Schools and bars shut as virus deaths tick up in New York
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York leaders took a series of unprecedented steps Sunday to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including canceling schools and extinguishing most nightlife in New York City.
Multiple school systems across New York announced Sunday that they would be shutting down as the state grappled with a deepening crisis caused by the coronavirus.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s 1.1 million-pupil system would halt classes until at least April 20.
In a late-evening order, the Democrat also said he would sign an order Monday limiting restaurants and bars to takeout and delivery only. The order, which would take effect Tuesday at 9 a.m., would also shut down all nightclubs, movie theaters and concert venues.
Schools also shut on Long Island. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said all public and private schools in the county adjacent to New York City will close for two weeks. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also ordered all schools in his county closed.
In both New York City and Nassau County, arrangements were being made to provide “grab-and-go” meals to youngsters who need them and to let teachers and administrators continue to use the schools for “distance-based learning.”
Westchester County just north of New York City is closing schools midweek.
At the other end of the state, Erie County Executive Mark Polonzarz declared a state of emergency Sunday and said all schools in the county, including in Buffalo, would be closed Monday. He said three Erie County residents have tested positive for the virus and are in quarantine at home.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had resisted calls for the schools to close, saying he worried it would not only disrupt education but possibly cause health care workers who are parents to have to stay home with their kids. But he said he changed his mind as the tally of cases rose.
“This is a very troubling moment. A moment where I am just distraught,” de Blasio said. “I became convinced over the course today that there’s no other choice.”
The number of fatalities in the state caused by the virus leaped to at least six, according to officials.
Four deaths, all in New York City, were reported by city officials Sunday. They included two victims in their 70s who had substantial health problems besides the virus and two people in their 50s, also with health problems.
Speaking at midday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the number of New Yorkers diagnosed with the virus had risen to 729, the most in any U.S. state. But he noted that more positive tests were coming in by the hour and that the tally would quickly become obsolete.
Cuomo has said he believes thousands of New Yorkers, possibly tens of thousands, already have the disease.
Cuomo said he has asked businesses to “aggressively consider work from home and voluntary closing,” adding “we could take mandatory action later on.”
Seeking to calm nerves, the governor said there would not be restrictions that would keep people from leaving New York City.
New York City has approximately 27,000 bars and restaurants. While de Blasio’s order doesn’t shut them all down, it could effectively darken many of them for the indefinite future.
“This is not a decision I make lightly. These places are part of the heart and soul of our city. They are part of what it means to be a New Yorker. But our city is facing an unprecedented threat, and we must respond with a wartime mentality,” he said in a statement announcing the order.
Allowing takeaway orders will keep many fast-service places running, but will bring an abrupt end to nights out on the town just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said forcing establishments to close or go to deliveries only might “risk their very existence.”
“Due to this mandated closure, restaurants and bars will no longer be able pay their employees, including paid sick leave for some,” he said. “Employees must be taken care of and it is now up to government to provide for them when small businesses cannot.”
He said that third-party delivery platforms should cap fees at 10%, “or many of these restaurants will close for good before the week is through.”
FEDERAL AID SOUGHT
The Army Corps of Engineers should be mobilized to help fight the coronavirus by equipping facilities like military bases or college dorms to serve as temporary medical centers, Cuomo said Sunday.
In an opinion piece published in The New York Times, the Democrat called on President Donald Trump to authorize states to expand testing capabilities, set federal standards for shutting down commerce and schools, and mobilize the military to bolster medical treatment capabilities.
“States cannot build more hospitals, acquire ventilators or modify facilities quickly enough,” Cuomo wrote, saying the expertise and equipment of the corps of engineers is “our best hope.”
In a news conference Sunday afternoon, Cuomo said his biggest worry is the limited number of intensive care unit beds statewide as more vulnerable coronavirus patients seek care in coming weeks.
Noting that the state has about 53,000 regular hospital beds and 3,000 intensive care ones, Cuomo said, “3,000 goes very quickly on any projection of these numbers.”
The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
The infected included two members of the New York Assembly, Helene Weinstein and Charles Barron, both Brooklyn Democrats.
Both lawmakers have been absent from Albany since the beginning of the month, but all legislators and staff who came into contact with them will be tested, Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement Saturday.
The Capitol is being cleaned and has been closed to visitors, they said.
Cuomo said all nonessential state government personnel have been asked to stay home from Rockland County south. That’s about half the state workforce in that area, he said.
The AP receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.