NY, NJ Set Death Toll Records for 2nd Straight Day; New Social Distancing Orders Issued

To date, more than 200,000 have been infected and more than 8,100 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 and New Jersey saw record single-day death spikes for the second time in 48 hours Wednesday; still, there are signs the curve is flattening -- and social distancing is more important than ever
  • Broadway said Wednesday its NYC performance suspension would continue through June 7; NJ state and county parks, along with NYC playgrounds, have also been closed to help curb further spread
  • More than 200,000 in the tri-state area have now tested positive for COVID-19; 8,100-plus have died, including first responders and children

New York and New Jersey both saw their daily death tolls spike to new records Wednesday for the second day in a row, while New York City's coronavirus toll surged well past 4,500 — more than the number killed on 9/11. According to Johns Hopkins data, the state of New York, with nearly 150,000 known positives to date, now has more cases than any country in the world.

Despite the staggering toll, tri-state governors are optimistic the outbreak might be easing, eyeing slowing infection rates that mirror the course traversed in other pandemic-ravaged places like Italy and Spain. Still, the grief is overwhelming -- and mounting.

To date, more than 8,100 tri-state residents have lost their lives to COVID-19 and more than 200,000 have been infected. After recording more than 500 deaths a day since late last week, New York state recorded its biggest one-day jump Wednesday (779), for a statewide toll of more than 6,000, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. New Jersey also saw a new daily death record (275) as its toll surpassed 1,500. The personal tragedy is relentless and heartbreaking.

“They are more than just a statistic. Every number is a face. Every number is a family,” Cuomo said, ordering all state flags to be lowered to half-staff as New Jersey did last week; Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont issued the same executive order later Wednesday. "We mourn these New Yorkers deeply."

The encouraging signs Cuomo cited earlier in the week -- declining daily hospital admissions and fewer new patients needing ventilators -- continued into Wednesday. The death toll itself is a “lagging indicator,” reflecting people who had been hospitalized before this week, he said.

Also good news: Johns Hopkins data showed that more than 300,000 people worldwide had recovered from COVID-19, out of nearly 1.5 million positive cases.

But Cuomo warned gains are dependent on people practicing social distancing: "We are flattening the curve by what we are doing. If we stop what we are doing you will see that curve change. We have to be disciplined going forward," he said. "There's no doubt we're now bending the curve and there's no doubt we can't stop doing what we're doing."

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy took that discipline a step further Wednesday with new executive orders: all non-essential construction work in the state ceases effective 8 p.m. Friday; all essential retail must limit the number of customers to 50 percent of approved capacity and all inside stores, patrons as well as employees, must wear face coverings.

New York City previously recommended all its citizens wear masks, primarily to protect the most vulnerable. On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed the governors' urgent messages on social distancing, saying now is the time to "double down" on those strategies.

De Blasio also cautioned against over-optimism.

"It tells us this has been working," the mayor said of recent data trends and social distancing. "But it doesn't tell us when it's going to end."

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control said that essential workers exposed to COVID-19 could return to work if they were not showing symptoms (and provided the employees took temperatures before work, worse face masks at all times and practiced social distancing).

As of Wednesday, New York had 6,268 deaths and 149,316 total cases. New York City itself had 81,803 total cases and 4,695 fatalities. The five boroughs account for more than a third of the nation's still-surging death toll. De Blasio acknowledged the real toll was likely higher, saying only COVID-19 could explain a recent massive spike in home deaths.

The FDNY has recorded as many as 200 daily deaths at home in recent weeks, far more than the average 25 deaths at home before the pandemic.

"The blunt truth is coronavirus is driving these very tragic deaths," de Blasio said on CNN Wednesday. "We're not talking about, you know, 10 people, 20 people. We're talking about something like 100, 200 people per day."

Racial disparities have been evident. Preliminary NYC data shows Latinos have accounted for 34 percent of COVID-19 fatalities, while the black community has been 28 percent of the deaths. Those percentages outweigh their representation of the city's population -- 29 percent and 22 percent, respectively -- and de Blasio said the city was launching an outreach campaign to those communities. Deaths among white and Asian New Yorkers have been proportionally lower.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, whose borough has accounted for more than a quarter of NYC fatalities, said the city should have worked earlier to identify its own hotspots so it could have distributed supplies and social distancing messaging more aggressively in those places.

"We could have done better things, wear masks, as I was handing out at the beginning of this entire outbreak. We should have looked at those areas with pre-existing conditions," he said on MSNBC Wednesday. "We know those are in communities of color and I think we failed to do so."

Outside the five boroughs, the state's racial differences in fatalities versus representation are even more stark, though not as dramatic as comparisons nationally. Cuomo's COVID-19 tracker has been updated to reflect that data.

"I get the co-morbidities, I get the other issues," the governor said Wednesday, as he pledged increased testing in communities of color. But there's more to it than testing, he said. "What is it? Let's learn from it and let's do it now."

Questions have been raised nationally about inequities as well. Many states are working to incorporate racial data in their daily reporting to better inform their COVID-19 response.

Overall, New Jersey remains the nation's second most-impacted state, reporting 47,437 cases and 1,504 deaths as of Wednesday, while Connecticut could be an emerging hot spot, standing at 7,781 cases with 277 dead as of last reporting.

Ramp Up Testing, Revive Economy

Cuomo has long said public health and the economy aren't mutually exclusive priorities. To provide some immediate relief to New Yorkers out of work, he said Wednesday he would extend unemployment benefits an extra 13 weeks and make an additional, immediate $600 payment to unemployment filers.

Regional plans are in the works. Amid the ongoing tragedy, and the glimmers of hope, Cuomo said he spoke with Murphy and Lamont about developing a uniform approach to rebooting their economies, just as they did several weeks ago in shutting them down.

What might that look like? Cuomo offered no immediate specifics, saying we're not quite there yet. But he did suggest a key path to get there: Testing.

New York has tested more per capita than anywhere in the globe. More than 40 percent of its 365,000-plus tested have been positive, which is well above the national average. But the positive numbers alone are not a negative thing, Cuomo has said. Find the positives, isolate and treat them. That's how you get people who can work back to work faster; that's how you begin to revive the virus-wrecked economy. As much testing as New York has done, Cuomo wants more.

And he wants it brought up to scale. New Jersey and Connecticut have rolled out mobile testing centers and drive-thru stations as New York has done. Cuomo says more rapid testing is needed. Abbott Laboratories' rapid test, delivering positive results in 5 minutes and negative results in up to 13, has come to a trio of urgent care centers on Long Island. But it's not yet widely available.

Also not widely available: Antibody testing. Cuomo says antibody testing, which New York has developed a protocol for and is working with the FDA to bring to scale, will hasten a return to the workforce, identifying people who have had COVID-19 and recovered from it. 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 in the globe had before becoming infected with it themselves.

Nearly 300 NYPD members and more than 1,000 FDNY paramedics, EMTs and firefighters who have tested positive or were pulled off the job due to exposure concerns have been able to return to work, de Blasio said Wednesday. 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 even sooner.

New York is also looking to convalescent plasma treatment-- injecting critically ill patients with plasma from the blood of people who have recovered -- to try to heal the sickest among us. In the meantime, it has the ventilators and the hospital capacity to get through the next week, along with new ventilators shipped from Oregon and California. So, for now, does New Jersey, which is set to open its second and largest field hospital -- a 500-bed facility in Edison -- this week. Murphy said staffing remains a concern.

Reinforcements -- teams of medics from the Department of Defense -- were set to start providing additional support to New York City hospitals Wednesday. The DoD said a day earlier it also planned to send medical task forces to New Jersey and Connecticut at some point soon.

Moving Forward

The Gates Foundation-funded IHME model, which Cuomo has cited in several of his briefings, projects resource use to peak Wednesday, which bodes well for capacity moving forward. It projects deaths to peak Thursday, with about 13,300 total lives potentially lost by early May. That itself is a sharp revision lower from more than 16,000 a week ago and more than 15,000 as recently as Tuesday.

Murphy, who has asserted the life-changing impact of social distancing perhaps more forcefully and frequently than any governor, says that single factor could be a difference of 420,000 COVID-19 cases for his state. One town has even resorted to talking drones to drive home the point on social distancing. Murphy said he, Cuomo and Lamont have also discussed a possible uniform approach to mobilizing resources for when COVID-19 comes back, which the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said is possible in the fall.

All three tri-state governors have pledged to help out other states when their times of need come as the nation has stepped up to help theirs. Their states have a combined 204,534 cases and 8,107 deaths, representing half of all cases in America, which NBC News estimates have surpassed 427,000, and more than half of its deaths, which are nearing 15,000.

Each U.S. state has experienced the pandemic uniquely, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator, said on "TODAY" Wednesday. The curves of Washington and California look persistently flat because they started social distancing early, she said, while New York and New Jersey, which have a much higher population density, initially had a “logarithmic rise in the number of new cases." Those are beginning to stabilize, Birx noted.

"What's really important is that people don't turn these early signs of hope into releasing from the 30 days to stop the spread," she said. "If people start going out again, and socially interacting, we could see a very acute second wave very early."

Organizations across the country are continually adjusting their own plans to conform with state and federal guidelines on social distancing. Broadway, for example, announced Wednesday it was extending its current suspension of New York City performances through June 7.

Cuomo later announced that all New Yorkers would be able to vote absentee in the June 23 primaries because no one should "have to choose between their health and their civic duty." Murphy said Wednesday he was postponing New Jersey's primary a month, to July 7, which would allow the state more time to prepare for absentee voting should mail-in measures be needed. (Both primaries became less urgent Wednesday when Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the contest, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden as the likely Democratic nominee.)

The ultimate toll on the American psyche from this job- and soul-crushing crisis is incalculable at this point. As Cuomo has said, this crisis will transform a generation -- and shape another.

The White House has projected anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 U.S. lives could be lost to the pandemic. Birx said Wednesday she's hopeful America's death toll will come in well in under the lower end of those projections because of how seriously people are taking mitigation guidelines. See how COVID-19 has spread across the U.S. since March 1 using this interactive map.

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