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Officials: NY possibly headed for virus plateau, LI still climbing

At his Sunday briefing, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said new deaths from the coronavirus are possibly plateauing in New York State and that the number of patients leaving hospitals is increasing. Credit: YouTube / NYGovCuomo

This story was reported by Vera Chinese, Scott Eidler, Rachelle Blidner, David M. Schwartz, Michael O'Keeffe, Joie Tyrrell and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Schwartz and Tyrrell.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday that new deaths from the coronavirus are possibly reaching a plateau in New York state, even as local officials say the toll on Long Island continues to climb.

As of Sunday, Cuomo said, there have been 122,031 coronavirus cases and 4,149 deaths related to the disease. Suffolk County reported 51 new deaths — the most since the pandemic started — bringing its total to 175. Nassau County on Sunday afternoon reported 13 new deaths, bringing the total of virus-related deaths to 162.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said that despite the surge in deaths, fewer people were going into the hospital the last two days than were prior. More of those hospitalized are moving into ICU, he said.

Bellone, noting that 107 patients had been discharged from the hospital, said that number "is good news...we are seeing more people discharged every day.”

President Donald Trump said in his Sunday evening news briefing that the federal government is sending 200,000 n95 masks to Suffolk County, "where they need it really badly."

“Long Island now has become a hot spot, part of New York. We’re sending a lot of things, a lot of supplies, " said Trump, who said Shirley Republican Lee Zeldin had made the request.

He said the federal government will deliver 600,000 N95 masks to New York City Monday.

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Trump said there were glimmers of hope and progress being made in  multiple states, including New York, just hours after his surgeon general said this week will be akin to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. 

“Today every patriotic American’s heart beats in solidarity with the incredible people of New York and New Jersey. They have really become a hot zone but some very good things are happening," he said. "In New York, for the first time  where the deaths were less from the previous day. That’s the first drop so far so that could be a good sign.” 

Trump also said it's possible the military medical ship U.S. Comfort could be used for coronavirus patients. “ The ship is ready and if it has to, if we need it, if we need it for the virus, we will be using it for that," he said.

The hospital ship had been sent to New York City to deal with non-virus cases but Trump said they may change since the ship has been handling such a low volume of patients.

Earlier Sunday, Cuomo sounded a note of cautious optimism at signs that the state's level of confirmed cases could be approaching or even be past its peak. The past 24 hours saw 594 deaths, a decrease from the record 630 reported Friday. About 12,000 people in New York have been discharged from hospital care — 74% of all cases — with 1,700 discharged in one day, the governor said.

"We could be very nearly near the apex and we could be beyond the plateau right now," Cuomo said in his daily update on the pandemic Sunday morning. "The coronavirus is truly a vicious and effective killer at what the virus does … We are all watching a movie and we are waiting to see what the next scene is."

He said that as the number of cases have surged in Nassau and Suffolk counties, fewer new cases are being reported in New York City.

There were additionally 1,052 new cases in Nassau, bringing the total to 14,398.

In Suffolk, Bellone said there were 12,405 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,035 from Saturday.

 In New York City, there were 64,955 cases as of Sunday evening, with 14,205 hospitalized and 2,472 dead, officials said. 

Cuomo again reiterated Sunday that more assistance in the form of medical personnel and supplies is needed.

"People of Nassau can't handle it alone," the governor said.

The federal government on Sunday deployed 325 personnel, including doctors, nurses, respiratory technicians and therapists, to help the New York City hospital system, Cuomo said. The federal government will deploy approximately 1,000 personnel in total to the state to assist with the virus.

Cuomo said New York is continuing to operate on a "surge and flex" system, where the state is working to share resources, including the additional federal personnel, at the most stressed hospitals.

He said the state has not yet acquired any upstate ventilators for use at downstate hospitals but said it could become necessary. The executive order last week had caused a backlash from some upstate lawmakers, who opposed redistributing the ventilators that help COVID-19 patients breathe.

Bellone, in his news conference on Sunday, asked lawmakers to clarify their letter to the governor asking for the ventilators to stay upstate and saying they would be needed. Keeping unused ventilators upstate "would be inhumane," he said.

“The epicenter of this fight is on Long Island and downstate," he said. "When upstate needs it, we will be there to support them.”

On Saturday, Cuomo described the growing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Long Island as “like a fire spreading.” Nassau also gained the grim distinction Saturday as the county with the most cases nationwide outside the five boroughs of New York City.

In the past two weeks, the percentage of state coronavirus hospitalizations on Long Island rose to 22% from 15%, as the proportion from New York City declined, the governor said Saturday. 

Nassau County reported Sunday afternoon that of the 13 new deaths, 10 were men and 3 were women. Their ages ranged from 62 to 93. There have now been 162 COVID-19 related deaths.

Suffolk County stopped reporting details on the deaths, such as ages of patients or communities where are from, citing a lack of time.

 As of Sunday, officials began relying on state health department death figures to reduce the reporting burdens on front-line workers.

“For me the most important thing is for those front-line workers to be focused on their missions, and that is to save lives,” Bellone said.

The 51 deaths reported Sunday exceeded the previous record day, of 28, which was reported on Saturday.

Peconic Landing, a Greenport retirement community, reported a ninth death of a resident there. The 98-year-old woman at the skilled nursing unit had tested positive on March 19 and died Saturday. She had known preexisting conditions.

Also Sunday, a Northwell Health spokesman said the system has seen a leveling in the number of COVID-19 patients at its hospitals.

“We were at about 3,100 patients on Friday, so it’s slowed a little,” spokesman Terry Lynam said. “We had been going up by about 300 per day.”

Lynam said Northwell hospitals are close to 90% capacity, although Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Long Island Jewish Forest Hills and Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson are at capacity. Mather has received patients from areas that have experienced an overflow of COVID-19 patients.

Queens and western Nassau have remained hot spots, although “this is everywhere,” Lyman said.

The New Hyde Park-based hospital system on Friday released guidelines for rationing ventilators to "patients most likely to benefit," according to a Politico story.

But Northwell Health Chief Executive Officer Michael Dowling, speaking Sunday on CBS' "Face The Nation," said the system had not yet reached the point where rationing is needed.

"The policy that you referenced is a draft policy," Dowling told host Margaret Brennan. "It is something that we like to prepare for the inevitability. In case that we ever have to do something in the future, you have to have a policy prepared well in advance."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also speaking on "Face the Nation," warned that new cases will escalate across the country this week with the national apex remaining eight to nine days away. Still, when new cases begin to stabilize, as they are in New York City, he said "that's the first sign of that plateau and coming down."

"So just buckle down, continue to mitigate, continue to do the physical separation," he said. "Because we got to get through this week that's coming up … it is going to be a bad week."

As local communities coped with the pandemic, fire departments across Long Island sounded their sirens Sunday night in honor of health care providers and others who are on the front lines caring for those impacted by the coronavirus.

“This is a thank you to the health care providers,” said Bruce Smith, former chief of the Huntington Fire Department and a volunteer with the Huntington Manor Fire Department. “We want them to know we are here and we are thinking about them.”

Smith said he learned of the effort through fire departments in the Town of Babylon and then he brought the idea to Huntington.

Several other departments, such as Commack and East Farmingdale Volunteer Fire Company, posted the event on social media and asked residents to join in and make some noise to show support.

Huntington residents cheered and banged pots and pans at 7 p.m. as the sirens wailed in the background.

The Oceanside, Long Beach, Island Park, Freeport and other fire departments and first responders were planning to do a drive by Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital at 6:30 p.m. Sunday to show support for staff and patients.

Earlier Sunday, Bellone said that fire departments as well as other emergency service agencies will sound the sirens as a tribute.

“They are acknowledging the incredible work and sacrifices by our health care workers and this is a wonderful thing,” Bellone said, who added that the county’s H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge will be lit in blue honoring the health care workers Sunday night and going forward.

 Monday, New York City police officers will turn out at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx to show appreciation for workers there who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. With applause and lights flashing on their police vehicles, officers will be delivering food and refreshments for the hospital’s nurses, doctors and support staff.

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Schumer called again for the Trump administration to appoint a senior military official as a national coronavirus czar to oversee the production and distribution of ventilators, personal protective equipment and other supplies needed to combat the pandemic.

State and local authorities are now competing against each other for vital equipment and the nation needs a strong leader with sweeping powers, Schumer said Sunday during a news conference in Brooklyn. The nation’s supply-and-distribution chain, he said, has failed at delivering resources where they are most urgently needed.

“We have a ‘Wild West’ situation across the land really where state, local officials, hospital executives and others are forced to go on individual scavenger hunts for vitally needed materials and personnel,” the Senate Minority Leader said outside his Park Slope home as ambulance sirens screamed in the background. 

Trump expressed hostility to the idea Thursday on Twitter. 

“Somebody please explain to Cryin’ Chuck Schumer that we do have a military man in charge of distributing goods, a very talented Admiral, in fact,” the president tweeted, referring to Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who is leading the FEMA supply chain task force. 

Also Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said last weekend that the city had just enough ventilators and other medical supplies to last until as early as Sunday. He said the city has survived that emergency but it is still in trouble. 

“The good news is our call was heard and acted on in so many ways but that does not mean we are out of the woods for next week.” 

He said the city can get through Tuesday or Wednesday with the supplies on hand. 

 Asked about Cuomo's statements about the apex, de Blasio said there are some hopeful indicators but it is too early to say.

“I’m going to be really careful because the last thing I want to do is say we are turning a corner and then we get surprised. I see some positive indicators. Clearly, the fact that we thought we could run out of ventilators as early as tonight or tomorrow morning and now we believe we are going to get to Tuesday or Wednesday, that is a good sign.”

Meanwhile, on Long Island, officials continued to stress the need for social distancing.

Police were called to a West Broadway address in Woodmere about 11:30 a.m. Saturday following reports of an overcrowded religious service. The Nassau County Fire Marshal’s Office found multiple fire code violations due to the crowd as well as three propane-powered cooking surfaces in a nearby parking lot, said a department spokesman, Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Michael Uttaro.

Houses of worship are not ordered closed under Cuomo's New York State on PAUSE executive order, but it is strongly recommended no congregate services be held and social distance be maintained. Woodmere has emerged as one of Long Island’s hot spots for the new coronavirus, with 258 cases as of Friday.

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