Glimmer of hope, but isolation order extended for another two weeks

Photo by Mike Groll, Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is extending his NY PAUSE Executive Orders until April 29 and increasing fines for those who violate the social distancing regulations. New York’s infection numbers may be starting to plateau and now is a crucial time in the fight to slow the spread of the virus.

The federal government has granted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request to allow COVID-19 patients to be treated aboard the USNS Comfort, freeing up 500 much-needed hospital beds in the metro New York region.

Meanwhile, for the second day in a row, death rates in New York state due to COVID-19 have been effectively flat, which could signify New York state is reaching the apex of infections … or not.

Even with the extra beds now available on the Comfort — which has been docked in Manhattan since March 30 — the state’s health care system is currently working at its maximum capacity. If the state has in fact reached a plateau in cases, it is plateauing at a very high level.

“This is a hospital system where we have our foot to the floor and the engine is at red line and you can’t go any faster,” said Cuomo, using a muscle car analogy. “And by the way, you can’t stay at red line for any period of time because the system will blow. That’s where we are. We are at red line. People can’t work any harder. The staff can’t work any harder and staying at this level is problematic.”

The governor announced Monday that schools and businesses will remain closed for another two weeks, until at least April 29.

“I know what it does to the economy,” Cuomo said. “[But] I’m not going to choose between public health and economic activity.”

There were an additional 8,658 coronavirus cases reported in New York state on Monday morning, bringing the statewide total to 130,689, There were new cases in 48 counties.

While the number of deaths from the virus went up from 4,159 to 4,758, the rate is slowing and the number of hospitalizations and intubations has gone down. The number of patients discharged from hospitals has also gone down, reflecting the slowing of new infections.

There are 16,000 people in the state’s hospital system; 13,000 people have been discharged.

The governor sees these numbers as a product of social distancing efforts, and that is why he is extending the NY PAUSE executive order to keep schools and essential businesses closed until the end of the month, when another assessment will be made.

“Whether we’ve hit the apex or whether we haven’t hit the apex, you would have to do the same thing,” Cuomo said, referring to the practice of social distancing and density reduction. “There is a real danger in getting overconfident too quickly. This is an enemy that we have underestimated from day one and we have paid the price dearly.”

Cuomo, acknowledging the onset of warmer weather and religious holidays coming later in the week, urged New Yorkers to remain isolated in their homes.

“[To anyone who may be thinking] ‘Well, the numbers look like they may be turning, yay it is over.’ No, it is not. Other places have made that mistake. Hong Kong has made that mistake, South Korea has made that mistake, and we are not going to make that mistake,” the governor said.

Cuomo said he has witnessed a general disregard for the seriousness of the situation, especially among young people, so he is increasing the maximum fine for anyone involved in a “mass gathering” from $500 to $1,000.

The governor reminded localities that they have the authority to enforce the protocols.

“There’s been a laxness on social distancing this weekend that is wholly unacceptable,” Cuomo said Monday. “Now is not the time to be playing frisbee with your friends at the park.”

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York State Department of Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, leave a press conference in the state Capitol on Monday, April 6, 2020.

In other developments:

  • The governor announced Monday that the South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island and the Brooklyn Center Temporary Hospital at 170 Buffalo Avenue will open this week and will be used specifically for COVID-19 patients.
  • The governor is also asking the federal government to increase the hydroxychloroquine supply due to anecdotal evidence that suggests the drug seems to be working. Previously, there was a 14 day limit to how much of the drug could be purchased, due to the high demand.
  • In addition, Gov. Cuomo announced the creation of the New York State COVID-19 First Responders Fund, run by the Department of Health. The fund will support first responders with resources such as covering expenses and childcare while they are meeting the urgent needs of the state.
  • The state is also partnering with Headspace to provide free mindfulness, meditation, and mental health resources to all New Yorkers at New Yorkers can also call the COVID-19 emotional support hotline at 1-844-863-9314 for further assistance regarding mental health.