New York Pleads for Virus Tests as Cases Outstrip Global Numbers

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo briefs the public on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

MANHATTAN (CN) — As New York reels from successive record-high deaths related to the novel coronavirus, officials called it urgent Friday that the president employ the Defense Production Act to streamline testing.

Saying the state needs both diagnostic and antibody testing “in a matter of weeks, not months,” New York Governor Cuomo said private-sector companies need help producing Covid-19 tests on a massive scale.

“In New York, 30 million tests you could use,” Cuomo estimated, calling the act “a very powerful tool for the federal government to use.”

There are more confirmed cases of the virus in New York than in any other country outside of the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. At more than 170,000 confirmed cases, the Empire State has three times as many as any other state in the U.S. The other countries in the triple digits are Spain, Italy and Germany, followed then by France, China and United Kingdom.

New York just on Wednesday announced a record-high 799 deaths from virus-related complications, only to see another 777 the next day, Cuomo said, bringing the statewide total to 7,844 deaths by late Friday morning. 

Delivering his daily briefing from the state Capitol in Albany, Cuomo explained that the deaths over the previous week were mostly coronavirus patients who had been treated during a period of peak hospitalization in the state earlier this month.

“What’s happening is the number of people who came in two weeks ago when we had those very high hospitalization rates — either you get treated and you get better and get discharged or you stay in the hospital and probably wind up on a ventilator,” Cuomo said Friday. “[And] the longer you’re on a ventilator, the less likely you will come off a ventilator, and that’s what’s happening now.

“The number is lower than yesterday, for those who can take solace in that fact,” he added. “As someone who searches for solace in all this grief, the leveling-off of the number of lives lost is a somewhat hopeful sign.

Despite what he called the “tremendous” number of lives lost, the governor said he is “cautiously optimistic” about other data that suggests statewide efforts to flatten the curve have slowed down the infection rate of the virus.

Cuomo noted that the state saw a negative change in admissions to intensive care units for the first time since the pandemic started.

“The change in total hospitalizations is down, not relative to yesterday, but … the three-day average on the hospitalizations, you see a dramatic decline in those numbers, and that’s obviously very good news,” he said. 

“I believed 9/11 was the worst situation I was going to deal with in my lifetime,” Cuomo said. “So in terms of lives lost, that this situation should exceed 9/11 is still beyond my capacity to fully appreciate, to tell you the truth.”

The death toll from the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11 was 2.606.

Cuomo warned New Yorkers on Friday that returning to any sense of normalcy is going to be a gradual, phased process.

“Let’s make sure we study the waters ahead and proceed with caution before we set off on the next journey,” he said. “When we talk about reopening, let’s study the data and let’s look at what has happened around the world.”

Cuomo this morning offered a full partnership with U.S. government as part of states’ continued efforts to bring mass Covid-19 testing to scale; New York will partner with neighboring states Connecticut and New Jersey to create a regional testing partnership.

Mayor Bill de Blasio greets workers before a Friday briefing at a temporary hospital that New York City has built at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Photo by Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office via CNS)

The governor’s speech was followed this afternoon by a briefing from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, where a temporary field hospital was built last week, near a cluster of Queens neighborhoods that have been hard hit by the virus.

Recent data show that, with 32% of New York City’s total confirmed cases, Queens has a higher percentage of coronavirus cases than any other borough.

De Blasio spoke on ethnicity data the city released Wednesday showing that black and Latino New Yorkers are disproportionately dying from Covid-19; Latinos account for 34% of confirmed Covid-19 deaths, according to the figures released Wednesday, despite making up only 29% of the city’s population. The city population is 22% black, but 28% of Covid-19 deaths are black New Yorkers.   

We all know people are sick, we all now families that are suffering, but in the last few days the disparities are sharper and clearer than ever before,” de Blasio said.

“Unfortunately this disease has found every problem in our society, every inequality and gone right deep into and exacerbated it,” the mayor continued. “And so here in Queens, we see that folks that are low income are suffering, folks who have not enough access to health care because health care is still given out to how much money you have in this country.”

De Blasio hinted that the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has compounded the difficulty confronting New Yorkers, and Queens residents in particular, when it comes to fighting the pandemic. 

“Especially, immigrant New Yorkers have suffered, some because of language barriers, but many because I believe they’ve been pushed away in recent years from the support they deserve just as human beings and New Yorkers,” de Blasio said. “They’ve been told to be afraid because of what’s happening all over our country.

“A lot of them have been so fearful, whether it’s an ICE raid or any effort to take away their rights, their benefits, the things their family depended on, and a lot of folks have turned inward out of fear.

“There’s no question in my mind that’s part of what’s been happening here, and part of why this part of Queens has been hit so hard.”

De Blasio in the speech reiterated calls he has made for weeks to the state’s Rent Guidelines Board to freeze rent for more than 2 million New Yorkers in rent-stabilized units.

He also asked the state board to let tenants who can’t afford to pay rent to use their security deposits to pay their landlords.

“Let’s unleash those security deposits for the good of all,” the mayor implored the state board.

A medic reacts after stepping outside of the emergency room at the Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens last Saturday. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

On the weekly “Ask the Mayor” segment on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer radio show, de Blasio told a caller Friday morning that he supported some type of rent freeze. “Clearly, this is the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said. “I think it’s quite clear why a rent freeze makes sense.”

Meanwhile tenant advocates in New York say Cuomo’s calls for a rent freeze on 2 million rent-stabilized units fall short of effective relief for all economically vulnerable New Yorkers.

The Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which was introduced Tuesday by state Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger along with Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent during New York’s state of emergency and for six months after it ends.

The bill seeks to address the resulting backlog of eviction cases that would flood state courts once New York’s statewide moratorium on evictions lift in mid-June.

Gianpaolo Baiocchi, director of the Urban Democracy Lab at New York University, said in a New York Times op-ed last week that New York’s eviction moratorium is a crucial start but just delays the inevitable consequences.

While de Blasio’s effort to freeze rents going up incrementally is useful, it will not be enough for families unable to pay current rent prices, Baiocchi wrote in the opinion piece, which was co-authored by H. Jacob Carlson, a substitute assistant professor at the School of Labor and Urban Studies at the City University of New York.

Baiocchi and Carlson called on Congress to enact an immediate, 90-day national rent moratorium — “a temporary suspension of rent payments that will keep families in their homes before other dominoes start to fall.”

Baiocchi reiterated Friday the need for a rent moratorium. “A rent freeze will be necessary for thinking about the post-pandemic period, it does nothing for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are having trouble paying rent now.” Baiocchi said Friday in an interview. “I think the Giannaris state bill is an important step in this direction. I think the mayor could play a leadership role in calling on Washington for a federally funded rent moratorium as part of the next aid package.”

De Blasio said he is going to consult over the weekend with the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and will announce a decision on Monday concerning whether to reopen the city’s public schools before the 2019–20 year ends in June.

The city’s 1,800 schools are currently closed until April 29.

De Blasio was hesitant to tell New Yorkers a time frame for when the city’s shelter-in-place order could be lifted.

“April is going to remain tough,” de Blasio said Friday. “Do not for a moment imagine April is going to be easy.”

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