Coronavirus: New York declared major disaster area as cases exceed 10,000

Jodi Xu Klein

New York state is struggling to slow the spread of coronavirus to give the healthcare industry time to ramp up capacity, with the total number of confirmed cases exceeding 10,000.

“The estimates show 40 to 80 per cent of the population is going to be infected,” governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday. That means as many as 15.6 million people could become infected by the virus in the coming months.

“The only question is: how fast is the rate of spread and can we slow the rate so the hospitals can deal with it?”

As of Saturday morning, the state had 10,356 cases, with 3,254 newly confirmed ones, and the federal government designated the state as a major disaster area.

The state’s death toll reached 56, according to Johns Hopkins University. New York City had the highest number of cases in the state, with 1,803 new cases and a total of 6,211, Cuomo said.

New York state now has the highest number of cases in the United States, accounting for almost half of the country’s total.

In a unifying message, Cuomo said: “Yeah, we have a problem. But let’s be our best selves to get through this.”

US President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration for the state, Senate Chuck Schumer announced on Friday. The designation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will give New York greater access to aid from the federal Disaster Relief Fund.

Cuomo said that part of the reason the state had bigger jumps in numbers was because it has tested more people than any other state. So far, New York state has tested 45,437 people, compared to 23,200 in California and 23,343 in Washington state.

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“Our numbers are higher because of that,” Cuomo said. “The number of new cases only reflects the test you have done. It does not reflect how fast the virus is spreading.”

Among those cases, about 15 per cent, or 1,603, are hospitalised. The goal was to quickly boost the state’s hospital capacity from around 50,000 beds to 75,000 beds, Cuomo said.

To do this, New York has identified a number of venues including Jacob Javits Convention Centre in New York City to be converted into a field hospital, potentially adding 1,000 beds.

At least three other venues are being considered. They include Stony Brook University and SUNY College at Old Westbury on Long Island, and the Westchester County Centre north of the city.

New York has identified 2 million masks to buy. Cuomo said the price for each mask had increased from 80 cents to US$4. One million masks are being sent to New York City hospitals on Saturday, and 500,000 to Long Island.

But the state has not been successful in finding suppliers of gowns. “But we are searching high and low,” Cuomo said.

The state was also amassing ventilators, buying 6,000 to deploy to the most critical areas and investigating whether multiple patients could be served by a single ventilator, Cuomo said.

The state would also start trials of an experimental Covid-19 treatment with hydroxychloroquine and Zithromax.

Trump has mentioned hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, as a possible treatment, while health experts caution more tests need to be done before the drug can hit the mass market.

Cuomo said the Food and Drug Administration was sending 10,000 doses to the state.

The governor has also ordered all non-essential workers to stay at home starting 8pm on Sunday. The guidelines also require residents to remain indoors as much as possible.

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Cuomo pointed out on Saturday “an issue of younger people not complying” with the guidelines that potentially help the spread.

“There is a significant amount of noncompliance in New York City, especially in the [central] park,” he said.

“This is a public health issue,” said Cuomo, adding that about 54 per cent of the state’s cases were people age of 18 and 49.

He called on young people to act responsibly for their own health and for the well-being of others.

“You certainly have no right to put other people’s health at risk.”

Also on Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights to New York City-area airports because of coronavirus-related staffing issues at a regional air-traffic control centre. The order was lifted after about 30 minutes.

Additional reporting by AP, Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse

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