New York

New Jersey Schools Closed Rest of Academic Year; New York on Brink of 20,000 Deaths

States across the country have kickstarted their reopenings in the face of much uncertainty; to date, the virus has killed nearly 70,000 people in the U.S. and infected at least 1.1 million people

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What to Know

  • Nearly 30,000 tri-state lives have been lost to date. New York state has lost at least 19,415 but reported its lowest single-day death toll in weeks Monday (226)
  • All New York and New Jersey schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Phil Murphy say
  • Cuomo outlined seven key metrics that New York regions must meet before they start to reopen; no region has achieved more than five

All New Jersey schools will stick with remote learning through the rest of the academic year, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday, issuing the same difficult decision Gov. Andrew Cuomo did in New York three days earlier.

"Guided by safety and science, this is the best course of action," Murphy said. "The reality is we cannot safely reopen schools to provide students, families, faculty, staff the confidence needed to allow a return to in-person instruction."

State officials will meet with parents and other stakeholders to consider summer courses, as well as to discuss the 2020-2021 school year, he added.

The announcements come as both New Jersey and New York see key signs of progress in their wars against COVID-19. But those progressive indicators require continued adherence to social distancing and other protocol -- measures that may be difficult to immediately implement in classroom settings, particularly those with young children.

Cuomo told New York school systems last week to start developing plans now for how to avoid setbacks should in-person instruction resume in the fall. It's still not certain that will happen at this point, nor is it clear what kind of new restrictions might be in place if it does.

Both governors are painfully conscious of the measures it took to achieve the incremental progress they have made -- and they say both states' citizens owe it to healthcare workers, and to themselves, to maintain it.

Are We Close? Cuomo Outlines New Guidelines for Regional Reopening

New York state's total COVID-19 hospitalizations fell below 10,000 for the first time since mid-March Sunday and stayed there Monday, as new daily admissions dropped below 800 for the first time in weeks. Temporary field hospitals are closing down one after the other, yet another progressive indicator as the state looks to reopen. The decline is not as steep as the incline.

"Reopening our state is far more complicated than shutting down was," Cuomo said Monday. "If you open too quickly you can immediately have a backlash."

He doesn't want to make the same mistakes he has seen in other countries. Some, Cuomo says, have reopened too quickly. Their infection rates soared. Currently, New York has an infection rate of about 0.7. If that climbs to 1, where every infected New Yorker is infecting one other person, "you have an outbreak," the governor said. "And you have to shut down everything immediately."

With some parts of New York state poised to begin reopening later this month, Cuomo clarified some of his regional guidelines on Monday. To reopen, regions with high infection rates must have at least 14 days of decline in total hospitalizations and deaths on a three-day rolling average. Regions with fewer COVID-19 cases cannot exceed 15 new total cases or five new deaths on a three-day rolling average. Hospitals can't use more than 70 percent of their capacity; if they do, their ability to handle resurgence is jeopardized.

Ultimately, there are seven key metrics Cuomo says must be met before any region in New York state can reopen. He broke the state into 10 regions and shared a graphic in his briefing Monday that showed where each one stands; none have met more than five metrics. New York City has only met three, while Long Island has achieved just two. Testing is a glaring issue in most regions.

Cuomo added another 226 lives to New York's growing death toll Monday; it was the lowest single-day number in well more than a month. The state has lost more than 19,400 people, though Cuomo acknowledges the real toll is likely higher.

If New York City's 5,373 probable fatalities were included in the official state count, it would top 25,000. The widely watched IHME, which does incorporate that data in its infection modeling, projected on April 29 that New York could ultimately lose 24,314 by May 30 to COVID-19. We're already past that.

Murphy added a new low of 45 COVID-19 deaths to New Jersey's toll Monday, though warned a network outage likely prevented complete reporting. Still, the state has reported 7,910 deaths to date, also topping the IHME's previous projection that the state could ultimately lose to the crisis.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the IHME said Monday it had revised how it makes its projections in order to give a sense of what the death toll could look like across the United States through August, and offered grim stats that show what may lie ahead over the next four months. It projects the U.S. could lose around 134,000 people in total, while the tri-state would make up more than 50,000 of those deaths (32,132 in New York and 16,044 in New Jersey alone, spikes of nearly 8,000 and 9,000 respectively from the previous projections).

The new model also shows that the country may experience a prolonged epidemic peak, including a much slower downward trajectory than previously thought and possibly averaging 2,000 deaths from COVID-19 per day for the last few weeks.

Connecticut has lost 2,556 people to date. Even without New York City's probables, the tri-state is on the brink of 30,000 deaths and likely will surpass the macabre milestone in the next two days.

People were out in force in New York City for the first time in months over the weekend; the 70-degree, sunny weather was a first true test. The city handed out 100,000 free masks to equip people with self-protection and plans to dole out another 7.5 million face-coverings citywide to arm people through the summer.

Most of the people out this past weekend were wearing masks, but police issued more than 50 summonses for social distancing violations. Three people were arrested, one in a violent confrontation with cops. The officer involved in the latter incident is now on modified duty.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday the city would soon publish a coronavirus plan for summer, including plans to celebrate the Fourth of July. Beaches will not reopen on Memorial Day as they typically do, he has said.

Overall, the curve appears to be consistently trending down. De Blasio reported his three key indicators -- people admitted to hospitals, people in intensive care and percentage of people testing positive -- were all down Monday for the first time in at least a week. We need to string together more days like that, he said.

Cuomo warned New Yorkers against taking any false comfort in the downward trends: "The war is not won."

This is not necessarily a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, the governor says. There could be a second wave; the virus could mutate. A top New York City pediatrician is warning of "alarming" new information about how COVID-19 may manifest in children. And studies show there appear to be multiple strains.

Remember, it hit the West Coast first. A recent report from the CDC indicates that was the strain that came from China; California saw far fewer cases and far less death than the Northeast. The CDC report indicates the origins of the virus in New York were European and from elsewhere within the United States; that strain appears to have been more virulent, Cuomo said.

"I would assume there's going to be 'a next time,'" the governor said Sunday.

De Blasio added Monday, "We're not going to be caught looking. We're going to be ready for it."

Lessons Learned: Building Back Better

As local governments look toward reopening, Cuomo says it's right to focus on what they should do differently rather than what they could have done differently. This crisis has provided a glut of painful lessons learned; Cuomo says they can be applied to build New York back better and stronger than it was before.

Going forward, Cuomo will require all New York hospitals, public and private, to maintain a 90-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other key medical supplies at "a rate of use during the worst of this crisis" to ensure the healthcare system is never as threatened as it was earlier this year.

For the first time since March, de Blasio said Monday New York City has enough medical supplies to get through a full week without fear of running out.

"The notion that I can tell you we have a whole week of supply ahead, that's good news but that's certainly not the way we can live going forward," de Blasio said Monday. "I never want to see New York City in this situation again."

Trying to obtain supplies like gowns and life-saving ventilator machines in this crisis turned into a rat race among the United States. In a bidding war to save the lives of their people, states ended up paying far above market price for basic needs.

To prevent that from happening in the future, Cuomo and his six Northeast governor allies in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware announced a new buying consortium Sunday.

They will purchase much-needed COVID-19 supplies together instead of competing against one another. To build up reserves, de Blasio plans to continue manufacturing items like surgical gowns and face shields locally.

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

To mitigate any lapse in distribution, the states hope to partner with suppliers in the Northeast to increase production. They will also, Cuomo says, identify untapped technologies that promise potential for alternative production methods that are more efficient. These efforts will increase the states' market power, bring down prices and ultimately save taxpayers money, Cuomo says.

As it stands, the COVID-19 crisis has dealt an economic blow to the nation and its citizens unlike any in decades. More than 30 million people filed jobless claims in the last six weeks, shattering records. The cost to the American psyche is incalculable; the crisis has cemented a new kind of fear in the public.

Uncertainty looms large. We don't even know how many people are infected. The tri-state area alone has reported more than 476,000 cases to date: 318,953 in New York, 128,269 in New Jersey and 29,973 in Connecticut. But early antibody results indicate the number of cases could actually be up to 10 times higher. According to Johns Hopkins, the disease has infected more than 250,000 people worldwide thus far.

New York has tested more than 1 million people to date, more than any country in the world apart from its own, Cuomo says. At this point, it's not possible to test every person. Cuomo says the crisis won't "really" be over until there is a vaccine.

More than 70 are in development, but approval could be at least 12 to 18 months out if not longer. Oxford scientists developing a potential vaccine for the coronavirus hope to see a “signal” as to whether their vaccine candidate is working by June.

In the meantime, a recent clinical trial on Remdesivir, Gilead Sciences' top experimental drug, showed promising results. The FDA granted emergency use authorization for the most critically ill patients last week.

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