Managing the Unknown

New York's elected officials take on a crisis that has shredded the fabric of everyday life

19 Mar 2020 | 01:55

At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo likened our world to a snow globe. Like a child, the coronavirus pandemic has shaken our world and turned it upside down.

“It's all chaotic and things are flying all over,” Cuomo said. “There’s new information and there's mixed information, and people don't know what to do when businesses are closing and the rules change every minute.”

As of Tuesday morning, 1,374 positive cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in New York, with 644 of those in New York City. From those cases, 12 deaths have been reported. And 19 percent of those cases, the governor said, have resulted in hospitalization, which is four percent higher than the typical average.

Cuomo said expert projections show the expected peak of coronavirus in New York will occur in 45 days, on May 1.

He also said the growth rate of the virus is currently unsustainable for the state’s health care system. New York will need 55,000 to 110,000 hospital beds and 18,600 to 37,200 ICU beds at projected peak, he said, and the state currently has 53,000 hospital beds and 3,000 ICU beds. He said this suggests that the state will need to make more efforts to reduce the curve as well as efforts to expand health care capacity.

Working with the President

As for expanding the state’s health care capacity, Cuomo said New York needs help from the federal government to build temporary hospital infrastructure and to obtain medical equipment such as ventilators and beds.

“I am telling you, this [state] government cannot meet this crisis without the resources and capacity of the federal government,” said Cuomo. “We need their help, especially on the hospital capacity issue. We need FEMA.”

The governor added that earlier in the morning he spoke with President Donald Trump, who, the day before, criticized Cuomo, saying the governor needed “to do more.” Cuomo struck a different tone at the press conference, saying he and the president are committed to working together and that he believes the president’s staff are doing all they can.

“I think the President was 100 percent sincere in saying that he wanted to work together, “ said Cuomo. “Right now, you need to see government at its best.”

A Tri-State Coalition

As for the government’s efforts to reduce the spread, on Monday, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut came together on a regional approach, with all three reducing crowd capacity to 50; limiting bars and restaurants to takeout and delivery orders; and closing gyms, movie theaters and casinos. The agreement, which took effect Monday at 8 p.m., aims to place consistent restrictions on the tri-state area, and will continue as long as it is necessary to protect the public health.

On Tuesday, however, Cuomo said the growth rate has not slowed down and that the states may need to take additional steps to reduce the curve and expand health care capacity.

“It is likely we will take more efforts to reduce the spread to reduce the density," said Cuomo. "What are they? That’s what we’re considering.” He added that implementing a mandatory quarantine for individuals would likely not be effective. Instead, he said the government will determine whether businesses will need to further reduce operations.

“We’re not there yet, but these are the things we’re talking about,” said Cuomo. “[There are] many more steps before limiting a person’s mobility.”

Lead by Example

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that he is not closing down public transportation, limiting travel or instituting a curfew in the city, but said those options are indeed on the table if deemed necessary,

Meanwhile, city Comptroller Scott Stringer scolded the mayor for his Monday morning trip to the Prospect Park YMCA when officials have been advising New Yorkers to stay in their homes and practice social distancing.

“I’m ready to work with the Mayor in any way I can during this time of crisis. But it’s imperative we all lead by example and do our part,” Stringer said in a tweet. “The Mayor should not go to the gym right now. Nobody should.”

Overloading the Health Care System

While many officials have criticized New Yorkers’ limited access to coronavirus tests, Council Member Mark Levine has stressed that universal testing would be a detriment to the city’s health care system.

In a series of statements on Twitter, Levine, who chairs the council’s health committee, said that officials already know the virus is being spread in the community, and that more testing isn't needed to confirm that.

"Scientists will one day figure out how many of us had the virus,” said Levine. “If you have fever/cough getting a test result will be of zero value. There is no add'l (sic) treatment it will unlock. It changes nothing about what you need to do: stay home & rest.”

He also explained that most individuals who start to develop symptoms should refrain from seeking medical attention.

“In places like NYC the healthcare system is about to be entirely over run. It will be the equivalent of wartime,” Levine said. “It is critical that every single element of this system be reserved for those who face serious peril. In terms of covid (sic) this means respiratory failure or worse.”

Levine advised that moderately ill people should remain home and remedy their symptoms with rest, hydration and taking ibuprofen. He said most patients will heal on their own, making a trip to the doctor unnecessary. But he said people should call a doctor if their situation worsens.

He stressed that, although people with mild symptoms will want to see a doctor, they should resist and instead call or use telemedicine.

“We are entering an unprecedented situation. All of us have a role to play in limiting human suffering,” he said. “For the mildly and moderately sick, that means staying out of the healthcare system.”

Additionally, Levine criticized President Donald Trump for not using the federal government’s resources to manufacture respirators (for health care providers) and ventilators (for patients)., which are desperately needed.

Trump told governors on a conference call Monday to “(try) getting it yourselves,” when talking about respirators and ventilators

Levine said New York state does not have the ability to manufacture the equipment, and that in a national emergency it should be the role of the federal government.

“We have been screaming about the shortage of respirators for days,” Levine said in a Tweet. “This is not a financial challenge. Ventilators cost less than a typical car. This is about logistics. Only the feds can do it.”

The Schools Close

De Blasio caved to mounting pressure Sunday when he announced that the city’s 1,800 schools would be closed until at least April 20.

The mayor had been very hesitant from the start of the crisis to close the schools because of the services they provide low-income families, including childcare and nutrition.

Teachers will still work this week to set up remote learning, which the city will move to by March 23. The city will lend laptops for children who don’t have them and will work with students who don’t have access to the Internet at home. Several dozen buildings will remain open as “learning centers” that will serve essential city workers.

School buildings will remain open this week for students to pick up meals. Moving forward, the city will coordinate alternative sites for students to pick up food.

With New York expected to hit the peak of the outbreak om May 1, Cuomo said that after April 20, schools will decide every two weeks whether to open or remain closed.

“I think the President was 100 percent sincere in saying that he wanted to work together. Right now, you need to see government at its best.” Governor Andrew Cuomo