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Cuomo declares state of emergency as NY coronavirus cases rise to 89

No new cases have been reported on Long Island. Four Nassau County residents tested positive Thursday and Friday. Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Saturday declared a state of emergency as the number of coronavirus cases statewide rose to 89, with most of the positive test results linked to a single Westchester County resident.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Saturday that one of the seven new New York City cases is a man in his 30s who is an Uber driver on Long Island. He was hospitalized at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, Queens, a source said. 

Uber declined to answer questions on where the man drove for the ride-hailing service on Long Island, how long he has been driving, how many passengers he has carried in the past two weeks and whether the company is contacting passengers who rode with him.

Uber said in a statement that “we have a dedicated team working closely with public health authorities and stand ready to help in any way.” The company said it has sent messages to drivers on precautions to take to prevent the spread of the virus.

No new cases were reported on Long Island on Saturday. Four Nassau County residents tested positive Thursday and Friday.

The state of emergency allows for expedited purchasing of items such as swabs for testing, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and protective equipment, along with additional hiring, Cuomo said in an afternoon news conference from Albany.

Those items will be sent to local health departments, he said.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran praised the move, saying that "by declaring a disaster emergency, the state is assisting our efforts to effectively contain the virus."

Seventy of the state’s cases are in Westchester, all part of a “contagion cluster” traced back to a New Rochelle man who works at a Manhattan law firm, the governor's office said.

“Westchester is an obvious problem for us," Cuomo said.

In addition to the new Westchester and New York City cases, there are two new cases in upstate Saratoga County, the first there, Cuomo said. There are also two cases in Rockland County, he said.

No information was available on how the patient hospitalized in Far Rockaway contracted the virus, but hospital officials were monitoring team members who came in contact with the patient, hospital spokesman Tom Melillo said. 

The hospital staff was working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health officials and notifying staff members Saturday morning, he said. No staff members were quarantined.

Cuomo said the rising number of cases are to be expected with testing of people who may have come in contact with those who have the virus.

“The more tests the better, the more positives you find the better, because then you can isolate them and you slow the spread," he said.

Curran said Northwell Health may begin testing as early as Sunday, which will help expedite test results, because respiratory samples could be analyzed at Northwell's Lake Success labs, rather than being sent to Albany, as they are now.

In Nassau, there are 16 tests with results pending, Curran said late Saturday afternoon. There are nine pending results in Suffolk County, the Suffolk health department said Saturday afternoon.

In Nassau, tests came back positive Thursday for a 42-year-old man now at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, and on Friday for three women who Curran said “are close contacts with the man who tested positive.”

The women, ages 36, 41 and 63, all live in the Town of Hempstead, Curran said.

Two of the women are hospitalized, one at NYU Winthrop and one at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, Curran said. The other woman is in quarantine in her home and does not require hospitalization, Nassau County Health Department spokeswoman Mary Ellen Laurain said.

A source said the man lives in Uniondale. He is a part-time employee at Mercy, said officials at Catholic Health Services, which operates the hospital. They have declined to say whether he has a job that involves contact with patients, citing privacy laws.

The man has no history of travel to countries with especially large numbers of COVID-19 cases and no known contact with another individual with the virus, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has said.

Laurain said Saturday that Nassau health officials are now engaged in the “intense work” of interviewing those who tested positive to find out where they have been and who they were in contact with. Then investigators will locate those people and will institute mandatory quarantines for those who were in direct contact with people that have the virus, she said.

Twenty-one people are in mandatory quarantine in Nassau, Curran said. That is allowed under a state directive for several groups of people, including those who test positive and those who have been in close contact with people who have tested positive.

Sixty-seven people are in voluntary home isolation because of travel to countries with high numbers of coronavirus cases, she said.

In Suffolk, there are 24 people in self-isolation because of their travel history, the health department said.

NASSAU CENTER TO OPEN

Nassau County on Sunday will open a seven-day-a-week emergency operations center for coronavirus efforts, similar to centers opened during snowstorms and other weather emergencies, said Steven Morelli, commissioner of the county's Office of Emergency Management.

The center will assist health care providers and hospitals that are running low on critical equipment or overwhelmed by patients, and would respond to emergency situations, such as if there are reports of a person exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 on a Long Island Rail Road train, he said.

Cuomo said in a statement that the expedited purchasing outlined in the state of emergency, as well as allowing qualified professionals other than doctors and nurses to do testing for the virus, and expedited leasing of lab space, “gives us certain powers to help local health departments that are very stressed." 

The declaration also will help the state in investigating reports of price-gouging by stores for hand sanitizer and other items being bought to help prevent transmission of the virus, he said.

Funding will come from the $40 million emergency coronavirus spending measure Cuomo signed Tuesday, according to the governor's office. That's in addition to about $30 million in weekly coronavirus-related spending from the current state budget, Cuomo's office said.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said in a statement that “the state of emergency is a necessary step to allow local entities to take critical measures to protect New Yorkers.”

Rice will hold a town hall on COVID-19 at 1 p.m. Sunday at Oceanside Middle School, 186 Alice Ave., in Oceanside. Curran, a Nassau health department official and a Northwell infectious diseases specialist will be among those who will answer residents’ questions, Rice’s office said.

Cuomo announced Saturday that outside visitors will be barred from nursing homes and senior-living centers in New Rochelle. Those facilities are being given guidance and protocols on preventing the spread of the virus, he said.

Older adults, as well as people who are immunocompromised or have other underlying health conditions, such as respiratory diseases, are at higher risk for serious COVID-19 illnesses, according to the CDC.

Nursing homes, Cuomo said, are “what I worry about. That’s what keeps me up at night.”

At least 10 of the 19 deaths nationally have been linked to a Seattle-area nursing home, along with dozens of other infections among residents, staff and family members.

Cuomo said he doesn’t believe it is necessary at this point for most New Yorkers to avoid sporting events, concerts and other crowded venues. But, he said, “my message would be if you are a senior citizen or immunocompromised I would think seriously about attending a large gathering now. I said that to my mother.”

Cuomo administration officials said Saturday that a plane carrying 73 SUNY students who were in an area with a high number of COVID-19 cases was expected to arrive Saturday at Kennedy Airport. 

The governor said he is concerned about reports that some people who are supposed to be in voluntary home self-isolation are not staying isolated and told them "you could be putting people in danger." He said if they don't comply voluntarily, "there are other measures we could take." The governor's office later said that could include mandatory quarantine or isolation. 

In other developments Saturday:

  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging older adults and people with severe medical conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease to "stay home as much as possible" and avoid crowds to avoid contracting the coronavirus. The CDC updated the guidance on its COVID-19 website on Friday. The agency said older people are more likely to have serious illness and that underlying health conditions make it harder for people to fight off the illness.
  • Of the 19 deaths in the United States, 16 were in Washington state. Two people have died in Florida and one has died in California. While the global death toll has risen past 3,500, more people have now recovered from the virus than are sickened by it, The Associated Press reported. As of Saturday, nearly 90,000 cases had been reported in Asia; more than 8,000 in Europe; some 6,000 in the Middle East; about 400 in North America; about 50 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and fewer than 50 cases reported so far in Africa.
  • A hotel in China holding people who had contact with coronavirus patients collapsed, trapping 70 people inside, according to local news reports. At least 48 people were rescued from the wreckage, of the Xinjia Express Hotel in Quanzhou, a city in Fujian province, the Ministry of Emergency Management said. The 80-room hotel had been converted by the city government for observation of people who had contact with virus patients, according to the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily.

With John Asbury, Matthew Chayes, Keldy Ortiz and AP

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