ALBANY – In his daily press conference on the COVID-19 public health emergency, Governor Andrew Cuomo slammed federal legislators for not addressing the economic impact of the virus on state and local governments, and rejected any calls for travel bans to upstate or quarantines on people who have fled from New York City, something state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker rejected yesterday.
“Dr. Zucker said it's not necessary,” Cuomo said. “I agree with him.”
Delaware County Supervisor Tina Mole called for second homeowners from New York City to stay home in a press release on March 19th, arguing that visitors downstate would overwhelm the area's limited resources.
“A travel ban is not on my agenda,” Cuomo said. “Localities can come to me with any ideas.”
Delaware County today announced there are five confirmed cases of the virus locally, with three of them hospitalized and in isolation, and two recovering at home. In addition, the Department of Public Health, in its press release, said “this excludes the three case investigations transferred to the counties where the individuals are actually residing.”
Heather Warner, Public Health Programs Manager, said those were people who put a Delaware County address on the lab report, for whatever reason. The county is then notified by the state. But, she said, they are people who are not, and were not, actually in the county, nor does Delaware County have any further information on those cases.
“The case report is transferred to the county they reside in, and the county they reside in is responsible for mandatory isolation. All reportable communicable disease go through the state and we are notified by them. We include these cases in our press releases in an effort to be transparent -- not to add confusion.”
So far, the county has refused requests for information on the exact location of the cases, stating in the press release, “Releasing the town where the positive lives does not ensure your protection or decrease your exposure risk to COVID-19.”
Neighboring Ulster County, which has a confirmed total of at least 83, has taken a different tack, listing every town in the county and the number of confirmed cases on its county health department website. Broome County has also put up a website showing the towns affected by the virus.
Otsego County today announced two more cases – one a close contact to a confirmed case, and another local resident tested out-of-county. All close contacts, the health department said, have been notified and asked to quarantine. That brings Otsego's total of confirmed cases to four.
In today's press conference, Governor Cuomo called facts, “empowering.”
“Not knowing is worse,” he said.
The number of confirmed cases continues to spread across the state, with New York facing the reality, according to Cuomo, that “any realistic scenario overwhelms our current capacity.”
Efforts to increase hospital capacity and identify other possible locations will now include a goal of having overflow capacity in every downstate borough, including Long Island, Westchester and Rockland Counties, where the virus is having the biggest impact.
“I'm not eager to transfer patients upstate,” the governor said. “That's the last option.”
First, he said overflow would be distributed within the NYC area hospital system. Then the overflow beds being constructed would be filled. Upstate hospitals would be put into service “only when we're full.”
Ventilators continue to be the primary source of concern, with Cuomo saying a plan has been approved to retool one ventilator to handle two patients at a time, and he said the state's 2000 anesthesia machines can be converted to ventilators.
The governor said the death toll is at 385, up from 285, a number he said reflects the “bad outcomes” that can be expected when someone is on a ventilator for more than twenty to thirty days. Total cases are 37,258 in the state, a number he says indicates the curve of spread is continuing to rise. 5327 people are hospitalized, 1290 of them are in ICU, while 1517 people have been discharged. Worldwide, 487,648 people are confirmed with the virus and 21, 571 have died.
Governor Cuomo said “getting angry is a luxury” he cannot indulge in right now, but he had harsh words for Congress and its just-announced bailout package.
“They didn't get the job done,” he said. “The city and state anticipate lost revenue of $10-15 billion dollars along with a huge increase in expenses. The bill they passed gives New York State $5 billion and only for COVID-19 expenses. It does nothing in terms of lost revenue. They failed to address the governmental need. I find it irresponsible. I find it reckless.”
He said that his budget plan, based on an April first deadline, has to work with the current reality. He pointed out no one knows how much the state will lose, how much revenue will eventually be, nor what the federal government will do. So he said the numbers will be adjusted on a rolling basis. Each quarter, the state will publish its actual revenues, and funds for schools and local governments will be adjusted automatically based on the percentage of shortfall.
“That way, everyone can plan accordingly. I can't protect them from reality. The quarterly adjustment is a mathematical reality that will be done by the Division of Budget. I was shocked Congress was so irresponsible. They know we have to fund education. Then they did absolutely nothing.”
Cuomo ended by thanking the people who have volunteered during this crisis. He said the available pool of medical professionals, both from New York and other states, has risen by 12,000 in one day. He said there are now more than 8600 mental health professionals from around the country volunteering to help with the state's new free mental health hotline.
“I want to thank the health care workers, the first responders, the grocery store workers, pharmacists, transportation workers,” he said. “This crisis can teach us the right lessons. Listen to the voices of your better angels.”