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Cuomo on COVID-19: A 'second wave is coming' and state needs to prepare

Health care workers looked on during a July

Health care workers looked on during a July 14 ceremony in Plainview to rename a section of Old Country Road "Heroes Way" in honor of essential workers. Credit: Barry Sloan

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo painted a gloomy picture of the months ahead Wednesday, warning that the COVID-19 crisis is not over even as New York continued to register low levels of new coronavirus infections, with 11 straight days of new positives falling below 1% of people tested in the state.

Cuomo said the rosy scenario in the statistics for the state will be challenged in the fall by "a host of complexities" with the anticipated rise of the seasonal flu and the risk associated with the reopening of schools.

And he employed sports metaphors to remind New Yorkers that becoming complacent — such as failing to wear face coverings and following social distance rules — is dangerous and could cause new spreads of the potentially deadly disease.

"Maybe we are at halftime in the game and we ended the first half in good shape after a brutal first half and we're in the locker room," Cuomo said during a news teleconference from Albany. "The reason we are doing well is because we are being smart. If people's behavior doesn’t remain disciplined, we are going to have a problem."

Of the 80,425 COVID-19 diagnostic tests reported to the state Tuesday, 631 were positive — for a daily level of 0.78% — bringing the state total number of cases to 427,202 since the beginning of the pandemic. That includes 70 new positive cases in Suffolk County and 62 in Nassau County, state figures show.

Of people tested Tuesday, 0.9% on Long Island and 0.8% in New York City came back positive, the state said.

Six people died from COVID-19 in the state, for an overall death toll of 25,270.

Cuomo noted spikes in cases outside New York after some colleges and schools have reopened. He said New York's school leaders need to answer tough questions about how the rules of physical distancing would be enforced and what kind of testing and tracing operations would be in place, amid reduced testing capacity due to the flu season.

“The basic point is … opening schools, risky and problematic. That happens in September," Cuomo said. "In September, the flu season starts. It’s going to make it much harder to diagnose symptomatic people … It’s going to really stress our testing capacity. That all happens in a matter of weeks. This is not over. The second wave is coming. It’s going to be more challenging.”

The state Health Department is sending out letters to county health departments across the state asking about plans to perform flu and COVID-19 tests at the same time, Cuomo said.

"This is going to be difficult and challenging," he said. "It will require a reduction in the number of COVID tests or in the turnaround time on COVID tests, and we already had issues on the turnaround time on COVID tests. So we want to get ahead of this and that letter from the Department of Health is going to do that, and that letter goes out today. But I'm telling you, there's going to be no easy answer to that riddle."

Cuomo also said some proceeds of his book on the state's efforts to handle the pandemic will go to a COVID-19 charity.

Seeking more enforcement

The State Liquor Authority and State Police Task Force visited 1,077 bars and restaurants in New York City and on Long Island on Tuesday and found five in violation of state requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing. Three were in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan and one in Queens.

States/regions in red are included on New York's travel advisory list as of Oct. 27, 2020. Guam and Puerto Rico, not pictured, are also on the list.

Cuomo reiterated his call for police departments to step up enforcement of locations that have drawn large crowds in recent weeks, specifically naming the city, Nassau and Suffolk counties and the Town of Southampton.

"The SLA and the State Police cannot substitute for local police departments," he said. "We need the NYPD doing this. We need the Nassau County Police Department doing it. We need the Suffolk County Police Department. We need the Town of Southampton Police Department. So, complacency is the issue because we are very much in the midst of it." 

Uptick in Brooklyn neighborhood

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said there was an uptick in cases traced back to the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. A large wedding that officials believe exceeded the 50-person limit is the likely source for at least some of the 16 cases recently detected in that area. 

De Blasio said he spoke last night to community leaders in Borough Park, which has a significant population of Jewish residents including from the Hasidic community, and urged widespread masking and avoiding large gatherings altogether.

“They certainly understand the urgency of the situation. We want to get the message out that people need to be tested, that people need to wear face coverings, that we need to avoid those large gatherings that can cause a bigger problem,” de Blasio said.

He said an effort to conduct testing and contain the spread would mirror what the city government did last week, when there was an unusually high number of cases elsewhere in Brooklyn, in the Sunset Park neighborhood.

With Matthew Chayes

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