Coronavirus Watch

News and Updates: Hospitalizations nearly flat; Thomas Drug fined for alleged price gouging; EATs for EMTs; Debt relief for frontline workers; Rising death toll vs. flatterning curve; Chelsea community raises money for FDNY station; UWS using 3D printers to fight virus; Unemployment fix; Columbia offering housing to frontline workers; City morgue reaching capacity

09 Apr 2020 | 02:49

Updated Thursday, April 9, 4:34 p.m.

Quote of the Day: “There are clear inequalities, clear disparities in how this disease is affecting the people of our city.” - Mayor Billl de Blasio

The Numbers

Confirmed cases as of Thursday, April 9, 2020:

NYC - 87,028

NY State - 159,937

Hospitalizations Nearly Flat

While the death toll continues to climb with devastating totals, there are hopeful signs that the curve of infection is flattening. The number of people hospitalized between Wednesday and Thursday grew only by one percent. In the past week, hospitalizations had been growing at a 20 percent increase daily. If the trend continues, the number of people in hospitals could start to decline. Field hospitals setup to absorb the overflow of patients, such as the Javits Center and the U.S.S Comfort, are at a fraction of their capacity. Additionally, Mount Sinai said it no longer plans to build a field hospital at Cathedral of St. John the Divine as of now.

In contrast, the death toll hit another one-day high in New York. From Wednesday to Thursday, 799 people died. Gov. Andrew Cuomo likened it to the devastation of 9/11, saying the virus is a “silent explosion that ripples through society with the same randomness, same evil we saw on 9/11.”

Thomas Drug Fined For Alleged Price Gouging

The city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection has fined Thomas Drugs on Columbus Avenue $20,000 in fees for 40 instances of price gouging. The agency claims the store hiked up prices on face masks, gloves and cough medicine, according to a report from the Daily News. The DCWP is inspecting stores and issuing fines for markups of 10 percent or more on vital supplies such as disinfectants, soap, cleaning products and medicine.

Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown has also been fined by the agency. The store is facing $69,500 in fines for 139 violations, allegedly price gouging on face masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.

EATs for EMTs

A local New York City organizer has raised nearly $10K to feed the city’s EMT’s during the pandemic in just two days. Renee Cafaro, a fashion editor at Slink Magazine, started a GoFundMe campaign called EATs for EMTs on Tuesday in partnership with Shake Shack to provide lunches for first responders.

"I am immunocompromised and doing my part to stop the spread by staying home, but I've always been one to mobilize during a fight, so it's been hard to watch from my couch. This is not a big non-profit or a publicity stunt. This is a small way that I can do my part to help workers put their lives on the line for fellow New Yorkers,” said Cafaro.

Anyone interested in donating can visit the GoFundMe here.

Debt Relief for Frontline Workers

Rep. Carolyn Maloney is introducing legislation to eliminate graduate school debt for health care workers who are providing direct patient care in response to the pandemic. The bill would include recent graduates as well as more experienced providers who are still paying off their student loans. She hopes the bill will help attract medical professionals in various specialties to lend their expertise in fighting the virus.

“Medical professionals in hospitals and other medical settings are operating in extraordinarily difficult and dangerous circumstances to provide care for critically ill COVID-19 patients and protect our communities,” said Maloney. “The least we can do to recognize their service is to forgive their graduate student loan debt so that they are not forced to worry about their financial wellbeing in addition to their health and the health of their families while they respond to a public health emergency.”

Eligibility would extend to nurses, doctors and other health care professionals who have already been treating COVID-19 patients or have shifted from other specialties to support the effort.

Rising Death Toll vs. Flattening Curve

The death toll hit a new high for the second day in a row Wednesday with 779 New Yorkers dying in the last 24 hours. On Tuesday, 731 deaths had been reported. In New York City, deaths surpassed 4,000 Tuesday. While the number of deaths was a grim figure, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the hospitalization numbers show that the rate of infection is slowing in the state. For the fifth consecutive day, the increase in number of virus patients being hospitalized has been below 10 percent. The number of hospitalizations increased by 3 percent Tuesday, which is significantly less than previous weeks.

Essential Workers Affected

The virus has taken a toll on essential workers so far. The New York Times reported that at least 41 of the city’s transit workers have died of the virus, and more than 6,000 others have contracted the virus or self-quarantined. Workers told reporters at the Times that the agency was late to provide disinfectant to workers, struggled to keep track of sick workers and failed to inform their colleagues about possible exposure to virus.

Of the NYPD, 276 officers who had tested positive have now returned to duty, according to Mayor de Blasio. The FDNY has reported that 1,310 EMT, paramedics and firefighters either tested positive or were exposed to a patient who had tested positive, and they’ve since returned to duty.

“That's so moving and that's so important for all of us, so we're very grateful,” said de Blasio.

Chelsea Community Raises Money for FDNY Station

Through a GoFundMe campaign, a neighborhood group called Friend of FDNY EMS Station 7 has raised $16,135 for Chelsea firehouse. Their goal is to sponsor at least one meal a day for two weeks for the 30 EMS workers who serve the city each day.

“The EMS workers are working 16 hour shifts, four days in a row, and some are even sleeping at the station. This is an important opportunity to support our local restaurants, as well as our FDNY EMS Station neighbors who are on the front lines fighting against COVID-19,” the GoFundMe page stated.

Erik Botcher, who is running to fill Speaker Corey Johnson’s seat on the City Council, is helping to spearhead the campaign.

Those interested in donating can visit the site here.

UWS Using 3D Printers to Fight Virus

A global humanitarian nonprofit is working with two Upper West Side institutions to help frontline workers in the city. Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) has created an online library with detailed instruction for creating COVID-19 solutions, and has called on those with access to 3D printers to help make masks, shield and other needed supplies. Heeding that call, Rodeph Sholom School on the West Side has donated to its 3D printers to TOM and Skill Mill NYC, which has transformed its studio into a factory to make face shield. The gear has been donated to The New Jewish Home on 106th Street.

Death Toll Hits New High

In just 24 hours time, 731 people died from the coronavirus in New York, the governor announced Tuesday morning. It was the largest number of deaths in a single day since the outbreak began in New York. The state’s total now stands at 5,489.

“Behind every one of those numbers is an individual, is a family, is a mother, is a father, is a sister, is a brother,” Cuomo said during his briefing. “So a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers.

In New York City, 3,202 people have died as of Tuesday, surpassing the city’s death toll on 9/11.

Despite the number of deaths, the rate at which patients are hospitalized each day is slowing from an increase of 20 percent a day to 4 percent on Tuesday, which may suggest that the spread of the virus has also slowed.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine Being Made into Field Hospital

The city is transforming the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine into a field hospital to expand the health care capacity of the city’s hospitals. The Upper West Side church, with its 600-foot-long nave and crypt, will house nine climate-controlled medical tents that are capable of holding at least 200 patients. These tents will be constructed by the end of the week and the church hospital will start to take patients by then or at the start of next week. The crypt will be used as a “staging area” for health care workers. It’s not yet clear whether the church hospital will directly serve coronavirus patients.

Unemployment Fix

Google is partnering with the state’s Department of Labor to improve the website for New Yorkers filing unemployment, which has been a frustrating experience in recent weeks due to the influx of users. With the help of Google, the state has expanded it network from four to 50 servers, which will increase the amount of traffic the website can handle — ridding the site of its long queue times and error messages. The DOL has also increased its staff by 300, which is in addition to the 700 people it hired earlier in the crisis.

On Twitter, Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the DOL was asking people to file based on their last names: A-F filing on Monday, G-N on Tuesday, and O-Z on Wednesday. Anyone who misses that window can file on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. The speaker also said New Yorkers will receive benefits to cover from the date they became unemployed, regardless of the signup delays.

Nearing the Apex

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported that 599 New York State residents had died since the day before. It was relatively good news as the death toll seemed to be flattening. During the previous 24 hours, 594 people died from the virus. With that, Cuomo said the data shows that the virus in New York was nearing its apex, but the state is still in crisis.

“If we are plateauing, we are plateauing at a very high level and there is tremendous stress on the health care system,” he said.

The rate of hospitalization is also increasing at a slower rate, as is the rate at which those who are hospitalized need support from ventilators.

In New York City, 219 people died between Sunday and Monday morning, bring the city’s toll to 2,475.

Another dramatic change from previous weeks it that New York is currently adequately stocked with ventilators, according to the governor, who had been pleading with the federal government to send more machines.

Columbia Offers Housing to Frontline Workers

Three Columbia University residence halls will be opened up for doctors and health care workers staffing the city’s hospitals during the pandemic so that they can avoid long commutes and minimize the risk of infecting others.

A total of 170 apartments at Watt Hall, on 113th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, and Woodbridge Hall, on 115th Street and Riverside Drive, will be made available to New York-Presbyterian Hospital staff. An additional 212 units in Bard Hall at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center campus are also open. Columbia Public Safety will control around-the-clock access to the buildings.

“We are honored to support our healthcare professionals in any way we can as they lead us through this extraordinary time,” said Scott Wright, Vice President of Campus Services at Columbia University.

City Morgue Reaching Capacity

In a series of tweets, Council Member Mark Levine explained that the city may need to use a city park for temporary internment as the city’s ability to manage the dead is being pushed to the limit. This would involve digging trenches for 10 caskets in a line in order to relieve the “city morgue,” or Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), its hospitals and funeral homes.

“It will be done in a dignified, orderly — and temporary —manner,” said Levine. “But it will be tough for NYers (sic) to take.”

The council member stressed that this was only a contingency plan that the city is preparing for, but if the death rate drops enough, it will not be necessary.

Ventilators from China and Oregon

On Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that there would be new shipments of ventilators - 1,000 arriving in New York that the Chinese government helped facilitate, and an additional 140 from Oregon. "We are so grateful to @OregonGovBrown and the people of Oregon," Cuomo tweeted. "On behalf of the people of NY, I think you and rest assured that NY will repay the favor when Oregon needs it." He also predicted that the city's coronavirus crisis would peak in about a week.

FDNY Salutes NYU Langone Medical Staff

On Friday evening, city firefighters turned out in force in front of NYU Langone to show appreciation for the medical staff's efforts in battling COVID-19. In an emotional moment at 7 p.m. - when city residents cheer medical workers from their apartments every night - FDNY sirens blared, firefighters applauded and a voice over a loudspeaker said, "We love you."

Virtual Parks Visits

With continuing concerns about social distancing in parks, the city sent out a notification encouraging New YOrkers to "Enjoy NYC's parks from home!" The parks@home site video tours, fitness classes, "meditation moments," Tuesday broadcasts with urban park rangers and activities for kids.

Expanding DOE Meals to All

The Department of Education is now offering grab-and-go meals to all children and adults across the five boroughs. The meal hubs provide three meals a day, Monday through Friday, to any who needs them. No registration or identification is required.

Meal hubs will operate from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. for children and families and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for adults. Since March 16, the Department of Education’s free meals programs have served approximately 1.2 million meals to families and students at over 440 meal hubs sites across the city.

Meal Hub locations can be found at http://schools.nyc.gov/freemeals or text NYC FOOD to 877-877.

Lyft Serving Communities in Need

In partnership with several New York-based nonprofit organizations, Lyft is offering free transportation to seniors, essential workers, patients with important medical appointments and other communities in need during the pandemic. Additionally, Lyft is providing rides to a number of nonprofit volunteers who are working to get groceries and meals to those who need them.

“It’s great to see Lyft helping to fill the crucial transportation gaps for the many community organizations who need them filled. This is corporate responsibility in action,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.

Where to check for the latest updates on this fast-moving story:

NYC Health:

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/coronavirus.page

U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

World Health Organization (WHO):

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019