Infection Numbers Vex New York State and Health Officials

Paramedic Alex Tull, who has recently recovered from Covid-19, prepares to begin his shift outside Station 26, the “Tinhouse,” in the Bronx last week. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Officials offered few answers as New York City and the state each tackled the perplexing question Friday of why stay-at-home orders have failed to halt Covid-19 infections.

“Given the large volume of new cases, we can’t trace them back to a single point source,” said New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, noting that virus tracking is all but impossible while the city remains in the phase of widespread community transmission.

Barbot urged that people leave their homes only for essentials, using face coverings and hand sanitizer diligently. Throughout the state’s stay-home order, essential workers such as grocery, pharmacy, transit and hospital employees must still report to their job sites.

Calling for the medical community to release more specifics on what they are seeing, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the thousand new Covid-19 hospitalizations that the state is seeing each day is too many.

“Let’s get more refined, more targeted,” he said, adding the state wants data on where infected people live and work, as well as how they commute. 

Nurses and medical workers react as police officers and pedestrians cheer them outside New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital on April 15. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The numbers from Thursday in the state stood at 308,314 confirmed infections and 18,610 dead. The city accounts for more than half of the total infections and 13,000 deaths. Cuomo also announced Friday that New York state is directing insurers to waive all cost sharing, copays and deductibles for essential workers seeking mental health services throughout the Covid-19 crisis. He did not offer further details on the new policy. 

“If you’re feeling these issues, you’re not alone,” Cuomo said Friday, to New Yorkers who may be experiencing anxiety and depression, or more reliance on alcohol and drugs, as a result of the pandemic. “Don’t underestimate the stress of this situation.”

Amanda Spray, a psychologist and director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Center at New York University Langone Health, said in a phone interview Friday she’s pleased to see the governor putting such a focus on mental health. Back in March, Cuomo called on mental health professionals to volunteer their time for a free hotline. Thousands did. 

Spray noted that mental health professionals define traumatic experiences beyond death or serious injury, or threatened death or serious injury, to a person or their loved one. The term also includes repeated exposure to the details of a gruesome event.

“Taking what we learned from past traumas and applying it to this trauma is very important,” she said. “We need to not reinvent the wheel. We need to take what we know from what works with combat trauma, with the traumas that occurred with the HIV epidemic. We need to learn from those in order to really address this to our best ability.”

But Spray also urged that people avoid comparing the pandemic to something like war, which could feel competitive or minimizing to some. 

Spray also emphasized that, for many health care providers, the fear of bringing home a disease to their families is a new one, especially for providers who may be accostumed to being seen as the “helper.”

“Another compounding factor is the issues with PPE and testing,” Spray said, using the common shorthand for personal protective equipment. “Because PPE and testing can really feel protective in so many ways — either physically protective or symbolically protective. … But without adequate access to those tools, I think health care providers are really feeling handicapped.”

She emphasized essential aspects of self-care, which should be supported by employers — for example taking sleep seriously, and getting enough time off to recuperate in between high-trauma exposures. 

It’s also a difficult time for mental health providers themselves, Spray said. Many are working from home, absorbing others’ trauma, and now lack access to the boundaries that an office provides. 

“I think it’s very important for providers to remember to practice what they preach and to take a step back, practice self-care — things that can be so challenging,” she said. 

Cuomo noted that New York has seen an alarming lockdown surge in domestic violence: up 15% in March and 30% in April. 

Despite the May Day date, and a strike Friday by workers for Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods and Target, neither de Blasio nor Cuomo spoke much about ensuring basic protections for essential workers. 

Workers protest outside Amazon’s fulfillment center in Staten Island on March 30. Essential workers went on strike nationwide for May Day, demanding safer conditions during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

After being told two different groups were protesting outside the state capitol Friday — one group pushing for the state to reopen and the other calling for a rent strike, with the costs balanced by a tax on billionaires — Cuomo seemed unfazed. 

“I get the people who say nobody should have to pay rent,” said Cuomo, but he added that the landlords who say they need rent to pay the bills have a point as well.

Activists say the moratorium Cuomo put on nonpayment-based evictions through June is not enough, due to the staggering job losses spurred by the virus. 

One reporter asked Cuomo on Friday to evaluate his own performance so far in addressing the pandemic. 

“Tried my best,” Cuomo said simply. Several minutes later, he followed up. 

“New Yorkers did an extraordinary job and reduced the number of hospitalizations by about 100,000,” the governor said, praising social-distancing efforts. 

Announcing an unsurprising decision Friday, Cuomo also formally canceled school in the state for the remainder of the academic year.

“There is no decision on the fall, because the fall is a long time away,” he said. 

Back in Manhattan, de Blasio also announced that the closure of the first seven miles of city streets would happen Monday. Four and a half of those miles are located within city parks, and the rest are adjacent to parks. 

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