Tri-State Cases Eclipse 300k, as Many as 20k Dead; Shutdown Extended to May 15

To date, more than 313,000 have been infected and as many as 20,500 people have died in NY, NJ and CT; still, there are signs the curve is flattening

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What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York's shutdown would be extended to May 15, in coordination with other states; he says social distancing is working and changing that now could have devastating impact
  • Starting Friday, anyone age 2 and older in New York is required to wear face-coverings in public when they can't social distance; the order also applies to mass transit and for-hire vehicles
  • To date, more than 313,000 people have been infected in NY, NJ and CT and as many as 20,500 have died (including NYC's probable fatalities)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended his shutdown order to May 15 and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said his public schools would stay closed at least until then, as governors across America wage continued war against what has been dubbed the "Freddy Krueger" of viruses.

Mitigation efforts are working, they say, even amid the relentless tragedy.

Imagine MetLife Stadium jam-packed, every seat filled. Picture two more of those. Now tack on a full Madison Square Garden. Imagine if all of those people were infected with coronavirus. New York and New Jersey alone would still have more cases -- and it wouldn't be close.

Now picture a full Barclays Center. It may not even have enough seats for the tri-state's dead.

The tri-state now has 16,681 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, according to data released by the states. If the 3,914 "probable" deaths reported by New York City Thursday are added, that toll rises to nearly 20,600. It is still not entirely clear if the New York state data and the New York City data is duplicative in any way, nor is it clear when or if the states will match NYC in reporting probable deaths. Cuomo has said his team is working on it.

He added another 606 confirmed deaths Thursday to New York state's growing toll, which has now surpassed 12,000. Regionally, the tri-state area eclipsed 300,000 cases Thursday -- just 45 days after NYC reported its first case.

Amid the mounting sadness, Cuomo pointed to more signs of optimism -- another day with a net decrease in total hospitalizations, now under 18,000 and far under initial projections. Intensive care admissions were also significantly down Thursday for the first time, along with intubations. Death is a lagging indicator, meaning the toll could continue to rise even as hospitalizations and intubations decline.

To help prevent further loss, Cuomo and Murphy, whose state has lost more than 3,500 to the virus, have ordered people to cover their mouths and noses in public when they can't maintain a 6-foot distance. Cuomo expanded his executive order Thursday to apply to public transportation and for-hire vehicles. The new rules, which apply to anyone age 2 and older, take effect Friday night. Merchants are urged to enforce them.

"I can't put a mask on 17 million people," Cuomo said Thursday. "But 17 million people will do it. What they have done has worked, and what they will do will bring this state, and this nation, forward."

The objective is simple: Protect people, save lives. Get through this together.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has focused on three key daily indicators he wants to see trend down in unison for at least 10 days to signify a move to the next phase of the crisis, which he describes as low-level virus transmission. Those indicators are the number of hospitalizations, the number of ICU admissions and the percentage of people testing positive.

After some positive movement earlier in the week, all three metrics were up on Thursday.

"This is a tough day, this is not what we're looking for," de Blasio said. "But we have to do this stage by stage, day by day -- stick to it and we'll get there."

To help people quarantine who haven't been able to do so effectively — maybe they're homeless, maybe they live in high-risk multi-generational homes, maybe they're health care workers who don't want to risk infecting their families — de Blasio said the city was readying 11,000 free hotel rooms to support them.

“If there is a threat that someone might get infected in the home and it might spread amongst the members of that family, we have to guard against that,” he said.

De Blasio said the city will work with community health centers to identify who needs the service and will start moving people into hotel rooms April 22.

Ultimately, it's about slowing the rate of infection. That doesn't mean all the numbers trend in the right direction simultaneously; it doesn't mean there won't be setbacks. It's about incremental progress -- and Cuomo says New York has been making it. Because of what New Yorkers are doing.

"This means we can control the beast," Cuomo said Thursday. "We did not know for sure we could do that. Now we know we can control this disease."

According to the state's latest data, which does not yet include probable fatalities, New York has 12,192 deaths and 222,284 COVID-19 cases (NYC's share is more than 123,000 cases and 8,893 deaths, by the state's reckoning).

New Jersey had 75,317 cases and 3,518 as of Thursday. Murphy says his state has yet to hit a plateau; to help with the most critical cases, Cuomo said Thursday he'd send 100 ventilators across the river. Connecticut, meanwhile, had 971 dead and 15,884 cases as of its last report.

Lessons Learned: Path to a New Normal

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.

The question isn't so much when we'll get back to normal. It's how normal will change going forward.

President Trump sent a multi-phase rollout plan to governors on how to reopen the economy, a tactic he said could involve up to 20 lower-impact states opening up even before his hopeful May 1 date of a national reboot. On Wednesday, he declared that the nation had hit its peak of new COVID-19 cases. Just a day later, he unveiled a set of federal guidelines for how and when states can reopen.

According to the federal government's plan, there are three phases in which states can begin to get restart their economies. However, before states can begin to enter even the first phase, they must meet certain thresholds regarding cases and treatment, such as a downward trajectory of documented COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period and a robust testing program in place for at-risk health care workers.

If states meet those requirements, then they can move onto the first phase which allows for groups of 10 people or fewer to meet. Larger venues such as movie theaters, churches, ballparks and arenas can operate, but under strict distancing protocols.

Phase two allows for some nonessential travel to resume, and for groups of 50 or less to gather. More importantly, schools and daycare could reopen (and perhaps most importantly for some, bars could reopen as well, at lesser capacities). Visits to senior care centers and hospitals could resume in phase three, and people could return to working offices unrestricted, though some other restrictions could remain.

While there were no timetables set for how long states could be in each phase or when they could begin entering the process of entering phases, Trump said that there were as many as 29 states whose numbers show they could being sooner rather than later. A select few could even enter phase one as soon as Friday.

The president acknowledged hard-hit states like New York may face a more incremental reopening strategy. How we reopen, Cuomo says, is everything.

He is leading a coalition of seven governors that plans to figure out 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. Cuomo described a "gradually phased" rollout by industry Thursday, saying each industry would be assessed based on its essentiality and its risk of infections. The ones to open first will be those deemed to be the most essential with the lowest infection risk.

De Blasio said in his Thursday briefing with reporters that he told Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in a conversation the previous day that it would be “madness” to rush the restart.

“I said, ‘You know, I know you want to restart the economy. So do we. But the worst possible scenario is take your foot off the gas prematurely, the disease has a resurgence. Then everything you’re doing to try and restart, you have to stop, you have to go backwards, you have to add more restrictions you have to slow down the timeline further and you’re gonna end up waiting a long, long time before you can get people back to normal,’” de Blasio said.

De Blasio said New Yorkers should keep expectations "low for now" as far as summer as usual in the city, including beaches, sporting events and public gatherings. He also reaffirmed his contention public schools would stay closed at least until September. Cuomo has said shuttering schools effectively requires businesses to stay closed, and that the decision is up to him.

It's not just about what government does, though. 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 to achieve it, the governor says.

"This is going to be a moment of transformation for society, and we paid a very high price for it," Cuomo said. "How do we learn the lessons so this 'new normal' is a better New York? We can do things differently, and we can do things better."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo shared a slide on a regional approach to gradually reopening.

Americans are growing increasingly desperate to get back to work. Jobless claims have spiked to record numbers. Yet another astronomical number of people filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, deepening a financial crisis that may end up matching the Great Depression in its scope.

Concerns of alcoholism are on the rise. Nearly 40 percent of New Yorkers freely admit drinking while working at home. That number might be even higher -- if more still had jobs in the first place.

New Jersey officials acknowledged the psychological toll again Thursday, urging people to call their healthcare providers if they find their stress is getting in the way of their regular daily activities for several days in a row.

Regionally, the tri-state area now accounts for nearly half of all virus cases in America and about the same share of its deaths -- at least. NBC News estimates the United States has seen almost 670,000 cases and more than 33,000 fatalities.

Globally, cases surpassed the 2 million-mark Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins data.

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