NY, NJ, CT Jointly Ban Crowds Over 50, Dining Out, Gyms; Tri-State Cases Surpass 1,000

In the absence of uniform national standards issued by the federal government, Govs. Andrew Cuomo, Phil Murphy and Ned Lamont have implemented their own set of unified rules for the tri-state area

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What to Know

  • U.S. novel coronavirus cases have surpassed 4,000; at least 70 people have died, including at least nine in New York and New Jersey
  • Tri-state COVID-19 cases have surpassed 1,000, with the vast majority of them in New York; the Empire and Garden states have mobilized the National Guard to assist containment measures as necessary
  • New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have all announced plans to shut down public and private schools; NYC closures are already in effect

Citing an absence of federal action, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut took matters into their own hands Monday and announced uniform tri-state rules to shrink crowd sizes and close a number of non-essential businesses. Gov. Phil Murphy also joined the other states in shuttering schools.

There will be no crowds with gatherings over 50 anywhere. Casinos will close Monday night regionwide, as well as movie theaters and gyms. Bars and restaurants will be limited to take-out and delivery only as of 8 p.m. Monday. The closures will remain in effect for as long as necessary to protect public health.

Gov. Cuomo addressed the state Monday morning, saying there was a desperate need for more hospital beds in the state before the coronavirus "wave" crashes on our healthcare system.

It was unprecedented coordination among states to help slow the pandemic that, across the tri-state area, has infected more than 1,000 people and killed nine. As of Monday, New York had 950 total cases, 463 in New York City. New Jersey announced another 80 or so cases later in the day, bringing its total to 178. Connecticut's total also jumped significantly on Monday, with 41 confirmed cases.

Grocery stores will stay open, though Stop & Shop has adopted some changes: Effective Thursday, its stores will open 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. exclusively for customers older than 60, the group the CDC has identified as most vulnerable.

"This is not a war that can be won alone, which is why New York is partnering with our neighboring states to implement a uniform standard that not only keeps our people safe but also prevents 'state shopping' where residents of one state travel to another and vice versa," Cuomo said on a joint conference call with the two other governors. "I have called on the federal government to implement nationwide protocols but in their absence we are taking this on ourselves."

"We want everybody to be home, not out," Murphy added -- and the only way to ensure that is to have a standard set of topline directives and restrictions.

All three governors blasted the federal government for "falling asleep" at the wheel, lacking testing preparation, failing to provide urgent and specific guidance at the national level and not bringing in the military to streamline and facilitate efforts. They said the absence of strong U.S. leadership on these key matters has left them with no choice but to try to do it themselves.

"We've got to work on this together," said Lamont, whose state reported 26 COVID-19 cases as of Monday afternoon. "The feds have been asleep on the draw. If we do this on a regional basis we're gonna get through it."

Murphy said on the call that all non-essential businesses must close at 8 p.m. nightly; non-essential travel is "strongly discouraged" between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. He encouraged New Jerseyans to stay at home during those hours; that's a suggestion, he clarified Monday, not a state-mandated curfew. He closed all New Jersey schools effective Wednesday (click here for details) and said he would mobilize the National Guard to help in any way needed as New York has.

"This isn't fake news. This is real," Murphy said. "You may be asymptomatic and carrying coronavirus ... You feel really good and you're really healthy, and then the next day you're going to see grandma or grandpa ... and you unwittingly are putting their lives at risk. We have got to put an end to business as usual."

At this point, there is no plan to shut down mass transit in its entirety, but Murphy said they're working to "right-size" capacity to match reduced ridership. Ridership has plunged across the board amid new directives and the urgent, consistent call for social distancing.

There is also no immediate plan to shut down tri-state roads, but the emergency declarations in New York and New Jersey give the states the power to do so if needed.

New York City in Crisis

How long will it take to emerge on the other side of the pandemic? At this point, it's difficult to tell -- but it will take months, most say.

Earlier Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned the coronavirus crisis -- the economic, social and other fallout -- may ultimately compare to the United States climate during the Great Depression. He called for direct federal aid to replace lost income as anxious New Yorkers navigate their new reality.

"There has to be direct federal support to put money in people’s pockets and replace the income they’ve lost. That is the only way we're going to get through this," the mayor said Monday on Fox.

Other measure the mayor implemented by executive order include: suspending City Council hearings, suspending visits to inmates at Department of Corrections facilities, suspending procurement rules (in an effort to get good into the city faster), and canceling the Queens borough president elections.

The local economic impact even at this early stage is already incalculable. Broadway is dark; concert and sporting venues are closed. Restaurants and bars have been shuttered except for take-out and delivery services by executive order across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Late Monday night, the NYPD could be seen on patrol on city streets, making business abide by the new rules. Any restaurant or establishment that police catch not complying will be given a summons for disorderly conduct.

Cuomo ordered all New York businesses to operate with at least 50 percent of their employees working from home. Non-essential employees are all asked to work from home.

City officials hope the measures will be enough to essentially effect a self-quarantine, drastically reducing the possibility of exposure to the virus by reducing density of population.

Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., Telemundo will have a live coronavirus special. Submit your questions (in English or Spanish) here

De Blasio announced that the city would be adding five drive-thru testing facilities across the city, but specifics on where they would be located were not immediately made clear. These five areas would be for priority testing cases, the mayor stressed, and be done via reservations. Gov. Cuomo said that the same drive-thru testing centers would be coming to Long Island and Rockland County, and the Bergen County Executive said they were looking for volunteers to get a similar site up and running at Bergen Community College.

In addition to the drive-thru testing sites, the city was also working to retrofit other medical areas so they could be used as centers for care as well. Coler Specialty Hospital on Roosevelt Island would add 350 beds, and is expected to be ready in about a week; a nursing home in Brooklyn which was recently built but not yet occupied would add 200 beds, and would be available within the next two weeks; the Westchester Square Campus of the Montefiore Medical Center could add 150 beds within the next two weeks; and North Central Bronc Hospital could be ready in around a week to add 150 beds.

To help staffing at not only these locations but other medical facilities throughout the city, de Blasio said he may ask the federal government to send in heal care workers from surrounding areas, and will ask to have military personnel assist as well. The city has 11 tents ready to use as possible treatment places or for the Office of Emergency Management, with as many as 20 more on the way.

There were two new deaths announced in the city, bringing the total to seven. A 56-year-old Bronx man who worked as an investigator for the city through the Department of Corrections died as a result of a coronavirus infection. He hadn't made any recent visits inside of facilities, and only had contact with one coworker, who is now in self-quarantine.

The other latest was an 89-year-old man who returned from Italy a week ago.

Late on Monday, the FDNY announced that a retired longtime fire marshal with the department died from coronavirus.  The FDNY-Uniformed Firefighters Association announced that John Knox, an 84-year-old from Rockaway, Queens, died after contracting the virus. It was not known if he was part of the number of deceased victims reported earlier, or a new victim.

Queens now has the highest number of confirmed cases of all boroughs in the city, with 118. Manhattan is next with 111, Brooklyn had 62, the Bronx had 34 and Staten Island had 19.

The Debate Over Schools - What's Next?

More than a million New York City public school children are staying home Monday -- and for the foreseeable future -- after de Blasio heeded mounting, urgent calls to take the unprecedented shutdown action in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Describing his decision as an incredibly "painful" one, one he could never have imagined he'd need to make, the mayor said he would try to reopen schools April 20 at the earliest, but the reality is they may not be able to salvage the school year. Worst case scenario: New York City public schools, the largest district in the nation, may stay closed for the 2019-20 calendar.

De Blasio seemed to be doubling down on that potential worst-case scenario, saying on MSNBC Monday, "I fear that this crisis is going to start to crescendo through April, May before it starts to get better."

The mayor held out for at least a week as other cities and states across the country announced sweeping public school closures for two primary reasons: 1) Essential city and other workers, like the FDNY, NYPD and hospital staff, need childcare so they can go to work; and 2) So many NYC students depend on meals they get at school just to eat.

To help address those issues, de Blasio said some schools will remain open to provide grab-and-go breakfast and lunch for kids in need -- and certain schools in each borough will convert to learning centers to provide some care for kids whose parents are on the front lines of the city's new war.

The school system, officials said, would attempt to quickly launch a “remote learning” program on March 23, with teachers being trained on the methods beginning Tuesday. Cuomo asked for more complete plans from the city to provide childcare for essential workers and meals for kids by midnight -- and noted those plans must be approved by his office.

Cuomo has ordered the closure of the rest of the state's schools effective March 18; that closure will last at least two weeks. Some counties, including Nassau and Suffolk, had previously announced plans to close their districts.

Nationally, about three dozen states have initiated similar actions. New Jersey schools -- public, private and parochial -- joined the ranks and were set to close Wednesday for at least two weeks, most likely longer, Murphy said.

The flurry of developments follows yet another expected surge in tri-state COVID-19 cases. At least seven people in New York, mostly in New York City, have died coronavirus-related deaths as of Monday; they have all had underlying health conditions. Two people in New Jersey have also died.

"The answer is not fear, the answer is not panic...the answer is for all of us to work together and support each other, believe in each other, look out for each other," de Blasio said in a Monday afternoon press conference.

Meanwhile, the number of cases has increased exponentially. As of Monday afternoon, the tri-state area had more than 1,000 confirmed cases; New York state alone is responsible for 950 -- and likely has far more than that. New Jersey announced four dozen more cases as well; patients range in age from 5 to 93. See the latest tri-state case total broken out by counties here.

While escalating efforts to curb the spread, primarily to protect the most vulnerable populations, officials keep re-emphasizing certain facts about the novel coronavirus: 80 percent of people who get it self-resolve without needing further treatment and the overall general risk to the public is low.

Though the percentage of people who fall critically ill and need hospitalization is relatively low, the number of people who may get sick -- and how that number is increasing daily -- is concerning. Even if only 20 percent of the population needs to be hospitalized, there is legitimate and growing fear the hospitals won't be able to handle the burden.

New York state, for example, only has about 3,000 ICU beds -- and many of them are already filled, Cuomo said. He called on the Army Corps of Engineers to start building new treatment facilities immediately. Meanwhile, Cuomo said, he wants NYC to find 5,000 existing beds for potential conversion to hospital facilities. Private hospitals will be on notice that the state may direct them to cancel most elective surgeries, the governor said; de Blasio has said he would ask hospitals in the city to suspend those procedures.

Cities are taking drastic measures to slow the rate of coronavirus infections, including shutting down schools, restricting access to shops and restaurants and asking as many people as possible to self-quarantine. So far, COVID-19 has been detected in all but one state.

President Trump, for his part, declared a national emergency last week and opened up $50 billion funds in emergency help as he tried to assuage American fears. He has been tested for COVID-19 himself and was negative -- and has announced private sector partnerships to dramatically expand the availability of tests to more of the public and expedite lab results.

He also tweeted Monday that he had just had a conference call with the nation's governors, and called on Cuomo to do more. Cuomo was quick to respond.

Still, it has been difficult to stem the tide of public anxiety. There have been confirmed cases among first responders, in city churches, among lawmakers -- there have been young children who contract COVID-19, people all along the age spectrum -- and extensive community spread.

The tri-state area's first instance of community spread was a midtown Manhattan lawyer who lives in Westchester County's New Rochelle with his family. He has been linked to dozens of cases in multiple states and continues to recover in a hospital. That community spread instance prompted Cuomo to set up a one-mile radius containment zone in the key affected area and deploy the National Guard to help monitor it.

To fend off despair that come with facing an epidemic like the coronavirus, mental health experts recommend exercise, deep breathing, mindfulness and keeping connected with your loved ones.

There have been many other instances of person-to-person spread since -- and growing desperation to stop it. Just announced this weekend: All Catholic masses in Brooklyn and Queens are canceled until further notice after a parishioner who attended a Mass on March 8 tested positive. See a more complete list of closures and event cancellations here.

SOMOS Chief Medical Officer Jacqueline Delmont says the next four weeks are when we'll if school closures and extreme measures being taking by local governments will help slow the spread of coronavirus.

The World Health Organization has declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, the first coronavirus to ever earn the dubious distinction. It's novel -- that means it's new and no one has immunity to it. Vaccines and clinical trials are in the works -- and a new trial for a vaccine starts Monday.

A government official says the first participant in the trial will receive the experimental vaccine that day. The National Institutes of Health is funding the trial at a Kaiser Permanente research facility in Seattle. Testing will begin with 45 young, healthy volunteers with different doses of shots co-developed by NIH and Moderna Inc.

Public health officials say it will take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine.

How to Protect Yourself

New York City's Health Department released the following guidance for people who recently traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea -- or for anyone who experiences fever, cough or shortness of breath:

  • Stay home — do not travel or go to work or school while sick
  • Go to a health care provider and tell them about your travel history
    • If you do not have a health care provider or insurance, call 311
  • Avoid contact with others
  •  Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands

NBC News estimates the total number of U.S. cases has surpassed 4,400 and at least 86 people have died. The vast majority of U.S. deaths have been in Washington state, where America's very first COVID-19 death was reported.

New Yorkers seem to be heeding the government's advice to practice social distancing and not go where they don't need to go -- leaving America's largest city looking a little like a ghost town Friday. Public spaces normally packed with people like Times Square and the New York subway system were eerily empty, and some shop shelves looked like they'd been ransacked. The MTA announced Friday ridership was down 19 percent, while the LIRR was down more than 30 percent. Ray Villeda reports.
Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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