‘This Is Not Over:' NY, NJ Urge Patience, Cite Progress in Face of Relentless Tragedy

To date, more than 334,000 have been infected and as many as 22,000 people have died in NY, NJ and CT; still, there are signs the curve is flattening

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What to Know

  • New York's shutdown has been extended through at least May 15 and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio says it's hard to see huge events like the Pride Parade happening as scheduled in June. A new mask mandate takes effect Friday
  • New Jersey's virus death toll is 5x its loss from 9/11, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday; the state has lost nearly 4,000 people to date
  • To date, more than 334,000 people have been infected in NY, NJ and CT and as many as 22,000 have died (including NYC's probable fatalities)

For the first time amid the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pointed Friday to what he described as an "undeniably" positive trend: Hospitalizations are declining. They've shown net decreases for days but Cuomo wanted more time, more data before determining it was more than an anomaly.

Now, he says, it's clearly more than that.

Intensive care admissions also were down again, as were net intubations. The latter reflects the people on ventilators; most of those patients never recover. Another key metric: The infection rate. Cuomo says that's "everything." Mitigation has driven it down to less than 1-to-1. It's not enough.

"New York is still seeing about 2,000 COVID hospitalizations per day," Cuomo said Friday. "If people tell you the pandemic is 'over' — they're wrong. You're not going to hear any day soon that you wake up and it's over. It's going to be incremental."

People are still getting sick, and people are still dying. New York state's toll neared 13,000 Friday as Cuomo added 630 more names to the mounting list. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy added 323 new deaths in his state, and an additional 65 new deaths were reported by Gov. Ned Lamont in Connecticut. With nearly 4,000 fatalities, New Jersey has lost five times more people to COVID-19 than it did on 9/11, a somber Murphy said Friday.

One of the most widely cited virus models, from the Gates Foundation-backed IHME, now estimates deaths in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut through the middle of May. The latest projections forecast virus-related deaths to peak around 2,732 in Connecticut through May 26, 6,952 in New Jersey through May 18, and 21,812 in New York through May 21.

The tragedy has been relentless. Nearly 18,000 COVID-19 deaths have been confirmed across the tri-state area -- and the toll could be close to 22,000 if New York City's 4,309 "probable" fatalities were included. The city and the state report their own data and it's not clear if it is in any way duplicative. It's also not clear if or when other states will match New York City in reporting probable deaths, which Mayor Bill de Blasio moved to in accordance with new CDC guidelines.

Cuomo has said his team is working on it.

A Bayshore Hospital celebrated as they discharged their 500th COVID-19 patient. Greg Cergol reports.

The five boroughs have accounted for nearly three-quarters of New York's confirmed lives lost to COVID-19. According to Johns Hopkins data, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx have, in that order, reported the most fatalities by county in all of America. Nassau County, on Long Island, comes in fourth on that list, followed by Manhattan.

Nursing homes have reported catastrophic loss. One in Queens says 29 residents have died, though workers allege it could be as many as 65. In Andover, New Jersey, an anonymous tip led to the gruesome discovery of 17 bodies piled inside a small morgue, allegedly moved there after being stored in a shed. Murphy said he was "outraged" by the find, adding he would ask the attorney general to investigate that facility and others with unusually high death rates.

Going forward, New York will order nursing homes to tell families of patients when there have been positive tests within the facilities, Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said Friday. Care centers that don't comply may face civil penalties, she added.

The overall toll is unthinkable, the sheer case totals astounding. But evidence shows the numbers would be far worse if not for social distancing and other mitigation efforts. Comparisons between initial and current virus projection models prove that; they've been sharply revised down.

The most important fact is we've learned we can control the spread, Cuomo says. On Friday, Murphy pointed to a vastly reduced infection rate in New Jersey.

"I know social distancing is hard. I know it’s not fun. I know it’s going to be a few more weeks, at least. If you want to be mad at me, go ahead," Murphy said. "But, my number one goal – my entire focus – is on defeating this virus and getting our state back to where we can reopen."

In New York City, de Blasio has focused on key three daily metrics -- the number of hospitalizations, the number of ICU admissions and the percentage of people testing positive -- that he wants to see all trend down in unison. When that happens for at least 10 days, he says, that will indicate the city can begin to think about entering the next phase of the crisis, which de Blasio describes as low-level virus transmission.

The week started and ended on a high note, with a few mixed-bag days in between.

"Everyone wants our freedom back, our lives back. The question is how quickly can we get there," de Blasio said Friday, noting it's a staged process that will take time to do right.

To that end, the mayor canceled all permitted events in the city through May and said major June events, like the iconic Pride Parade, were in serious jeopardy. Acknowledging the disappointment, de Blasio urged New Yorkers to forge on and stick with what they're doing: It's working.

Cuomo's new executive order on facial coverings -- which takes effect at 8 p.m. Friday and applies to anyone age 2 and older -- is designed to enhance the mitigation measures already in place. It requires New Yorkers to cover their faces when they can't maintain a 6-foot distance in public, like on a busy sidewalk or in a packed supermarket. It also mandates face-coverings in mass transit and for-hire vehicles. Enforcement will be left to merchants, compliance to individuals.

As Cuomo said Thursday, "I can't put a mask on 17 million people" in New York. "But 17 million people will do it. What they have done has worked."

While Cuomo says the worst may be behind us, he says the crisis itself likely won't be over until we have a vaccine, which could be anywhere from a year to 18 months out, if not longer. Worldwide, there are 70 vaccines in development. Barring a vaccine or effective virus treatment, Harvard researchers warn social distancing measures may need to remain in place into 2022.

According to the state's latest data, which does not yet include probable fatalities, New York has 12,822 deaths and 229,642 COVID-19 cases (NYC's share is more than 127,000 cases and 8,893 deaths, by the state's reckoning).

New Jersey had 78,467 cases and 3,840 dead as of Friday; its public schools will stay closed at least through May 15, in line with Cuomo's executive order extending New York's shutdown to that time. Asked whether children would have to wear masks when school does resume, Murphy said he'd "guess" that would be the case but A) that's not a mandate and B) return to class is a ways off.

Connecticut, meanwhile, had 1,036 dead and 16,809 cases as of its last report.

What's Next? Phased Reopening, 'Reimagining' Workplaces, More Testing

At the same time President Trump says his new set of guidelines mean some states can "literally" open up Friday, he admits hard-hit states like New York need a more incremental strategy.

How we reopen is everything, Cuomo says.

He is leading a coalition of seven governors working to develop the smartest and safest way to do it. So far, they all agree it will require continued, strict adherence to social distancing and expansive testing -- testing to a degree they say requires more federal help than they've gotten.

For weeks, Cuomo has said that widespread testing is not just crucial to economic reboot but absolutely necessary. New York state has done more than half a million tests to date, more per capita than anywhere in the globe, but it's still not enough. On Friday, Cuomo re-upped his still-unanswered call for more federal support (leading to a tete-a-tete with Trump that unfolded during his briefing), and ordered all public and private labs in New York to coordinate with the State Department of Health to ensure prioritizing diagnostic testing.

He also wants to see more widescale antibody testing, testing that would identify people who have recovered from the virus even if they never knew they had it. That would drastically increase the number of people who could get back to work and expedite their return, Cuomo says.

De Blasio said a true return to "normalcy," or as close to normal as we'll get, is contingent upon citywide testing. Failing more help from the federal government, he has announced New York will start buying and manufacturing its own kits. He said the city would open five new testing sites in hard-hit areas, one in each borough. Some open Friday, the rest open Monday. Initially, the centers will be able to conduct up to 3,500 tests a week, though de Blasio said he wants see that number double "quickly." Other testing enhancements are in the works.

The mayor says 10 new testing sites will be open by Monday, two in each borough.

New Jersey has conducted the fourth-most tests in the country and is the 11th most populous state, meaning it has "punched more than our weight" in that regard, Murphy said Friday. Like de Blasio, he called for a "universal regime" of testing to expedite a return to normalcy, a framework he said is impossible for New Jersey to create on its own.

The importance of testing -- widespread testing and early surveillance -- is one of the most key lessons learned in this crisis, Cuomo says. There have been others, and the governor says all the lessons will have to be taken in conjunction to move forward. It might not be the same New York it was, but it can be a better New York, Cuomo said. And it's not just up to the government to achieve that.

Cuomo says employers will have to "reimagine the workplace," consider how many people can telecommute and how they can encourage social distancing in the office. Customer interaction and employee transportation are other factors.

Failing to reopen correctly will negate all the progress we have made -- and the excruciating price we have paid for it, the governor says.

Healthcare workers are particularly attuned to that fact.

“We will end up where we started, an influx of people and struggling to save them all," Diana Torres, a nurse at Manhattan's Mount Sinai West, told the Associated Press. "If we reopen now, we just wasted our time.”

To date, the United States has seen nearly 700,000 COVID-19 cases and is approaching 40,000 deaths, by NBC News estimates. Globally, cases surpassed 2 million this week, according to Johns Hopkins.

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