Coronavirus Briefing March 22

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo provides a coronavirus update during a briefing in the Red Room at the state Capitol in Albany. 

ALBANY - As Dutchess County marks its first COVID-19 death and the number of positive cases in New York rises above 15,000, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a forceful call for Washington to take a bigger role in managing the crisis.

At a Sunday Morning press conference at the state Capitol, Cuomo called on the federal government and President Donald Trump to nationalize medical supply acquisition and speed up the construction of pop-up hospitals.

He also called on the state’s congressional delegation to ensure New York receives emergency funding proportionate to its high number of COVID-19 cases, asked hospitals to present plans for increasing their capacity and discussed absentee voting.

A 69-year old man from Dutchess County died from COVID-19, according to a statement posted to the Dutchess County health department website Sunday, bringing the total number of deaths in New York to 114. New York has 15,168 positive cases, with 1,974 requiring hospitalization.

Greene County had five positive cases of COVID-19, as of Sunday. None of the infected people have required hospitalization, according to the Greene County health department website. As of Sunday, Columbia County reported 13 positive cases, according to the Columbia County health department’s website.

Responding to the Dutchess County death, U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, offered his condolences Sunday.

“This weekend, our community lost a neighbor and a friend,” Delgado said. “My condolences and prayers are with his family members and loved ones during this painful time...I will continue to work alongside our state, community and local officials to combat this ongoing challenge and keep folks safe throughout our region.”

States are driving up prices by competing to purchase medical equipment, Cuomo said and expressed concern that states with far fewer COVID-19 cases than New York were snapping up supplies.

“We need to distribute equipment by need rather than having all the states compete,” he said. “It would be less expensive and avoid price gauging.”

Calling the situation “impossible to manage,” Cuomo asked Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would force companies to produce medical equipment, and to oversee a fair distribution of supplies.

“We have cries from hospitals around the state,” the governor said. “They need these materials now, and only the federal government can make that happen.”

Anticipating a dire need for hospital beds as the COVID-19 crisis worsens, Cuomo asked Washington D.C. to move quickly on plans for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary hospitals in Westchester, Long Island and Manhattan.

“I am asking the president to cut the bureaucracy to get FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the Army Corps of Engineers moving,” he said. “Let’s have those facilities in place before those [COVID-19] trajectories hit an apex.

“We are ready to go as soon as the federal government is ready to go. There is no red tape on the side of New York.”

In addition to building pop-up hospitals, Cuomo is also instructing existing hospitals to increase their capacity by 100%. Officals hope to increase the state’s hospital capacity to 110,000 beds; the state currently has 53,000 beds. All regulations on space have been waived to enable hospitals to meet the goal.

New York State’s Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard A. Zucker directed all hospitals to develop a written plan for increasing capacity and identifying barriers to increasing beds and staff, said Steven Kelley, president and CEO of Ellenville Regional Hospital in Ulster County, speaking on a telephone town hall with Delgado on Friday night.

“There will be coordination through all hospitals through the health department so they can deploy patients from places that are being overwhelmed to places that are not overwhelmed,” Kelley said.

Each hospital CEO is required to produce the plan by Tuesday, he said.

Cuomo called on Washington not to politicize emergency funding and asked New York’s congressional delegation to ensure the state gets its fair share.

“Don’t let Congress make it pork barrel,” he said. “I need my congressional delegation to represent the state of New York and deliver.”

The state is looking at ways to increase the use of absentee ballots for the upcoming presidential primary April 28, Cuomo said. Village elections are also scheduled to take place on that day.

New York Attorney General James issued a statement on Sunday calling for all eligible New York voters to automatically receive an absentee ballot, but the governor said there may be legal hurdles to statewide absentee voting.

The state Constitution restricts absentee voting to situations where a person is ill or out of the county on election day, said Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa. “What we are looking at is if our executive authority will allow us to overcome that.”

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