the system would be overwhelmed.

He said there were 741 beds available out of 3,316, and 147 ICU beds available out of 797.

Cuomo said the plan going forward would first seek to "do no harm" and prevent a resurgence of COVID-19.

"We’ve paid a tremendous price to control this beast," he said. "We closed down everything. People have worked tirelessly," both in the health system and among essential workers who have kept key services running at great personal risk.

Cuomo said the elective surgeries and treatments should start soon in some areas.

“In those parts of the state and in those hospitals where the hospitals are laying off people because they’re so quiet, and they have the capacity, and capacity for the virus is not an issue, we are going to allow elective outpatient treatment,” he said.

Curran said hospitals in Nassau also are anxious to resume some procedures, and that she spoke with executives of the five hospital systems.

"We're asking the state to revisit permitted categories of medical procedures," she said. Hospital executives are concerned about a "growing backlog of procedures."

Curran said ambulatory, elective surgery — knee or rotator cuff surgeries, for instance — can wait a month or so. But more urgent ambulatory care procedures — whether it's breast or thyroid cancer surgeries, or procedures for intestinal blockages — "there's a sense that a lot of these procedures are lining up, are piling up, and I know that they're eager to get to them."

She added: "This input is important, it's one of the stages that we'll have to address as we begin to come back."

Long Island had a total of 59,233 confirmed cases of COVID-19 by the end of Monday, state figures showed, while the state had 251,690.

Long Island has lost a total of 2,278 people to the virus, while the death toll statewide reached 14,828.

NYC's de Blasio: Careful about reopening

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that the city would ship “bridge” ventilators to hospitals to keep in reserve. The devices were made by New York companies over the past three weeks.

The project cost $10 million, and the city is buying 3,000 of them.

“This all was created from scratch,” the mayor said at his daily news conference at City Hall.

The bridge ventilators can “buy time” when a full-service ventilator isn’t available, de Blasio said. They also can be used on a patient with less urgent respiratory needs or serve other functions, he said. A full-feature ventilator costs about $50,000.

When they were preparing for the pandemic, de Blasio and Cuomo had said New York needed 30,000 ventilators. Trump contended the city didn’t need such a high figure. The number of patients needing ventilators since has plateaued.

De Blasio also said that as soon as possible, the city will throw a ticker-tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan to fete the health care workers now battling the coronavirus. 

“We will honor those who saved us,” he said, and added: “This parade will mark the beginning of our renaissance.”

De Blasio said he has instructed the NYPD to intensify enforcement against motorists who are illegally speeding, the incidence of which has increased as the streets got emptier during lockdowns. He said as more police officers return to the force from being sick, the anti-speeding efforts would be intensified.   

"I understand the temptation people have: They think, 'Oh, there's no one here, I can go faster!' It's dangerous," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, de Blasio said he's worried that states relaxing coronavirus-related shutdowns too quickly could fuel the resurgence of the virus beyond their own borders.

"If any state or any city jumps the gun — and my first concern is for them and their people — but we all as Americans should be concerned, because, of course, that could lead to the disease reasserting in a lot of other places," de Blasio said on CNN's "New Day" Tuesday morning. "It's the kind of enemy you should never take for granted, so when you open up again, you better have the facts on your side."

Some states are beginning to reopen their economies. South Carolina on Monday reopened businesses, including clothing stores, furniture stores and floral shops, and Georgia plans to reopen gyms, tattoo parlors and hair salons on Friday. Movie theaters and restaurants in Georgia can reopen next week if they follow social distancing rules.

Georgia has about 18,400 cases of the virus, and South Carolina has about 4,300 cases.

De Blasio added: "If some of these re-openings are done the wrong way, it's going to affect all of us."

Fewer coronavirus patients

Northwell Health said Tuesday it has 2,538 COVID-19 patients, its lowest number since April 1, down from a high of about 3,600.

The number dropped by 80 since Monday.

“We are going in the right direction," said Terry Lynam, a Northwell spokesman. The system owns and operates 19 hospitals, including 11 on Long Island.

Lynam added that LIJ-Valley Stream was the only one of its hospitals with an ICU occupancy rate of 90% or more. He said 64% of Northwell’s 1,100 ventilators were in use.

In Oceanside, Mount Sinai South Nassau reported it had 226 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday morning, down from a high of about 350 earlier in the month.

It also has other patients who are being tested for COVID-19.

Joe Calderone, a spokesman at the hospital, warned against complacency.

"It's getting better, but it's still a significant number of patients and we are still in crisis mode," Calderone said.

'False optimism'

De Blasio also criticized Trump for what he called "false optimism" while refusing to send enough lab test kits needed to detect the virus and failing to push for a bailout for the city, which the mayor has said has lost about $7 billion in tax revenue since the crisis began in March.

The city's five boroughs comprise the hardest hit jurisdiction in the state, recording the bulk of diagnosed cases and deaths. On Monday, De Blasio had said the city will spend $3.5 billion by the end of the year battling the coronavirus pandemic.

"What I'm amazed at is sort of the dissonance between Washington, D.C., and New York and so many other places where we're fighting the battles still on the ground, and you have people in Washington acting like it's all over," de Blasio said.

He added: "He [Trump] should kiss his reelection goodbye if he thinks he's going to be able to convince the American people to want four more years of a guy who can't even get the basics right."

The mayor also defended continued social distancing in the city and the cancellation of popular parades and other events.

“We have to stick with it until this disease is beaten,” he said, adding later: “We have one chance to restart the right way.”

De Blasio on Monday said parades, concerts, rallies and other large gatherings scheduled for June are canceled, as the city has surpassed 136,000 coronavirus cases and has registered 10,344 deaths. The canceled events include the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the Pride March and Celebrate Israel, though they might be held later in the year.

May events also have been canceled.

Suffolk distributing face coverings

Bellone said county officials are working to distribute face coverings from the state and federal governments to some seniors, essential workers, towns and villages.

“I don’t anticipate anyone providing face coverings for the population as a whole” because of the numbers that would be needed, Bellone said.

But during a legislative committee meeting earlier, Suffolk’s senior services director said officials would have to make sure they have enough face coverings available before they would reach out to towns to distribute them to seniors.

The comments from Holly Rhodes-Teague, county director for the county’s Office for the Aging, came after several legislators asked for the ability to provide masks to seniors after dozens of requests to their offices.

Bellone said several local organizations have stepped up to provide face coverings to those who need them and that the county “will be providing them to some towns to give to seniors.”

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