ALBANY – The spread of the COVID-19 virus continued to slow on Thursday, according to New York's governor, but an additional 1,996 people were hospitalized statewide since Wednesday. There were 606 deaths, 29 of them in nursing homes.
As the net rate of hospitalization continued to drop and, for the first time, the net change in ICU admissions and intubations dropped, Governor Andrew Cuomo credited the responsiveness of state residents for “controlling the beast, so far” and said the state shutdown will be extended to May 15.
“We can control the virus. We can control the spread. We didn't know for sure it could work. Now we do.”
Cuomo said the order for all New Yorkers to wear a covering over their noses and mouths has drawn a firestorm of protests.
“I'm getting a lot of “not happy” phone calls,” he said. “I'm sorry you're not happy. But it's a simple measure that can save lives.”
Later, he added, “Some people think it is a government overreach. Some people think all of this is a hoax. To them, I say if you don't think 600 people died yesterday, I'll disagree with you.”
He announced that he's adding a requirement than anyone driving or riding in public or private hired transport must wear a mask. That takes effect Friday at 8 PM.
“The rate of infection depends on what you do,” he said. “On a collective basis, it makes all the difference in the world.”
Cuomo introduced a spreadsheet that explained the rate of infection in an attempt to illustrate the point.
On the Diamond Princess cruise ship, according to the chart, the rate of spread was one person to 2.2 people. That, he said, is an outbreak epidemic. In Wuhan province it was one person to 2-3 people. The moderate projections in New York, according to the governor, predicted one person infecting others at a rate of 1.2 to 2.4.
“The actual rate, “ Cuomo said, “ is 1 to less than one. It's 1 to. 9. That means the spread is stable, for now. But it leaves only a tiny margin of error. That does not leave you a lot of wiggle room. I'd like to see that infection rate lower.”
Cuomo called on businesses to start planning for the “new normal” as workplaces begin to reopen. He said telecommuting, safe transportation for workers, office desk arrangements to allow for social distancing, availability of masks and protective gear for employees and customers, if applicable, should be part of every new business plan.
He said the state will be evaluating businesses based on the essential nature of their services as well as their safety measures. And for any non-essential business, openings will be phased in on a rolling basis.
Testing is another essential element of any reopening plan, and Cuomo again called on the federal government to take responsibility for developing and implementing testing, something he said as of this morning it is still reluctant to do.
“After the testing, you will need to trace very positive case,” he said. “Those tracing investigators are really going to be an army that doesn't exist right now.”
He also again called for Congress to pass funding that helps state and local governments.
The governor said the state will continue to work with its hospitals as a unified system, and will be building out a strategic stockpile of PPE.
He also announced that New York is sending 100 ventilators to New Jersey, which is now entering the peak of its infections.
Because of new CDC guidelines, the state did not release a new total number of positive COVID-19 cases. New York City Wednesday created a new category of “probable deaths” at the CDC's direction, which included patients who died of symptoms that appeared to be COVID-related, but hadn't been confirmed positive. That added about 4000 deaths to the tally.
Asked if the state death toll could be higher as well, Cuomo said it could. So far, the numbers he's been reporting have been given to the state by hospitals and nursing homes. The state is now asking local governments to help them determine how many people who never went to the hospital or been tested have died from symptoms consistent with the virus.