New Jersey

Cuomo: All New York Schools Closed Rest of Academic Year, Daily Deaths Hit New Low

New York state has seen its daily death and hospitalization rates hit monthly lows in the past week; New Jersey reported a new single-day fatality high (460) on Thursday. It fell to a still-staggering 311 Friday

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What to Know

  • More than 28,000 tri-state lives have been lost to date. New York state reported its lowest single-day death toll in weeks (289), continuing a trend it has seen all week
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that all New York schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year; New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says he'll provide an update on schools early next week
  • Murphy's statewide shutdown order remains in effect, though he modified it to allow state parks and golf courses to reopen Saturday; an update on Cuomo's "PAUSE" directive is expected next week

Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially said Friday all New York's schools -- public, private and collegiate -- would stay closed through the rest of the academic year, ending a political stalemate that has kept more than 4 million students and their families in limbo.

No decision has been made on the fall, because as Cuomo said, "the fall is a long way away." A determination on summer school programming will be made at the end of May.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday he would make an announcement on his state's schools early next week; they're currently closed at least through May 15.

As remote learning continues, school systems should start developing a plan to reopen that incorporates proven protocols to curb the spread of infection. Those protocols -- like social distancing and face-covering -- have changed the trajectory of the virus in New York, Cuomo said. If not for those efforts, the state would likely have seen 100,000 hospitalizations more than it has.

"Our present actions will determine the future trajectory," the governor said Friday. "It is that clear -- it is cause and effect."

New York reported its lowest single-day death toll Friday, while New Jersey reported its biggest single-day high of the crisis a day earlier, a reflection of two hardest-hit states battling different peaks of an at-times unpredictable virus curve. On Friday, Murphy added 311 more names to New Jersey's tragic toll; that topped New York's daily deaths for the second time in two days but fell well below the pandemic high (460) the state saw on Thursday.

Cuomo and Murphy have been at the forefront of the national war against COVID-19. They've preached social distancing harder than anyone in America; they've both been to Washington, D.C., to fight for more testing and financial aid for their states. They've seen progress -- and setbacks.

The two states have lost more than 26,000 people (18,610 in New York, 7,538 in New Jersey), though the governors acknowledge the real toll is likely higher. New York City is home to the country's deadliest counties, Queens and Brooklyn. If the city's 5,231 "probable" fatalities were included in the official toll, the two states' deaths would top 31,000.

New Jersey's fatalities have already exceeded what the widely watched IHME model last projected the state could ultimately see from the crisis: 7,246 by May 19. The most recent model run had projected that as of May 1, New Jersey may lose 6,806 people; it's May 1, and the state has lost nearly 1,000 more than that.

The virus is still killing someone in the tri-state area every 2 minutes. Yet, as the governors lay out their reopening blueprints, there have been key signs of progress. New York state is averaging fewer than 1,000 new daily hospitalizations for the first time in a month, though Cuomo says it's still too high. He plans to speak with hospitals later Friday to learn more about the new cases as he tries to establish a more target-specific approach to containing future spread.

Meanwhile, the USNS Comfort has departed New York City; the U.S. Army is leaving Javits Center. Cuomo says Javits will be converted from a military operation to a temporary state-run medical facility.

New Jersey had been reporting slowing infection rates and dips in hospitalizations; those numbers saw an uptick in recent days. But the state reported its fewest number of people on ventilators since April 4 on Thursday. Death is a lagging indicator. As New York's curve showed, once the number of critically ill begins to consistently decline, daily fatalities begin to ebb, too.

It's an agonizing wait. The entire process has been agonizing -- and as tens of thousands grieve, millions of people are anxious to move forward.

The upcoming weekend, with 70-degree temperatures and partly sunny skies, may be the first true test of tri-state residents' commitment to social distancing since officials reported some "good news" on the virus front.

New Jersey's golf courses and state parks reopen to visitors this weekend. Face coverings are recommended, but not mandated. Capacity is still limited at state parks, and the state Department of Environmental Protection had one piece of advice for those who were thinking of heading out to one this weekend: "Go before you go" — meaning use the bathroom before leaving home, as park restrooms will still be closed. Playgrounds will also be off-limits, and no groups, gatherings or contact sports will be allowed.

Murphy said Friday he wouldn't hesitate to rescind the reopening if "knuckleheads" fail to follow social distancing and other public safety measures, and called this weekend "a huge test" for the state. Here's a complete list of the parks reopening.

While the state and county parks are reopening, some municipal and local parks will still remain closed, with leaders of those cities and towns saying the level of infections is still too high.

New York's Westchester County is opening two more of its golf courses and is set to restart its Bicycle Sundays program. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio says 1,000 non-NYPD social distancing staffers will be out to reinforce guidance. The city plans to dole out 100,000 free masks in parks, with more handouts coming. It's opening up 40 miles of streets to pedestrians in May; the first 7 miles open Monday and are strategically selected near parks to expand already open spaces. The city plans to open up to 100 miles of streets in the coming months.

De Blasio said the city has a chance to turn the tide on the virus in May, though he acknowledged it would be increasingly hard for many to stay inside.

"March was a shocking month like nothing we have seen in the history of this city. The beginning of April was extremely troubling," de Blasio said Friday. "We've got a long way to go but I think May is going to be a decisive month, a chance for us to do something great in this city."

The mayor showed a series of charts that crystallize the city's progress over the last two months: New daily hospitalizations dropped from a high of 850 at the beginning of the crisis to just 136 at last report. The graph showed a sharp drop in the last month, though there have been small upticks at times.

A chart showing critically ill patients also showed a decline, but the trend down was far less marked than the daily hospitalizations graphic. The third key metric de Blasio tracks as he looks toward reopening, percentage of people testing positive, has been notably down over the past week, though it may be the most volatile metric of the three.

"It still shows we're decelerating," the mayor said. "Decelerating is the name of the game."

Connecticut has been the least impacted of the three tri-states, reporting 2,339 fatalities to date and far fewer total positive cases. The IHME model puts it far behind New York and New Jersey on the overall virus curve; it says Connecticut could look to relax restrictions after June 21, well past the May 29 date it most recently set for the other two states.

At the same time, Gov. Ned Lamont has unveiled a plan to reopen the state, at least on a limited basis, by May 20, sooner than the other governors. Like the other governors, he requires a 14-day decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations before the plan can begin. The state hit Day 9 on that scale Friday.

He includes other criteria similar to the New York and New Jersey governors on testing, contact tracing, social distancing and healthcare system capacity.

If all goes well, it would be possible for restaurants (outdoor only, no bar areas) to reopen on May 20; remaining retail, museums and zoos, hair and nail services, and business offices might be able to reopen. Businesses would still be encouraged to work from home, where possible. The personal care industry has been a controversial topic on the national front, given the proximity it requires.

The businesses listed by Lamont represent about 30 percent of Connecticut's unemployment claims, according to Josh Geballe, chief operating officer for the state. Nationally, 30.3 million people have filed jobless claims in the last six weeks. That is more than the populations of the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas combined, and it’s by far the worst string of layoffs on record. It adds up to almost one in five American workers.

White House Reopening Guidelines Leave Room for Interpretation

For states considering lifting quarantine measures, the official guidelines propose either a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases within two weeks or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests.

As shown below, when you compare yesterday’s new case count with that of two weeks ago, the number is often lower, simply because the counts fluctuate. The criteria has been criticized by some for being vague, creating the opportunity for any governor to argue the numbers are favorable enough to start reopening.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

Amid Cloud of Uncertainty, Major Study Offers 1st Real Hope on Treatment

We don't even know how many are really infected. The tri-state area has reported more than 458,000 confirmed cases to date: 308,314 in New York, 121,190 in New Jersey and 28,764 in Connecticut. Early antibody testing in New York indicates the actual case total could be 10 times higher. New York City alone has reported more than 169,000 cases; data shows it may have had up to 2.1 million.

Cuomo has said the crisis won't really be "over" until there's a vaccine. More than 70 of those are in development worldwide, but approval could be at least 12 to 18 months out. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, says the nation could be in for a "bad fall" if no effective treatment emerges.

Fortunately, Fauci, along with other health experts, seemed to be impressed by the findings from Gilead Sciences' latest clinical trial on Remdesivir, one of the most prominent experimental drugs for COVID-19. Preliminary results found it shortened the recovery time by an average of four days for hospitalized patients.

"You do now have a drug that you have proven can actually work on the virus," Fauci told The Associated Press. "Will it be an overwhelming cure? No, of course not." But it can certainly help free up hospital beds, he said.

No treatment currently is approved for treating the virus, which has killed more than 230,000 people worldwide since it emerged late last year. On Friday, the FDA granted emergency use authorization to Remdesivir saying that its performance warranted the decision, though regulators acknowledged “there is limited information known about the safety and effectiveness of using remdesivir.”

In normal times the FDA requires “substantial evidence” of a drug’s safety and effectiveness, usually through one or more large, rigorously controlled patient studies. But during public health emergencies the agency can waive those standards, simply requiring that an experimental drug’s potential benefits outweigh its risks.

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