Coronavirus: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says early signs show social distancing may be working

Jodi Xu Klein

Stringent density control measures may be working to contain the coronavirus in New York state, the epicentre of Covid-19 outbreak in the US, as the rate of hospitalisation shows early signs of abating, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday.

New York, which has 19 million residents and nearly 31,000 infections, now accounts for 56 per cent of the confirmed cases in the country and more than 7 per cent of world’s total.

Cuomo had ordered all but essential businesses to shutter by Sunday evening and residents to limit their outdoor activities and practice social distancing, effectively putting the state on pause.

On Tuesday, the number of hospitalised patients had doubled every 4.7 days, slowing from the rate of every 3.4 days on Monday and every two days on Sunday, Cuomo said at his daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday.

“This is a very positive sign,” he said. “The arrows are heading into the right direction.”

Cuomo said the slowing pace was “almost too good to be true,” adding that one explanation might be that “given the density we are dealing with, it spreads very quickly, and it shrinks very quickly”.

Though preliminary, the early data offered a glimpse of much-needed hope for New York, where the virus has spread five times faster than the rest of the country.

If the pattern holds, it may also provide evidence of the efficacy of social distancing for other states to combat the pandemic that has infected more than 60,000 and killed more than 800 people in the US. New York’s death toll is 285.

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Cuomo’s briefing came a day after federal officials, concerned about New York City’s growing number of cases, urged anyone leaving the city to quarantine themselves for 14 days after travelling somewhere else.

The governor also announced new restrictions to address continued density problems, including closing some New York City streets to reduce crowding in parks. The state will also ban close contact sports such as basketball in parks.

“Right now, we are asking people to do this voluntarily,” said Cuomo. “If there is no compliance, we will close playgrounds, which is something we don’t want to do.”

As of Wednesday morning, New York State had 30,811 confirmed cases, with 5,146 new ones overnight. New York City’s total cases reached 14,856, a daily addition of 2,952.

In other positive news, Cuomo said the state had enough personal protective equipment – masks and medical gowns – for the time being after Tuesday’s delivery.

“Today no doctors and nurses can say they don’t have supplies,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean we might not run into problems in five weeks, so we are still shopping.”

Ventilators remain the biggest challenge. After the federal government shipped 4,000 of them to New York on Tuesday, the state still faces a shortage as the apex of the outbreak is expected to hit in about three weeks.

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