Both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Monday that there have been signs over the past couple days that Covid-19 cases have plateaued, but they urged the public to continue to practice social distancing.
Along with this glimmer of good news, the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office is mulling a morbid contingency plan to temporarily bury dead New Yorkers in mass graves in a city park.
As of Monday morning, 4,758 New York State residents had died of Covid-19, nearly half of the deaths in the United States. And more than 2,475 of New York’s deaths have been in New York City, a death toll that is poised to very soon surpass the number of people killed in the city in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Mr. Cuomo said in his Monday morning briefing that 599 New York State residents had died from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, up slightly from 594 the day before, while Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone reported 26 deaths in Suffolk County in the prior 24 hours — half the number of deaths as the day before, when 51 people reportedly died in Suffolk.
The governor also reported that new hospitalizations from the virus statewide have gone down dramatically. After peaking at April 2 with 1,427 hospitalizations, there were just 358 new patients admitted in the past 24 hours.
Mr. Cuomo also doubled down on social distancing, extending school and non-essential business closures from April 15 to April 29. He added that state fines for violating social distancing laws will increase from $500 to $1,000.
“If we’ve reached a plateau, then we are plateauing at a high level,” said Mr. Cuomo. “People can’t work any harder and staying at this level is problematic.”
Mr. Bellone said just 26 new patients were admitted to Suffolk County hospitals in the past 24 hours, with 19 patients admitted the day before, down from 118 new admissions in the 24 hours from April 3 through April 4.
“Over the last couple days, we’ve seen much smaller increases in net hospitalizations,” said Mr. Bellone. “We’ll see if it’s an outlier. That is a good sign… We still need more data. If we are at a plateau, that means social distancing is working. That does not mean that we take our foot off the pedal now.”
Cases on the East End were fairly steady from yesterday, with 211 total cases reported in Southold Town Monday, up four from Sunday; 196 in Southampton Town, up four from Sunday; 149 in Riverhead, up six from Sunday; 59 in East Hampton, up three from Sunday; and Shelter Island holding steady at two cases.
Mr. Bellone said he is also heartened that President Donald Trump, at the urging of East End Congressman Lee Zeldin, acknowledged the challenges facing Suffolk County in his Sunday evening press briefing, and thanked the president and congressman for arranging to send 200,000 N95 masks to the county to distribute to first responders and health care workers, in addition to 150,000 surgical masks sent here Sunday.
Mr. Bellone added that he has made a homemade mask out of a t-shirt using an online tutorial by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, in order to reserve the professional masks for health care workers. He is wearing in public.
“What you are doing, in modeling best behavior, is a confirmation that everything we are doing is working,” he said. “These sacrifices will save lives.”
Mr. Cuomo said 1,100 military personnel have come to work in New York’s public hospitals, and more are expected to come in over the next few days to work at an Army Corps of Engineers Covid-19 hospital at the Javits Center in Manhattan. He added that he hopes the U.S. Navy agrees to accept Covid-19 patients at the underutilized USNS Comfort stationed in New York.
“Other countries have said ‘yay, it’s over. No, it’s not,” said Mr. Cuomo. “The laxness on social distancing over the past weekend is wholly unacceptable. People are dying. People in the health care system are exposing themselves every day to tremendous risks. If you infect someone else, you put such a burden on so many other people.”
“We underestimated this virus from day one,” said Mr. Cuomo. “There’s a danger in getting overconfident too quickly.”
He pointed out that some places, like Hong Kong, whose leaders initially thought they’d put a quick stop to outbreaks, have seen the virus take hold after they loosened social distancing restrictions.
“We need to make sure we don’t lose anyone that could have been saved if the health care system was operating fully,” he said. “That we have done, so far.”
When asked by a reporter what to do about the possibility that New York City may need to bury people who died from Covid-19 in public parks, Mr. Cuomo said “I have heard a lot of wild rumors, but I have not heard anything about the city burying people in parks.”
Turns out the office of the chief medical examiner in New York City is actually looking into creating temporary mass graves in a public park, City Council Health Committee Chairman Mark Levine told the New York Times later Monday, because refrigerated tractor trailer trucks serving as temporary morgues at city hospitals are filling up.
Mr. Levine took to Twitter for much of Monday afternoon in an attempt to clarify his comments, drawing controversy for detailing a plan to dig trenches “for 10 caskets in a line.”
“Soon we’ll start “temporary interment”. This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right).It will be done in a dignified, orderly — and temporary — manner,” he wrote. “But it will be tough for New Yorkers to take.”
“A typical hospital morgue might hold 15 bodies. Those are now all full,” he said. “So OCME has sent out 80 refrigerated trailers to hospitals around the city. Each trailer can hold 100 bodies. These are now mostly full too. Some hospitals have had to add a 2nd or even a 3rd trailer.”