MANHATTAN (CN) — Announcing that 731 New Yorkers died from Covid-19 the previous day, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday called the number the state’s largest single-day death toll.
The news comes as reports in New York City show a tremendous increase in people dying at home who are never tested for Covid-19 but presumed positive.
New York state, with 138,836 recorded cases and 5,489 Covid-19 deaths so far, will likely soon double the 2,977 people killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Reporting by Gothamist shows the city medical examiner’s office is not conducting Covid-19 tests on dead bodies found at home, instead reporting the cases as “probable” Covid-19 deaths — meaning the city’s real death toll could possibly be undercounted by 40%.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday called it reasonable to assume the vast majority of the increased home deaths are related to the virus.
“I don’t even doubt for a moment what that broader reality is,” he said at a press briefing in Manhattan.
City Councilman Mark Levine has noted that, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the city, about 20 to 25 New Yorkers died at home every day. That number has increased tenfold, to 200–215 home deaths per day. Levine chairs the council’s health committee. People experiencing Covid-19 symptoms have been encouraged to stay home as long as they can to decrease the burden on hospitals.
When asked about the possibility of hundreds of uncounted virus deaths in the city, Mayor de Blasio focused Tuesday on the city’s priorities in battling the pandemic.
“It’s understandable that in a crisis, being able to make the confirmation is harder to do,” de Blasio said. “The first thing we are focused on is saving the next life. So we do want to know the truth about every death that happened at home.”
De Blasio also said the city would begin releasing limited ethnicity data this week, crucial information as reports show low-income neighborhoods and black people facing higher rates of illness and death.
The new data, while imperfect, will clearly track general health disparities, the mayor asserted.
“This disease is affecting people disproportionately in lower-income communities, in communities that have had more health problems historically, and in communities of color,” he said. “There is a disparity dynamic here. It is real; it is meaningful.”
Linda Sprague Martinez, a community health researcher at Boston University’s School of Social Work, said the city’s plan to release ethnicity data is great news.
“No data, no problem,” she said, quoting a former supervisor in New Hampshire’s Office of Minority Health. “If we don’t have data, we can’t document the problem.”
Without racial and ethnic data, Martinez said, cities are unable to direct resources to communities that need them most — before, during and after a public health crisis. She said data on Covid-19 testing is also necessary because testing mostly white or affluent communities skews results.
During the crisis, she said, such data could be used to help communities stay safe — by providing food or eviction moratoriums, for example. Once the pandemic is behind them, leaders should work directly with the community to assess their needs for the future.
“How can I build resources and infrastructure into communities where it’s been over time systematically stripped?” leaders should ask, Martinez suggested. “And how do I begin to rebuild?”
In his press conference from Albany, Cuomo said Tuesday that, while deaths are up, the number of hospitalizations has dropped — potentially signaling the state is beginning to contain the spread of the virus. Social distancing is working, Cuomo said, so New Yorkers must continue the practice to save lives.
“We have to stay disciplined, we have to stay smart, we have to stay safe, and we have to do that by staying home,” he said. “And we will get through this together.”
Neighboring New Jersey has the second-most cases in the country with 41,090 and just passed 1,000 deaths. It’s followed in the top 10 by Michigan, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Washington, according to the governor’s numbers.
For perspective, Cuomo said the 1918 flu pandemic, which came in three waves, peaked in New York state for six months. About 30,000 people died in New York alone, he said. The New York Times reports that over 20,000 died in New York City.
“We are changing the curve in that virus growth” in the 2020 pandemic, Cuomo said. “You see that plateauing, that’s because of what we are doing.”
He spoke again of slowly reopening the state’s economy, which he said would have to be done before there is immunity from or a vaccine for the virus.
“It’s going to come down to how good we are with testing,” Cuomo said of sending people back to work, referring both to rapid tests that show whether a person is Covid-positive and to blood tests that look for virus antibodies in a person’s system.
“You’re going to have to know who had the virus, who resolved the virus, who never had it, and that’s going to be testing.”
Cuomo called for another federal stimulus bill, which he said would be necessary to restart states’ economies.
Cuomo continues to face ire from bail-reform advocates in the state who say he should be releasing more inmates to limit their exposure to the deadly virus in prisons and jails, which have rapidly become hotspots for the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Data from the Legal Aid Society show Rikers Island, New York City’s jail complex, has 286 cases and a 6.5% infection rate, while the infection rate of the city overall is just 0.8%. The first inmate to die of Covid-19 there, 53-year-old Michael Tyson, was in for a technical parole violation.