Shelter in place? NYC braces but governor knocks idea down
NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City residents should be prepared for the possibility of a “shelter-in-place” order within days, though the state’s governor immediately knocked that down, saying people weren’t about to be confined to their homes. State officials on Tuesday scrambled to bring more hospital beds online as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state rose above 1,300. And a mass transit agency serving millions of passengers in New York and Connecticut said it was facing a financial “calamity.”
The latest coronavirus developments in New York:
SHELTER IN PLACE?
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that residents of the nation’s largest city should be prepared for the possibility of a “shelter-in-place” order within days, a remark that raised alarm and prompted the state’s governor two hours later to squelch the notion that a lockdown was imminent.
De Blasio stressed that no decision had been made yet, but that he wants city and state officials to make one within 48 hours, given the fast spread of the coronavirus.
“New Yorkers should be prepared right now for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order,” de Blasio said at a news briefing.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threw cold water on the idea two hours later in an interview on cable news station NY1. The Democrat said the city didn’t have the power to make such a declaration and any such order — if it didn’t cover the entire region — would prompt people to flee.
“There’s not going to be any ‘you must stay in your house,’ because, again, that will just cause people to go somewhere else, and that will be counterproductive,” Cuomo said.
“There is not going to be any quarantine, no one is going to lock you in your home. No one is going to tell you you can’t leave the city. That is not going to happen,” he said.
Such an order would represent a dramatic escalation of restrictions on the city of more than 8 million. Officials in six San Francisco Bay-area counties took that step with a shelter-in-place order that went into effect Tuesday. That order requires residents to venture outside only for food, medicine or exercise for three weeks.
Cuomo had earlier said more restrictions on business would come first.
De Blasio acknowledged such an order was not without challenges, especially for people who have lost paychecks because businesses are closed.
“A shelter in place begs a lot of questions,” he said “What is going to happen with folks who have no money? How are they going to get food? How are they going to get medicines?”
De Blasio said if people were ordered to stay home, he could use city police to enforce a “monitoring system that made sense” but didn’t elaborate, saying details were still being explored.
“We have never been here before,” he said. “I have never heard of anything like this in the history of New York City.”
PUBLIC TRANSIT CRISIS
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it is facing a “financial calamity” as ridership on subways and commuter rail lines has nose-dived as people stay home to avoid coronavirus.
MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye on Tuesday sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, saying ridership on New York City subways was down by 60%. The commuter rails were even worse — down 90% on Metro-North Railroad and 67% on the Long Island Rail Road.
Foye said the projected losses to the MTA from running trains with few fare-paying passengers would be more than $4 billion by the end of the year and asked the delegation for help in getting that amount in federal aid.
HOSPITAL BEDS NEEDED
Cuomo said Tuesday that demand for hospital beds could outstrip current capacity by tens of thousands the coronavirus outbreak reaches an expected peak in New York in 45 days.
Cuomo revealed the projections as confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus statewide shot up to more than 1,300. There were 264 hospitalizations and 12 deaths.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. 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.
State and city officials are taking extraordinary efforts to avoid a worst-case scenario. New York has jointly ordered the closings of bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses with New Jersey and Connecticut. Cuomo said the states could coordinate on more limitations.
Officials are also scrambling to increase the number of hospital beds in New York. Right now it has 53,000 beds, of which 3,000 are in intensive care units. Based on the current rate of spread, the state needs 18,600 to 37,200 intensive care beds, Cuomo said.
“The numbers are daunting,” he said.
Cuomo said the state also will need more ventilators to treat severe cases.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE
Organizers of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade gathered Tuesday for a rain-soaked march up Fifth Avenue with a banner and flags at around 7 a.m., led by police cars with flashing lights.
Hilary Beirne, chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Foundation, said about 10 parade committee members marched with an escort from the Fighting 69th regiment to preserve the tradition of “the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade marching on the streets of New York City every year since 1762.”
The shutdown of businesses throughout the state has caused an employment crisis.
State labor officials said they received 21,000 calls about unemployment benefits by noon Tuesday, compared to 2,000 calls the previous Tuesday. Visits to the agency’s website soared more than 160%. Some people complained on social media that they had trouble applying online.
Officials said staffing and hours are being expanded and applicants instructed to file claims on only certain days based on the first letter of their last name to make the filing more efficient.
With so many people being thrown out of work, Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James announced they would suspend collection of medical and student debt owed to the state for at least 30 days.
A bill expected to pass the Democratic-led Legislature Wednesday would also protect the pay and project the jobs of people forced to quarantine because of the virus.
The bill would also require businesses with at least five employees to provide five to seven days of paid sick leave.
Republicans and business groups blasted the legislation for going too far at a time when small businesses are struggling
Michael Hill reported from Albany, N.Y. Associated Press writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.
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