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, Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes, Lisa L. Colangelo, Zachary R. Dowdy, Candice Ferrette, Laura Figueroa Hernandez, Nicole Fuller, Bart Jones, Michael O'Keeffe, David Olson, Antonio Planas, Sandra Peddie, David Reich-Hale and Jean-Paul Salamanca. It was written by Jones.
The coronavirus crisis in New York has taken a dire turn, with infection rates doubling every three days and the apex expected to strike within two to three weeks, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday.
As the crisis appeared to be veering into a cataclysmic stage, Cuomo pleaded for the federal government to deliver critical supplies and questioned whether a plan by President Donald Trump to restart the economy was premature and "Darwinian."
A top White House adviser warned later in the day that anyone leaving the New York area should self-quarantine for 14 days. "Everyone who has left New York over the last few days, because of the rate of the number of cases, you may have been exposed before you left New York," said Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
"No matter where they have gone, whether it’s Florida, North Carolina or out to far reaches of Long Island. We are starting to see new cases across Long Island that suggest people have left the city," she said.
New York’s cases soared by about 5,000 overnight, for a total of more than 25,000. New York City had 15,597 cases and 192 deaths, according to a city update released Tuesday night. Long Island has almost 5,000 cases.
For the sixth day in a row, Suffolk County reported virus-related deaths on Tuesday: four people ranging in ages from their 60s to 80s. The county's death toll is up to 17.
Nassau County reported the death of an 85-year-old man from Oyster Bay, bringing its total to 10. Long Island has 27 coronavirus deaths.
Cuomo said the COVID-19 virus has shifted speeds to go from spreading like a “freight train” to a “bullet train." New York has become one of the worst global hot spots in the coronavirus outbreak and remains its epicenter in the United States.
Federal officials said Tuesday the infection rate is five or six times higher in the New York City area than the rest of the country for possible reasons ranging from a densely packed population to people touching subway poles.
An impassioned Cuomo struck out at the federal government for failing to come through on deliveries of critical health care equipment — especially ventilators needed to aid patients in respiratory distress — as hospitals face an impending wave of patients. He called once again on the president to invoke the Defense Production Act to force manufacturers to help out.
Noting that the federal government announced Monday it was sending New York 400 ventilators, the governor said, “You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators? What are we going to do with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000 ventilators? You’re missing the magnitude of the problem.”
"There is no time to waste; the time to do this is now," he said. “If we don’t have the ventilators in 14 days, it does us no good.”
Vice President Mike Pence, appearing on Fox News, said 2,000 ventilators from the national stockpile were shipped to New York "earlier" Tuesday, and on Wednesday "there will be another 2,000 ventilators shipped from the national stockpile."
"New York is truly the epicenter of the coronavirus right now in our country," Pence said at a town hall filmed from the White House Rose Garden.
Earlier in the interview, when asked about Cuomo’s urgent call for more ventilators, Pence insisted that “we’re going to make those resources available."
Pence said he had been in recent conversations with Cuomo, Trump and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and "we want to assure them that we’re going to make those resources available," before going on to urge governors in general to identify respirators from private outpatient clinics.
High infection rate in metro area
Birx said Tuesday the infection rate in the New York City metro area is “four to five times any other place in the country” and that “we remain deeply concerned about New York City and the New York metro area."
Asked why the region had a higher rate, Birx, appearing on a Fox News town hall, said population density and a high volume of international travelers may have played a role.
“I think part of it is density,” Birx said. “Part of it is that the spread may have happened on metal surfaces like in the subway and people that were in the subway. Part of it may be a large number of people came back after Christmas from Asia that didn't get caught up in the closure.
“And part of it could be that Europeans who have come back subsequently … it's a big area of world trade and global transit,” Birx added. “So, I think the virus probably was quietly expanding because until it gets into an older population, you don't really see it in the same way.”
If New York State was its own country, it would have the sixth-highest total in the world, ahead of countries including Iran, France and South Korea. New York accounts for about half the cases in the United States, which has the third-highest worldwide total, behind only China and Italy.
Underscoring its spread here, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini became the highest level public official on Long Island to contract the virus, saying Tuesday he was asymptomatic and working from home.
In Nassau, the county-owned A. Holly Patterson Extended Care facility in Uniondale has 18 cases of coronavirus, said County Executive Laura Curran. They have been isolated away from other residents.
Cuomo had said earlier he expected the virus to peak in New York around May 1, but that calculation is now outdated and it could come by early to mid-April.
A 'Darwinian' plan
Cuomo lambasted a plan floated by Trump to start broadly reopening the economy before the epidemic is under control. Trump on Tuesday afternoon said he wanted the U.S. "opened up and raring to go by Easter," April 12.
“Well, we’ll just sacrifice old people,” Cuomo said, noting that the elderly are the most vulnerable to coronavirus. “They’re old people anyway, and the old get left behind. What is this? Some modern Darwinian theory of natural selection?”
He went on, seeking to personalize the crisis: “My mother is not expendable. And your mother is not expendable. And our brothers and sisters are not expendable. And we are not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable and we’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life.”
“The first order of business is to save lives. Period. Whatever it costs.”
Cuomo said the most urgent need in New York is the ventilators, and that the state has become so desperate it is examining an experimental and difficult-to-perform technique in which one ventilator could be shared by two patients.
“At this point, we have no alternative,” he said, adding the ventilators are “a critical and desperate need. The ventilators will make the difference between life and death literally for these people."
He said the state has procured about 7,000 ventilators to add to its existing stock of nearly 4,000, but needs at least 30,000 more.
“We have been working around the clock, scouring the globe" to find more ventilators, he said. “You cannot buy them. You cannot find them. Every state is trying to get them. Other countries are trying to get them."
He said the only way for the state to get them is through the federal government, which has an emergency stockpile of 20,000.
He called on Trump's secretary of the Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, to release them immediately.
“How can we be in a situation where you are going to have New Yorkers possibly dying because they can't get a ventilator, but a federal agency saying, 'I'm going to leave the ventilators in the stockpile?' "
He also said Trump, through the Defense Production Act, could force industries in the U.S. to convert their factories as if during a war and immediately start mass-producing ventilators.
“I do not for the life of me understand the reluctance to use" the act, he said.
With Cuomo's patience seeming to wear thin and his desperation growing, state officials said the number of confirmed cases jumped dramatically overnight, with 4,790 cases for a total 25,665 people testing positive.
"We’re not slowing it and it is accelerating on its own,” Cuomo said. “We haven’t flattened the curve and the curve is actually increasing."
“One of the forecasters said to me, 'We were looking at a freight train coming across the country.' We are now looking at a bullet train, because the numbers are going up that quickly.”
He said the state is stepping in to provide critical protective gear for health care workers throughout New York, including Long Island, which will receive tens of thousands of N-95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, gowns and face shields.
That is on top of about 500,000 N-95 masks the state sent to Long Island last week.
Hospitals use 'every nook and cranny'
Long Island hospitals and health facilities said Tuesday they were feeling the impact of the coronavirus.
Northwell Health said it has about 800 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in 19 hospitals it owns and operates in New York. The biggest numbers were at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital.
At Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, workers were converting rooms to help make way for an expected wave of patients. One conference room was turned into an oncology and infusion center, while another hosts 22 bunk beds where medical residents can rest in between their rounds seeing patients.
“We are looking at every nook and cranny in the hospital where we can put a bed,” hospital spokesman Joseph Calderone said.
Eight fully equipped medical tents are being constructed outside the hospital to take pressure off the emergency room and accommodate patients who have symptoms for COVID-19.
Cuomo on Tuesday repeated his call for retired doctors and nurses to volunteer to help with the crisis. State officials said about 4,000 Long Islanders are among the 30,000 who have signed up.
Carl Ginsburg, spokesman for the New York State Nurses Association, the state’s largest union for registered nurses, said recruiting retirees shouldn’t be an immediate priority because of the severe shortage of N95 respirator masks and other equipment that nurses need to protect themselves from the virus.
Some nurses have been forced to reuse masks, despite the risk of contracting the virus from them, he said.
Ginsburg also said retirees over 65 are among those at highest risk for severe COVID-19 illnesses.
Meanwhile, Enzo Clinical Labs said Tuesday it has begun drive-thru testing at its Farmingdale headquarters, joining other drive-thru sites, including state-run locations at Jones Beach State Park and Stony Brook University, and a privately operated one in Jericho.
The state had projected earlier it would need 110,000 hospital beds to handle the influx of coronavirus patients, but that is now up to 140,000, Cuomo said. New York also will need 40,000 ICU beds.
“Those are troubling and astronomical numbers,” he said.
The state is converting the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan into a hospital and setting up other temporary ones at Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury. Cuomo indicated he might consider other SUNY campuses and CUNY, too. He is also talking to hotel owners to see if their properties might be used.
"I will turn this state upside down to get the number of beds that we need," he said.
'Canary in the coal mine'
The quickly rising rate of infections means New York is "the canary in the coal mine" for the rest of the country, Cuomo said.
"What happens in New York is going to wind up happening to California and Washington state," he said. "Deploy the resources here in New York for our apex" and later "deploy the ventilators to other parts of the country where they are needed."
Though Cuomo said the state does not have enough ventilators, Northwell spokesman Terry Lynam said the number in its health system was “ample … We feel we are as well prepared as we can be.” He declined to say how many ventilators they have.
Cuomo noted that New York has about 10 times the number of coronavirus cases as California, which is the state with the second-highest number of cases, about 2,800.
New York has kept testing at a high level to detect new cases a total of 91,270, including 15,496 on Long Island, the governor said. New York has the highest testing rate per capita in the world, he said.
In Manhattan, de Blasio said hospitals overwhelmed with treating coronavirus patients could run out of supplies and money within a few days.
He estimated that the city would need 15,000 ventilators by the peak of the crisis. He said the city will receive 2,000 of the 4,000 the White House is sending.
The health scare was reflected across Long Island, where public areas were desolate and businesses were shuttered.
In Port Jefferson, the sidewalks along Route 25 were mostly vacant after 12 p.m. The LIRR Station on Main Street was largely empty by the time the 12:32 p.m. train to Jamaica left the station.
In downtown Port Jefferson, normally busy with foot traffic, there were only a few people jogging or out for a walk.
“I’m pretty nervous because there’s no end date," said Ron Fisher, 36, of Southampton, who had to let go of eight employees at his sign shop. "If we had an idea that this is going to be done on April 15, then everybody could plan, we could hunker down and get things done. But with no end in sight, it’s nerve-wracking."
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 drive yielded 40,000 gloves, more than 3,000 N95 masks, 1,500 gowns and more than 3,000 ear loop masks as of Monday since its Saturday launch, the county said. 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, who have not been exposed to coronavirus, 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