ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo reacted with surprise and displeasure Saturday afternoon after President Donald Trump said he may order an enforceable quarantine for New York and surrounding areas in New Jersey and some parts of Connecticut as the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread.
“We’re looking at it and will be making a decision,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One to Norfolk, Virginia, to visit the a U.S. Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort, which is scheduled to arrive in the New York Harbor on Monday. “A lot of the states that are infected...they’ve asked me if I’d look at it so we’re going to look at it.
“It would be for a short time,” he said. “This would be an enforceable quarantine. And, you know, I’d rather not do it, but we may need it.”
At 52,318 positive cases Saturday, New York has roughly half of the nation’s confirmed cases of the new coronavirus that has swept the globe.
Just under 14% of positively infected New Yorkers are hospitalized, or 7,328 people, with 1,755 patients in the intensive care unit.
The state reported a total of 728 virus-related deaths Saturday afternoon — up from 519 Friday.
The state’s first Columbia County resident died of COVID-19 on Saturday, according to a statement from the county health department. The elderly resident had COVID-19 with multiple underlying conditions.
Albany County also had its first virus-related death, according to a statement from County Executive Dan McCoy’s office. An elderly man with several underlying conditions and COVID-19 died Saturday at St. Peter’s Hospital.
Columbia County had 30 positive cases of the virus as of Saturday afternoon. Four remain hospitalized with 79 people under mandatory quarantine and 42 under precautionary quarantine. Ten residents have suspected cases, but have not been tested.
The state’s most dense virus hot spots have remained downstate and in New York City. To date, the virus has been detected in 54 counties, including the city, with 29,766 positive cases in New York City, 7,875 cases in Westchester County, 5,537 in Nassau County, 4,138 cases in Suffolk County, 1,896 in Rockland County and 178 in Albany County.
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
Greene County has 11 positive cases of COVID-19 in Windham, Durham, Greenville, Hunter, Cairo and Catskill as of Saturday afternoon. One person was hospitalized, according to a statement from Greene County Public Health.
Three Greene County residents who tested positive were cleared and discharged, with eight active positive cases. Eighty-one people remain under precautionary quarantine being self-monitored for possible exposure.
Cuomo was surprised by Trump’s suggested travel restrictions and immediately expressed disapproval of the idea.
“I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable,” Cuomo said during a press conference Saturday afternoon in the state Capitol in Albany. “...Not even understanding what it is, I don’t like the sound of it.”
Trump added he would not order the closure of the subway system in the nation’s largest city, which is home to 8.6 million people, reflecting the quarantine would be aimed at stopping the spread beyond the tri-state area.
“Some people would like to see New York quarantined because it’s a hot spot — New York, New Jersey maybe one or two other places, certain parts of Connecticut quarantined,” Trump said at the White House before boarding Marine One. “I’m thinking about that right now. We might not have to do it, but there’s a possibility that sometime today we’ll do a quarantine — short-term — two weeks for New York, probably New Jersey, certain parts of Connecticut.”
Trump indicated he’s considering a quarantine because of complaints from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about New Yorkers traveling to Florida and spreading the contagion.
Cuomo and Trump spoke on the phone late Saturday morning, the governor said, for the president to approve the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Guard to build four additional 1,000-bed temporary hospital facilities at The New York Expo Center in the Bronx, the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and the College of Staten Island with a goal to open in early- to mid-April. The state’s first temporary medical center at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan was completed Friday and is expected to open Monday.
The potential federal quarantine was not discussed during the late-morning call with the president, Cuomo said. Trump said he would discuss the decision with Cuomo later Saturday.
Cuomo declared an executive order Saturday to delay New York’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 23 with the congressional and legislative primaries amid the spreading pandemic.
Earlier this month, village elections were postponed statewide to April 28. Originally scheduled for March 18, the village races will also take place June 23.
The governor issued an additional executive order Saturday to move the state’s personal and corporate tax filing deadline to July 15.
The state had its first positive COVID-19 case 27 days ago. Schools were mandated closed 10 days ago, and just over a week back, nonessential workers were ordered to work from home.
“It feels like it’s been forever, but really, it hasn’t,” Cuomo said. “...This is not a sprint, my friends. This is a marathon. We each must do our part to adjust.”
To date, New York has tested 155,934 people for COVID-19, but needs more tests.
Cuomo called for the nation to implement an open market for COVID-19 tests, as other countries have developed faster tests.
“We need many more tests,” the governor said. “We have a rigorous approval process through the FDA and CDC in this country. It serves us well in normal circumstances. These are not normal circumstances.”
State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said having the common cold, which is also a type of coronavirus, does not throw off COVID-19 swab test results.
The doctor added the state’s test has not had false positives.
“We’ve been watching that very closely,” he said Saturday.
Expert projections show the state will reach its apex of cases in 14 to 21 days, Cuomo said. The state will need 140,000 hospital beds at that time, including 30,000 ICU beds with ventilators.
Trump expressed doubt that the tens of thousands of extra ventilators were necessary for New York.
“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” the president said during a Fox News interview earlier this week.
The state’s request for a total of 40,000 ventilators comes from expert data projections of need at the virus’ peak from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state agencies, Cuomo said. The figure is the state’s estimated high point of need.
“You plan based on the data, you plan based on the science, you plan based on the numbers,” Cuomo said. “We are planning for the worst-case scenarios the models predict. Maybe we never get there and flatten the curve and slow the infection rate, but if you can’t slow the infection rate, make sure you’re ready for the apex.”
The federal government sent New York 4,000 ventilators, Cuomo said Saturday. Earlier this week, the governor explained New York has 14,000 extra ventilators stockpiled throughout the state, but none have been deployed because hospitals have not experienced a shortage to date.
The state is buying most of the additional ventilators, Cuomo said, adding the machines cost about $25,000 to $45,000 each.
“I have no desire to procure more ventilators than we need,” the governor said. “The state government is already in a terrible position of revenues. The state has no interest in inflating the number of ventilators we actually need.”
The state is preparing college dormitories and hotels for emergency hospital beds, staffing, equipment and ventilators before the virus apex, or peak, hits. Several hospitals, especially downstate, will have more than 600 beds or areas specifically designated for COVID-19 patients and health care workers.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to construct temporary medical centers at SUNY College at Old Westbury, SUNY Stony Brook and the Westchester Convention Center in White Plains.
Cuomo called on local health care systems throughout the state to work together, including public and private hospitals.
“We have them operating as individual hospitals and they have to operate as a system,” Cuomo said. “If you see a hospital getting overwhelmed, shift the staff and patients to an adjoining hospital.”
The state may reach a point, the governor said, where downstate patients are moved upstate if New York City, Long Island and other area hospitals become overwhelmed.
“There may come a point where the state steps in and allocates among local health systems,” Cuomo added. “You may have patients from downstate being moved to upstate.”
The state health department’s Wadsworth Center Lab in Albany is working to evaluate a new antibody blood test to detect a COVID-19 antibody, which means a person who had the virus, recovered and is immune, Cuomo said.
The governor encouraged people to remain vigilant, but consider the positive side of the situation, such as having the extra free time to finish a task or more hours talking to loved ones.
“My gratuitous two cents: See if you can’t find a silver lining in all of this,” Cuomo said. “I’m not trying to say it’s not a terrible circumstance, but even in a terrible circumstance, if you look hard enough, you can find the little rays, a few rays of light and people are doing it, and I think we all should.”
The Tribune News Service contributed to this report.
Kate Lisa covers the New York State Capitol and government for Johnson Newspaper Corporation. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @KaitlynnLisa