ALBANY — Fewer coronavirus patients entered downstate hospitals over the weekend, but that may not be a trend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as the state extended school and business closures Monday.
NY On Pause — a 10-point executive order mandating social distancing regulations — was extended Monday to keep all school districts and nonessential businesses closed through April 29. The state Department of Education will cancel its June Regents exams for New York high school students, state Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said Monday.
Graduation requirements and guidelines are expected to be released Tuesday.
Nonessential gatherings, such as parties and celebrations, are prohibited and people must remain 6 feet away from each other in public.
“I know what it does to the economy, but I’m not going to choose between public health and economic activity,” Cuomo said Monday during a COVID-19 briefing in the state Capitol. “If that curve is turning, it’s because the rate of infection is going down because social distancing is working.”
The governor mandated state fines up to $1,000 for violating social distancing, calling on county and local governments to enforce the safety measures. The fine was originally $500.
“Localities have the legal right and responsibility to enforce the law,” Cuomo said.
The state’s virus-related deaths climbed to 4,758 by Monday afternoon, up from 3,565 Saturday and 4,159 Sunday — a number that has remained effectively flat for two days, Cuomo said.
With more than 300,000 people tested and at 130,689 positive cases, just over 12.9% of positively infected New Yorkers are hospitalized, or 16,837 people, with 4,504 patients in the intensive care unit. To date, about 75% of hospitalized New Yorkers have been discharged, or 13,366 patients.
New York City and downstate counties remain the state’s epicenter of the virus outbreak, with rolling apexes expected to hit the rest of New York in the coming weeks. More than 1,000 new COVID-19 patients were admitted to state hospitals since March 28 — or seven consecutive days, but the number declined two days in a row, which could indicate the peak.
Hospitals received an influx of 1,095 new virus patients Friday, but the figure dropped to 574 new patients Saturday and 358 Sunday. About 300 COVID-19 patients have entered intensive care each day over the last week, with 395 admissions Friday. The number decreased to 250 new ICU patients Saturday and 128 additional intensive care patients Sunday.
The decrease could indicate the apex, or height, of the COVID-19 outbreak has arrived in New York City and downstate counties, Cuomo said Monday, but experts will not know when the virus peaks in a region until several days later.
Officials have studied various expert models to determine the pandemic’s curve for the past several weeks and often show graphics featuring a traditional bell curve. The semi-circle shape may not reflect the traditional bell shape to tell the apex has hit, Cuomo said Monday.
The outbreak may hit a sharp peak and immediately decline, or the apex could be a wider plateau of sustained, high numbers for several days.
“We’re all feeling our way through this,” Cuomo said. “If we’re plateauing, it’s because social distancing is working. It could still go any way. We could still see an increase. We’re near the apex, and if the apex is a plateau, we’re on that plateau right now, but we won’t know until the next few days.”
While federal agencies work to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, which could take more than a year, the state is developing and experimenting with convalescent plasma receptors, antibody, hydroxychloroquine and other COVID-19 treatments.
The state hospital system remains stressed — especially downstate and in the city where the need is greatest. The federal government is deploying 1,000 medical personnel to New York to assist, including doctors, nurses, respiratory technicians and therapists. Deployment is a priority to New York City public hospitals, and received 325 additional personnel Sunday, Cuomo said.
The state’s first temporary medical center at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, which has 2,500 beds, opened last week. Javits will accept and treat COVID-19 patients.
Cuomo called President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon to request the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, which is docked at Pier 88 in the New York Harbor, be converted to accept COVID-19 patients. The 1,000-bed facility was originally reserved for non-COVID-19 patient overflow.
New York is releasing 802 ventilators from its state stockpile for downstate hospitals, Cuomo said Monday. The state is the recipient of ventilator donations from two Chinese billionaires and the state of Oregon. Jack Ma and Joe Tsai, founders of the Chinese conglomerate Alibaba, have donated 1,000 ventilators, and Oregon is lending the state 140 of its ventilators.
California is lending 500 state-owned ventilators and Washington will release 400 ventilators to the Strategic National Stockpile with the intention of sending machines to New York.
“We don’t need any additional ventilators right now,” Cuomo said, adding New York is beyond capacity for ventilators by converting BiPAP machines and splitting machine tubing to two patients each.
“Are we managing this situation the best it can be managed? Yes,” he said. “Have we lost anyone who we could have saved? I don’t believe so. And with that, I can sleep at night.”
The state created a centralized hospital coordination team for private and public health facilities to shift and balance their patients, staff, personal protective equipment and other resources. All hospitals are running short of gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment, with most running on a two- to four-day supply.
“Every hospital will say to you, ‘I’m running low on everything,’ because they are low on everything,” Cuomo said. “The system is running at red line [and] has been for days. It’s not what they want, it’s what they need.”
The governor announced an executive order last Friday to take ventilators and PPE from hospitals and other private institutions to redistribute them to hospitals with the highest need to fight COVID-19. The machines will be returned after the pandemic, or the institutions will be reimbursed for the equipment. The order was announced Friday, but had not been signed at press time Monday.
Bipartisan county, state and federal representatives, including U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19; state Sen. George Amedore, R-46; Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102; state Sens. Jen Metzger, D-42, and Sue Serino, R-41; Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-103; Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan; Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus released a joint statement criticizing Cuomo’s expected executive order to move ventilators from upstate hospitals.
“We are aware of plans to shift ventilators from our upstate communities and are gravely concerned,” according to the statement. “Health care access in rural communities has long been under strain, and we know the apex of cases in upstate is around the corner. We stand ready to help our fellow New Yorkers, but moving needed ventilators from our region now would be devastating and counter-intuitive to all data on the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to work together to do everything in our power to make sure folks in our region have every single thing they need to get through this health crisis.”
Cuomo reiterated the necessity of the state to share resources to save lives, but also curb the pandemic spread.
“I understand the fear if I lend you my ventilator, what happens when I need one,” the governor said. “It is in your self-interest to put out the fire at the neighbor’s house.
“Our wisdom here in New York, our mental wisdom and our ethos is we will help one another,” Cuomo said. “We’re not going to lose a life because we didn’t share resources among ourselves.”
To see the complete county breakdown of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths statewide, view the COVID-19 map and tracker at hudsonvalley360.com/site/covid19.html.