State of Emergency as virus cases spread across New York

Photo by Darren McGee, courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined by Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, in a news briefing on Saturday, March 7, confirmed additional cases of novel coronavirus including 2 cases upstate in Saratoga County, bringing the statewide total to 89 confirmed cases in New York state. Cuomo declared a state of emergency that allows the state to respond to the crisis by streamlining purchasing and hiring and testing for the virus.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on Saturday to help New York more quickly and effectively contain the spread of COVID-19 in New York.

The declaration comes after officials confirmed dozens of new cases, bringing the statewide total to 89. More than 4,000 New Yorkers are now under some form of quarantine, either voluntarily or mandated, depending on whether they have tested positive, or are simply at risk.

These numbers are expected to grow in the coming hours and days as testing becomes widespread.

The heaviest concentration of positive cases of the virus is in Westchester County. A New Rochelle lawyer who works in Manhattan was the state’s second positive case, and he may have infected dozens of people, if not hundreds, in recent weeks.

Cuomo also directed the New York State Department of State’s Consumer Protection Division to launch an investigation into reports of unfair price increases of consumer products such as household cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, and launched a toll-free hotline: 1-800-697-1220 for New Yorkers to report suspected price gouging.

Watch the video of the Governor’s Emergency Declaration Here:

The state of emergency allows state officials to purchase cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, testing equipment and other resources without having to comply with the standard procurement process.

It also allows health care professionals other than doctors and nurses to conduct testing and for leasing temporary lab space and quarantine locations other than hospitals.

“We are working to do more testing as quickly as possible to find the people who are infected and help contain the spread of the virus,” Cuomo said. “There are going to be more cases because we are testing more people – that’s a good thing because then we can deal with the situation based on more facts. We know about 80 percent of those infected will self-resolve.

“The best way to calm anxieties is to demonstrate absolute government competence,” Cuomo added, “and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

The emergency declaration, which is active until April 6, allows the state’s Public Health Council and the Emergency Medical Services Council to meet behind closed doors, and without a quorum, in order to make emergency decisions as needed.

It also allows the state to regulate traffic on all roads, streets and highways, superseding local laws.

There are currently 70 confirmed cases in Westchester County, by far the highest concentration of cases in the state.

The emergency declaration allows the state to hire more personnel to monitor quarantined people and to conduct more testing, more quickly.

“We’ve said to the local health departments you have to do the monitoring on the quarantine, the mandatory quarantine,” Cuomo said Saturday. “Somebody has to go knock on the door once a day at random intervals. They have to make sure that the person is there. Even on the voluntary quarantine, we want electronic check-ins. So this is labor intensive. We need the staffing, we need the purchasing. Under the declaration of emergency, we have a more expedited purchasing protocol and we’re going to be doing that.”

Of the 89 total individuals in New York State who have tested positive for the virus, the geographic breakdown is as follows:

  • Westchester: 70
  • New York City: 11
  • Nassau: 4
  • Rockland: 2
  • Saratoga: 2

“We are testing aggressively especially along suspected populations by following the infection tree because we want to identify people, because want to put them in a position where they’re not going to infect anybody else,” Cuomo said.

“We want to find positives. We’re sending mixed messages every time we do these numbers because people say, ‘Oh no, more people have it.’ We say that’s good news that we know who the people are so now we can put them in an isolated situation and they won’t continue to infect people. That is the point of the exercise is to find these people. So we’re doing more tests. The more tests the better, the more positives you find the better because then you can isolate them and you slow the spread. That’s been the focus.”

Legislative Gazette reporters Erin Hannan and Bridget Peschel contributed to this report.