Stricter measures aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 were announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Thursday at a press briefing in Albany. Further measures will be implemented to reduce density and increase surge capacity as the number of confirmed cases in New York state rises to 328.
In every part of New York state, mass gatherings of 500 people or more will be cancelled or postponed until further notice.
Additionally, events, gatherings and businesses with less than 500 people in attendance will be required to cut capacity by 50 percent, with exceptions being made for spaces where individuals do not make sustained close contact, such as schools, hospitals, public buildings, mass transit, grocery stores and retail stores.
These new regulations will go into effect Friday, March 13th at 5 p.m., with the exception of Broadway Theaters where the limits went into effect Thursday afternoon.
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic Wednesday. The virus has spread to 116 countries and has resulted in over 4,500 deaths worldwide.
Cuomo characterized it as a public health emergency and outlined developments with the goal of reducing the spread and treating the infected.
“This has to be a system that is in balance and can handle the entirety of a public health emergency,” Cuomo said. “We need to increase testing as quickly as possible and get the volume as high as possible.”
As he announced Wednesday, the state is contracting 28 private labs to increase testing capacity. They are awaiting approval from the Federal Drug Administration for automated testing procedures, which could increase the state’s testing capacity by the thousands.
Commissioner of Health for New York State Dr. Howard A. Zucker stated that as of 12:40 p.m. Thursday, 4,628 tests had been administered to 2,314 people, as testing protocol calls for two tests per person. With the ability to have tests evaluated within the state, results can be known within a day down to a matter of hours.
The state is working with hospitals to address issues of facility capacity and staffing capacity. The Department of Health is accelerating regulations to get more nurses and personnel trained to be put into the field. Cuomo is asking former doctors and nurses to reconnect with their previous healthcare employers to volunteer to be on an on-call basis.
In order to distribute more resources in the fight against COVID-19, downstate hospitals are coordinating with upstate hospitals for possible overflow and temporary hospital facilities are being considered. Elective surgeries, which make up 25 to 35 percent hospital beds may be cancelled until further notice.
With the knowledge of the mistakes made in Washington state, specific precautions are being taken for nursing homes and senior assisted living facilities. Non-medical or non-personnel will not be allowed inside unless under dire circumstances, and if allowed in visitors must wear protective garb. Staff must wear face masks and be monitored for symptoms related to COVID-19 daily.
Several school districts are now being closed in New York in accordance with state regulation that says any school that has a student or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 must close for 24 hours to be cleaned. Shutting down schools for an increased length of time is up to the district who must consider the facts and circumstances.
“I know the hysteria is high. I know the political environment superheats everything. But it’s more about being able to handle this situation governmentally and operationally. Being able to make it all work; that’s what we’re planning on right now,” Cuomo said.
After the postponement of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, further measures are being enforced to reduce density in order to prevent the virus spreading. Events with 500 or more people in attendance will be cancelled or postponed.
Congregate spaces, such as places of worship, restaurants and bars with a maximum capacity of 500 or less will have to reduce their capacity by half. Establishments that do not comply may be fined or shut down by local law enforcement. This capacity executive order will go into effect Friday, March 13 at 5:30 p.m.. This order will not affect schools, mass transit facilities, hospitals or public transportation.
This is resulting in the near shutdown of Broadway in New York City and an incalculable loss of revenue for businesses across the state. Cuomo stated that it is virtually impossible for the state to compensate local businesses for their loss of revenues as a result of this pandemic.