Coronavirus

Governors Form Joint Reopening Task Force as Curve Flattens Further

To date, nearly 273,000 have been infected and more than 13,000 people have died in NY, NJ and CT; still, there are signs the curve is flattening

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What to Know

  • The seven governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Delaware formed a joint reopening strategy council
  • Signs show the curve of infections is flattening; Gov. Andrew Cuomo warns the death toll is "stabilizing at an horrific rate"
  • Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio doubled down on keeping New York City schools closed, offering differing opinions on strategy

Banded together by an unprecedented pandemic, six Northeast governors are coordinating efforts to safely and strategically reopen the region, though what that looks like -- and how long it will take -- is still anyone's guess.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo welcomed the partnership of the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Delaware to announce a joint regional task force to develop a plan to reopen the economy, with Massachusetts later signing on as well. Each state, Gov. Cuomo says, will assign to the task force a public health official, an economic development official, and each governor's chief of staff.

Governor Cuomo says an economic restart must be approached as a regional issue "any plan to reopen society must be driven by data and experts, not opinion and politics." Creating such a development plan in unison, however, may not produce identical actions plans for each state.

"I don’t believe we wind up with a fully common strategy. You have different states in different positions," Cuomo said.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said it could take time.

“The house is still on fire," he said during a conference call with reporters. “We still have to put the fire out, but we do have to begin putting in the pieces of the puzzle that we know we’re going to need ... to make sure this doesn’t reignite.”

Eager to reopen the country by May 1, NBC News reports, President Donald Trump asserted Monday that the power to ease social distancing guidelines falls under his authority.

Trump tweeted some are "saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect...it is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons.”

In response to Trump's assertion, Cuomo said, "I would say let’s see what the federal government's plan is. Governor Wolf's plan is right - [Trump] left it to the states to close down."

During an MSNBC interview later Monday, Cuomo continued his criticism of Trump's comments, saying "the Constitution says we do not have a king. To say that 'I have total authority over the country because I'm the president, it's absolute' — that is a king."

Government Affairs Reporter Melissa Russo reports.

Though the curve of new COVID-19 cases has more or less flattened now, people are still getting sick, people are still being intubated and put into intensive care, and people are still dying. From nothing at the end of February, in six weeks the novel coronavirus infected nearly 273,000 people and killed more than 13,000 in just the tri-state region alone.

"There's real pain in this city right now, and I think we should be very careful to not declare a new reality until we're sure. I'm not sure we have a plateau yet, I'm not sure there couldn't be a resurgence," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on MSNBC Monday morning.

The mayor stressed in a later interview that NYC "can't count our chickens before they hatch," despite a couple of slightly better days, repeating his fear of a resurgence.

"Let's get this thing done once the right way. Push this disease back once and for all," he said, adding that the number of hospitalizations and number of ICU admissions must go down for 10-14 days before they can consider changing some of the restrictions.

"April's going to continue to be a tough month and we've still seen an increase each day in the number of ventilators that are needed...April is still going to be tough. Into May," de Blasio said. "In May, I'm hoping to see improvement. Will it be enough improvement to say that we're really turning a corner and getting out of this phase of widespread transmission? We don't know that yet.I think that's either going to be May or June. One or the other, but we don't know when."

One of the most widely cited virus models, from the Gates Foundation-backed IHME, estimates that deaths in our area will more or less end by the first week of May, assuming social distancing is maintained. New projections forecast deaths related to COVID-19 to reach 14,542 in New York by May 9, 5,426 in Connecticut by June 15, and 4,407 in New Jersey by May 5.

Schools have suddenly become the flashpoint of that conversation, thanks to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's surprise Saturday morning decision to close the city's schools for the rest of the year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded just hours later that it was his decision, not the mayor's, and that a regional strategy was needed.

De Blasio doubled down Sunday on his plan to close city public schools for the remainder of the academic year, in direct contradiction with Gov. Cuomo. While most families tried to find a way to celebrate a quarantined Easter Sunday, both politicians sat down for the cameras and positioned themselves as the authority to make the final call on the country's largest school district.

Cuomo, foreshadowing the argument to come, said if schools were closed then businesses were closed too -- and it was too soon to know if that was right for June or not.

But De Blasio stood his ground Monday morning, saying it was his call — and schools would be closed, period.

governor andrew cuomo at daily briefing

A Flatter Curve

Cuomo reiterated this weekend that data reported from hospitals across the state reflect a flattening of the curve, an objective desperately needed for the public's safety and an early step toward reopening the state.

New York State deaths topped 10,000 Monday following an additional 671 deaths reported by Cuomo. In total, 10,056 New Yorkers have died.

Put another way -- at this point, COVID-19 is killing every two days roughly what flu season kills in New York in a full year. And while things will improve and businesses and schools will reopen, the specter of the virus will linger.

"I don't think ultimate resolution comes until there's a vaccine … that's 18 months," Cuomo said in an interview on The Howard Stern Show Monday morning.

The governor said the number of daily ICU admissions and intubations, over a three-day average, are down. "Here’s the good news, the curve continues to flatten," Gov. Cuomo said Monday. "It appears we have a plateau."

De Blasio revealed Monday the city was closely monitoring three indicators that he believes show New York City's progress in reaching and crossing over the curve. Those indicators are the number of people admitted to hospitals, number of people in intensive care units, and percentage of people tested positive for COVID-19. All three indicators were slightly lower Sunday compared to the day before, de Blasio said.

In terms of supplies, the mayor said hospitals are staffed with the minimum number of N95 masks, surgical masks and gloves to get through the upcoming week. Face shields and surgical gowns are stocked as well, but just barely.

Meanwhile, de Blasio said Monday that alternate side parking would be suspended another two weeks, through April 28.

De Blasio also announced the immediate opening of 500 non-clinical staff positions throughout New York City's Health and Hospitals system. The positions will fill roles in patient transport, clerical work and cleaning, de Blasio said.

On CNN, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said certain models suggest the state is reaching its peak, but cautioned against reopening the state and relaxing social distancing rules too early.

“And I fear, if we open up too early, and we have not sufficiently made that health recovery and cracked the back of this virus, that we could be pouring gasoline on the fire, even inadvertently,” Murphy said.

Murphy also signed an order that said people who lost their internet or phone service for failing to pay since the crisis intensified March 16 could have it restored.

The order also bars internet and phone providers from cutting off service until up to 30 days after the end of the current public health emergency ends. An end date has not been specified.

More than 2,443 people with COVID-19 have died in New Jersey, and more than 64,854 have tested positive. Connecticut has had at least 602 people die from the coronavirus, with more than 13,300 infections.

“All of our pandemic here in Connecticut is all along that I-95, Metro-North corridor. We have hundreds of thousands of people going back and forth between New York and Connecticut,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said. “It’s the commuter corridor for us, but it’s also the COVID corridor, which is why it’s so important that we work together thoughtfully on this.”

In high-infection areas, such as Fairfield County near the New York border, preparations could include testing whether someone has developed antibodies for COVID-19 and might be able to go work sooner, Lamont said.

Elsewhere in the state, the Department of Correction reported the first death of a prisoner who had contracted COVID-19.

The male inmate in his 60s died Monday, less than a week after being diagnosed with COVID-19, department officials said. They said the man, who had other health problems, had been undergoing treatment at since April 8 and tested positive on April 9.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Up to 50 million jobs are vulnerable to coronavirus-related layoffs, economists say. Roughly one in 10 workers has lost a job in the last 21 days; a record 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the outbreak started. President Trump plans to unveil a second White House virus task force, this one focused on the economy, a senior administration official confirmed.

New York alone has seen 810,000 unemployment claims since March 9. It has processed 600,000 of them. With hundreds of thousands still in limbo, the state is launching a new unemployment site that won't require a phone call. For 2 million rent-stabilized tenants in New York City, De Blasio is calling for a rent freeze and a legal change that would let them pay their rent with security deposits.

Cuomo says antibody testing, which identifies people who have recovered from COVID-19, will hasten a return to the workforce. He, along with some of the nation's top experts, say it's unlikely someone who has had the novel coronavirus will get re-infected because their course with it may grant them the precious immunity no one had before becoming infected with it themselves.

If testing gets to the point where people can be tested for antibodies even without a prior COVID-19 test, many more could get back to work even sooner.

But pace is the issue — New York can only do a few thousand tests a week, when the need is in the hundreds of thousands or even millions.

"No one has the perfect date of when we get back to normal," De Blasio said on MSNBC, hinting at "months" of work to make sure the virus does not snap back.

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