New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was cautiously optimistic at his Monday briefing, stating the number of coronavirus-related deaths has been “effectively flat” for the past two days, indicating a “possible flattening of the curve” in the Empire State.
“While none of this is good news, the possible flattening of the curve is better than the increases that we have seen,” Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany. “The big question we are looking at now is, what is the curve? When [the number of new cases] stops increasing, then what happens?”
More than 4,758 people have died and 130,689 more have been infected with the virus in New York State. There was an increase of 599 new deaths from Sunday, the state’s second-highest death toll in a 24-hour period, Cuomo said. At its peak so far, New York reported 630 deaths in a single day.
To date, over 9,654 have died and 337,971 have been infected with the virus nationwide.
“We like to think we can fix everything. We can’t,” Cuomo said. “The undeniable truth is this virus is a deadly enemy. The truth is we will lose people to the enemy. Why? That’s Mother Nature, a question that only God can answer.”
Despite the encouraging signs, Cuomo slammed New Yorkers for a “laxness on social distancing that is wholly unacceptable,” saying residents were seen socializing outside over the weekend while hospitals and government officials scrambled to combat the daily surge of new cases.
Cuomo said that because he refuses to “choose between public health or economic health,” he will extend the state-wide “pause” until April 29 and violators of the order will face a fine of up to $1,000.
“We all have a responsibility. We all have a role in this. The role that we play is a societal obligation,” Cuomo said. “You don’t have the right to risk someone else’s life. You don’t have the right to take a health-care worker’s life and be cavalier about it. We know the sacrifices they are making, and we have to respect it. It’s that simple.”
Cuomo said that projection models suggest New York could be at, or near, its apex of cases, but stressed that even if the number of cases decreases, hospitals and morgues are still facing an enormous strain on their resources. The governor added that the state’s health-care system is currently working at maximum capacity and “you can’t stay at the red line for any period of time, because the system will bow.”
“If we are plateauing, we are plateauing at a very high level and there is tremendous stress on the health-care system,” he said.
New York City’s hospital systems have been struggling over the last week to keep up with the influx of patients. With over 16,837 residents hospitalized with the virus, including 4,504 patients in ICUs, Cuomo said that health-care facilities still need more supplies, space, and personnel.
"The challenge is to make sure we don’t lose anyone you could have saved. That is a legitimate goal of government,” Cuomo said. “Have we saved everyone? No. Have we lost anyone because we didn’t have a bed, didn’t have a ventilator, didn’t have healthcare staff? No. The people we lost were the people we couldn’t save.”
Cuomo and other state officials have already taken extraordinary steps so far to combat the pandemic and curtail its spread. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, originally converted into a makeshift, 3,000-bed overflow hospital facility to alleviate overcrowding, will now be fully dedicated to COVID-19 patients, Cuomo said.
Central Park has also been transformed into a field hospital to help house COVID-19 patients, and construction has begun on a 350-bed facility at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens for patients without the virus.
The USNS Comfort—a naval ship with 1,000 beds, 12 operating rooms, a medical laboratory, and over 1,000 officers—docked in Manhattan on Monday and is now the only facility meant to relieve hospitals of non-coronavirus patients.
Cuomo, however, said Monday that he is planning to ask President Donald Trump if he can use the converted super tank to treat patients with the coronavirus, stating that the decrease in crime and auto incidents as a result of the city-wide lockdown has meant there are “not a lot of non-COVID people in the hospital system.”
“We don’t need the Comfort for non-COVID cases, we need it for COVID,” Cuomo said.
City officials have also increased the number of mobile morgues. As of Monday, 45 refrigerated trucks have been set up across the five boroughs, some of which are already full, as morgues and funeral homes struggle to find space and time to keep up with the mounting death count.
New York City is even considering temporarily burying bodies in mass graves in a park, according to the chairman of the City Council’s health committee.
City Councilman Mark Levine tweeted Monday that NYC will soon start “temporary internment” to “avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets.” Levine later clarified his tweet, stating that while the contingency is something the city is preparing for, it will not be necessary if the death rate continues to drop.
“It will be done in a dignified, orderly—and temporary—manner,” Levine said. “But it will be tough for NYers to take.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, said Monday there is no such plan currently in the works, stating that the city is “not at the point that we’re going to go into that.” Cuomo also said Monday he was not aware of that possibility, noting that he has heard a lot of “wild rumors.”