This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Tuesday, April 7th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

Read our guide to understanding New York on PAUSE, NY's stay-at-home order; a look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

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2:00 p.m. In an effort to "flatten the curve" and reduce the spread of coronavirus, New Jersey will close all state and county parks and forests.

"We've seen far too many instances in our parks where people are gathering and socializing in groups," Governor Phil Murphy tweeted.

As of Tuesday, there have been a total of 41,090 confirmed coronavirus cases reported in New Jersey and 1,005 deaths linked to the disease. The state's caseload and fatalities are the second highest in the country, after New York.

Governor Cuomo has repeatedly singled out New York City residents for failing to follow the rules of social distancing. Last week, the governor ordered the closure of all city playgrounds.

During Monday's press conference, he showed photos of gatherings in Brooklyn's Domino Park and Manhattan's Union Square as examples.

In response, he raised the maximum fine for failure to follow social distancing rules to $1,000 from $500. The governor also urged local police to get tougher on enforcement. Last week, there were reports of several arrests by NYPD for people who were "hanging out."

The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on New Jersey's latest measure. Cuomo has said that he has tried to coordinate policies within the tri-state region.

Some experts have argued that keeping open spaces accessible during the COVID-19 crisis is imperative to maintaining people's physical and mental health.

Murphy's order does not apply to city parks, but last month, Hoboken closed its parks for two weeks in anticipation of coronavirus cases reaching their apex.

More than two weeks into the statewide stay-at-home order, New York City has struggled to address social gatherings in city parks. On Monday, Mayor de Blasio announced the end to a pilot project that opened a small handful of city streets to pedestrians only, citing poor attendance and the demand on NYPD resources.

The decision was criticized by some who also argued that pilot didn't go far enough in trying to give New Yorkers more space.

"As playgrounds close and parks become crowded, people seeking exercise and fresh air to get through this stressful time need more space to spread out, not less," said Brooklyn City Councilmember Brad Lander. "People do need to observe physical distancing more diligently, but these 6 blocks were not nearly enough to meet the needs of many neighborhoods and now there is even less opportunity for people to be outside safely."

Crew Member On Comfort Ship Tests Positive For COVID-19

Chris Jones / Gothamist

A crew member of the USNS Comfort, a military hospital ship docked in New York harbor, has tested positive for coronavirus, according to a Navy spokesperson on Tuesday.

The individual has self-isolated while others are being monitored for symptoms.

Commander Ashley Hockycko, a Navy spokesperson, said that the crew member was not in contact with any patients aboard the ship. It was not clear how the person became infected.

Following a request from Governor Cuomo on Monday, the ship began accepting patients with COVID-19. But the change in policy forced a new reconfiguration which reduced the Comfort's capacity from 1,000 to 500 beds.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 50 patients have been treated aboard the Comfort, according to the Navy. Last week, Michael Dowling, the CEO of Northwell Health who is leading the state’s hospital task force on coronavirus, criticized the Navy for treating relatively few and healthy patients as well as taking too long to accept transfers from other hospitals.

Hockycko said the ship was working with New York City hospitals as well as the Javits Center, another federally-run hospital facility, to admit patients with trauma and others requiring emergency and urgent care.

"There’s a coordination aspect to ensure that they're able to accept and take care of patients," she said.

New York State Sees Highest Single-Day Death Toll, As Cuomo Projects A Plateau

12:30 p.m. New York state saw its largest jump in deaths from COVID-19 to date, a staggering 731 new fatalities in a single 24-hour period.

The total brings the number of statewide victims to 5,489. It follows a two-day period in which daily deaths decreased. The previous single day record, reported on April 4th, was 630 deaths.

“Behind everyone of those numbers is an individual, is a family, is a mother, is a father, is a brother, is a sister," Governor Andrew Cuomo said during a press conference in Albany. "So, a lot of pain again today.”

Despite the grim milestone, Cuomo voiced tentative optimism on Tuesday that cases in New York were reaching a plateau. Stressing that deaths were a lagging indicator, he noted the three-day rate of hospitalizations and daily intubations had begun slowing down in recent days.

But it remains uncertain whether those trends reflect the reality in New York. As emergency workers have changed their protocols for who gets hospitalized, the city has seen roughly 200 residents die in their homes each day, a tenfold increase from before the pandemic.

While many of those fatalities are not counted in the city or state totals, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday morning that the "vast majority" are likely related to coronavirus.

Cuomo did not offer a county-by-county breakdown of the daily death tally in his briefing, so it was unclear how many of the state's total deaths from yesterday were from NYC. The NYC overnight death toll was 464, and the number of fatalities recorded from Monday morning to Tuesday morning was 727, the mayor said. There have been consistent discrepancies between the city and state numbers.

The governor also said on Tuesday that the state now has enough hospital beds and ventilators for the time being, but needed to increase both medical staff and testing. The USNS Comfort, which has been sitting mostly empty on Manhattan's west side, now has federal permission to begin accepting COVID-19 patients, he said.

Cuomo added that he would be signing an executive order later in the day that formalizes the $1,000 fine for people who are not observing social distancing rules. And he urged New Yorkers to continue isolating, even as the nice weather makes staying inside more difficult.

“To the extent that we see a flattening or a possible plateau, that’s because of what we are doing, and we have to keep doing it," Cuomo said.

NYC Sees One-Day Death Toll Spike To All-Time High

11 a.m. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city's public hospitals saw the total number of coronavirus patients requiring ventilators remain level on Monday, the first time in two weeks that demand for the life-sustaining breathing equipment did not increase.

During a press conference on Tuesday in Chinatown, De Blasio called the trend an encouraging sign, but warned that more data would be necessary to draw a firm conclusion.

"We’ll have to see in the days ahead to see if it’s something that’s sustained," he said.

"No one should let their guard down," he added.

The news about ventilators came as the reports of coronavirus death in NYC dramatically increased. Since Monday, 727 people in the city were reported as having died from coronavirus, the highest one-day death toll to date. All told, there are 72,324 confirmed cases, according to the city's latest report.

Deaths are considered a lagging indicator. The state has estimated that about 20 percent of all patients who require a ventilator will eventually die.

About 830 people are currently intubated across New York City's 11 public hospitals, the largest hospital system in the city. The mayor did not provide data on the private and independent hospitals, but on Sunday he said 4,000 coronavirus patients were currently being kept alive on ventilators across the city.

On average, each day about 200 to 300 patients are being intubated and need ventilators.

The one day plateau will effectively buy the city more time to acquire more ventilators. On Sunday, the mayor said that the city had only enough ventilators for the next two to three days.

On Sunday, de Blasio said that the city needed another 1,000-1,500 ventilators to get through to next Sunday, April 12th. He did not provide a new estimate on Tuesday.

The mayor began his morning by visiting with food service workers at P.S. 1, one of the city's 434 meal distribution centers. Over the last three weeks, the city has provided 2.6 million meals to New Yorkers through the "grab-and-go" program that was initially designed for city school children and their families and later expanded for all residents in need.

As the coronavirus crisis continues into its second month, the mayor has stressed the need to ensure access to food, especially as tens of thousands have been laid off due to shutdowns. Last week, he tapped Kathryn Garcia, the city's sanitation commissioner, as the city's food czar to oversee the effort.

"There’s a new front opening up," he said. "We have to be there for people who need food. We can’t have any New Yorker go hungry."

De Blasio Says Vast Majority Of Home Deaths Are COVID-19 Related

De Blasio said he assumed that many people who die at home before they can get to hospitals had COVID-19 even though the city's health department is not reporting those numbers to the public as suspected COVID-19 deaths. 

“I am assuming the vast majority of those deaths are Coronavirus related,” de Blasio said. “It’s understandable in a crisis that being able to make the confirmation is harder to do with all the resources stretched so thin.”

More than 2,000 New Yorkers have died in their homes since March 20th, according to FDNY statistics, that’s almost as many as confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the city.

Gothamist/WNYC has reported a dramatic surge in first responder calls where people have died in their homes outside of hospital settings, a 400 percent increase compared to the same two-week period last year, about 200 deaths at home each day. The city’s medical examiner refers these cases as “probable” COVID-19 deaths, but the health department is only reporting laboratory confirmed COVID deaths to the public, suggesting a dramatic undercount in the city’s death toll.

When asked about the report, the Mayor acknowledged that the actual number of COVID-19 deaths is likely much higher than the numbers the city is reporting. 

“The first thing we are focused on is saving the next life,” he said. “So we do want to know the truth about every death at home but it’s safe to assume that the vast majority are coronavirus related, and that makes it even more sober the sense of how many people we are losing.”

With reporting from Gwynne Hogan

New Study Shows Link Between Air Pollution And COVID-19 Death Rate

A new study from Harvard found that greater exposure to air pollution is directly correlated with higher death rates from coronavirus.

Researchers from Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined 3,080 counties in the United States and measured the level of dangerous particulate matter in the air known as PM2.5. It found that a small increase in long-term exposure to PM.2.5 leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate.

Specifically, an increase in one unit of long-term exposure to PM2.5 is associated with a 15 percent increase in the COVID-19 mortality rate.

The paper represents the first nationwide study showing a statistical link between pollution and coronavirus death rates.

As of Monday evening, there were 68,776 confirmed coronavirus cases in New York City. At least 2,738 have died across the five boroughs.

Its analysis showed that had Manhattan lowered its PM2.5 by one unit, the borough could have expected to see 248 fewer COVID-19 deaths among the total of 1,905 deaths leading up to April 4th.

The Bronx, which has long been associated with air pollution and high rates of asthma, has had the highest fatality rate from coronavirus in the city. The borough is currently neck and neck with Queens in cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people. The infection rate in the Bronx is 927 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 928 cases per 100,000 people in Queens, according to the city’s most recent data. As of 5:30 p.m. on Monday, the city had confirmed 679 coronavirus deaths in the Bronx and 876 coronavirus deaths in Queens.

The City recently reported that those infected with coronavirus die at a rate three times higher than residents in Manhattan.

Across the globe, pollution levels have fallen due to drops in travel and industrial activity in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The results of this study also underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations during the COVID-19 crisis," the authors wrote. "Based on our result, we anticipate a failure to do so can potentially increase the COVID-19 death toll and hospitalizations, further burdening our healthcare system and drawing resources away from COVID-19 patients."