This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Sunday, April 19th, 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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2:30 p.m.: Governor Andrew Cuomo said that starting Monday, the state Department of Health would roll out a large scale antibody test in an attempt to determine what percentage of New Yorkers were infected by COVID-19 and possess the antibodies. Calling it the largest survey of any state population that has been done, Cuomo said the thousands of FDA-approved tests administered over the next week will give officials hard data on the scope of coronavirus infection in New York.
Appearing at a press conference at Northwell Health Core Laboratories in Manhasset, Long Island, Cuomo said the antibody test would sample 3,000 people randomly selected to help determine the percentage of the state's population that is now immune to the virus, "allowing more individuals to safely return to work." Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said in a tweet that the number of antibody tests per capita would surpass Germany, which has achieved a "fragile interim success" at slowing the spread of the virus.
Researchers do not know how long someone who has recovered from coronavirus remains immune, or even if full immunity is certain for coronavirus patients. And shortly after Cuomo's press conference concluded, the NY Times published an article revealing a wide range of deficiencies in the current swath of antibody tests, which have been rushed to market by a variety of manufacturers. The FDA "has allowed about 90 companies, many based in China, to sell tests that have not gotten government vetting," the Times reports.
Cuomo's office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about what company developed the tests for New York State. (Northwell, where the press conference took place, is "leading the parade" on the development of diagnostic testing, Cuomo said.)
The American market has reportedly been flooded with antibody tests "of dubious" quality, and the Times reports that most tests that are currently available "mistakenly flag at least some people as having antibodies when they do not, which could foster a dangerously false belief that those people have immunity."
"People don't understand how dangerous this test is," Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told the Times. "We sacrificed quality for speed, and in the end, when it’s people's lives that are hanging in the balance, safety has to take precedence over speed."
Cuomo sounded a note of guarded optimism at Sunday's press briefing, telling reporters that data continues to suggest that New York is past the apex of coronavirus deaths, hospitalizations and intubations. 507 new deaths from COVID-19 were confirmed statewide on Saturday, down from 540 on April 17th and 630 deaths on April 16th. There were 1,384 new hospitalizations for coronavirus on Saturday, also part of a continued downward trend.
"It's good news only compared to the terrible news that we were living with," Cuomo said. "It's not time to get cocky and it's no time to get arrogant. We still have a long way to go... It's only halftime. We've shown we can control the beast. We have to make sure we keep that beast under control."
Asked about when New Yorkers could expect businesses to start to reopen, Cuomo said the "second phase" UN-PAUSE effort would happen gradually and cautiously, beginning at an undetermined date in coordination with neighborhood states. Returning to the beast metaphor, Cuomo said, "The beast is still alive. We did not kill the beast. The beast can rise up again. We know that. The virus rate is wholly dependent on you. You tell me what you do today as a society, I'll tell you how many people are going to walk into a hospital three days from today."
New Yorkers Face Fines Up To $1,000 For Social Distancing Violations, De Blasio Warns
11:30 a.m.: New Yorkers could face up to $1,000 in fines for violating social distancing instructions, Mayor Bill de Blasio reminded the public during a press briefing on Sunday.
The NYPD and Parks Department will monitor "hotspots" and will give warnings and reminders to those gathering before issuing fines. Arrests are a last resort, according to the mayor.
"No one wants to give you a fine. I don't want to give you a fine, our police, our Parks Department employees, no one wants to give you a fine. We're going to keep giving you warnings before ever having to give you a fine," de Blasio said. "But if someone ignores the instructions of our enforcement agents, we will give fines. And now, those fines could be as high as $1,000 per incident."
De Blasio encouraged New Yorkers to call 311 or file photos on the 311 app or by text to 311-692 with a photo and location.
"This is not snitching, this is saving lives," de Blasio said, likening it to the "See Something, Say Something" campaign to thwart terrorism in the city.
"Anyone who gives me a location, I will make sure the police are there," de Blasio said. "No one wants to see people get a $1,000 fine. No one wants to see this kind of enforcement action happen."
"The folks who still don't get it are going to have to pay a price," he said. "Anyone who is ignoring these instructions is putting other people's lives in danger."
At a Canarsie barbershop in Brooklyn Saturday night, police broke up a group of more than 50 people holding a party. One partygoer told the Post they were "pioneering the anti-lockdown" movement.
New York State has implemented a face covering or mask requirement for all New Yorkers at least 2 years old when going outside where it is not possible to stay six feet away from other people. Governor Andrew Cuomo said there wouldn't be fines under the executive mask order, but he is considering it. Cuomo said earlier this month that the state's social distancing fines were also increased from $500 to $1,000.
Such fines and how the coronavirus pandemic rules are enforced has raised concerns for criminal justice advocates, especially as a result of the high infection rate among the NYPD itself. In Harlem last week, a group of officers, at least one without a protective mask, dragged a child from his parents after the boy was caught selling candy on the subway train. Cuomo is also still planning to complete the hiring of 500 new cops in the subway system, despite an estimated $8 billion in losses the MTA is facing.
De Blasio also announced the three specific indicators the city has been tracking—hospital admissions, ICU patients, and the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19—were a "mixed bag" between April 16th and April 17th.
New hospital admissions ticked upwards from 261 to 317 over those two days. Those admitted into intensive care unit beds dropped from 880 to 849. The percentage of people who tested positive for COVID-19 citywide went down from 42 to 38 percent, but in public health labs, the indicator ticked upwards from 72 to 84 percent.
The mayor said "it's too soon to tell" whether the indicators are showing a plateau or if NYC is beginning to turn a corner towards a decreased number of cases.
He referenced how previous projections indicated "we were about to walk through the gates of hell" on April 5th—what he referred to as D-Day at the time—but NYC has since made progress after shelter-in-place policies were implemented.
Dr. Oxiris Barbot added, "I think it's important for us to look at these measures, but I also want to remind New Yorkers that it's normal for us to see what I refer to as a 'sawtooth pattern.'"
On Sunday, de Blasio said 1,400 medical personnel have been deployed to reinforce staffing and relieve other healthcare workers at more than 40 hospitals and more than 40 nursing homes. Another 535 military medical support from the Navy, Army, and Air Force have been sent to public hospitals in NYC. Another 600 medical personnel will be deployed to 11 of the smaller, independent hospitals.
NY, NJ, CT Governors Reopen Boatyards And Marinas For Personal Use
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo believes, based on the last three days of data, the state may be past the peak and the plateau of COVID-19 cases. And he's been seeding discussion of what might need to happen for the state to reopen while New York still has a stay-at-home order in effect until May 15th. Now Cuomo and his neighboring governors from New Jersey and Connecticut have announced the first reopening: Boatyards, marinas, and marine manufacturers.
In a tri-state press release from Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, the trio explained said that "marinas, boatyards and marine manufacturers will be allowed to open for personal use as long as strict social distancing and sanitization protocols are followed."
"Chartered watercraft services or rentals will not be allowed, and restaurant activity at these sites must be limited to take-out or delivery only, like anywhere else in the three states. This announcement aligns the policies of the three states on this particular service," the release continued.
"Throughout this pandemic, we've worked closely with our friends in neighboring states to implement a uniform regional approach to reducing the spread of the virus," Cuomo said in a statement. "Aligning our polices in this area is another example of that strong partnership, and will help ensure there is no confusion or 'state shopping' when it comes to marinas and boatyards."
Cuomo has championed the regional approach consistently—most notably when he dismissed Mayor Bill de Blasio's decision to shut down the school system for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year as an "opinion" on a matter that was solely up to the governor to decide.
Back on March 16th, Cuomo, Murphy, and Lamont jointly announced that movie theaters, gyms, and casinos would close.
"We work very well together, we've had a lot of good outings together with Governor Lamont up to Lake Ontario," Cuomo said on March 16th, to emphasize his camaraderie with Murphy and Lamont. "We went fishing. He promised he was going to return the favor. I've heard nothing from Governor Lamont since then. With Governor Murphy, I'll give you an idea—the striped bass is starting to come up. They're going to pass New Jersey first so if you have an inkling you have a ready, willing and able fishing partner."
Earlier this year, when he opened up this 2020 New York Boat Show, Cuomo said that they were expanding the Javits Center by 50% and hoped there could be even more boats displayed in the future. "Personally, boating has always been a big part of my life. I grew up boating," he revealed. "My family grew up boating, grew up fishing. And you go through my house, most of the family moments, most of pictures, you will see us in boats because those were the great family moments."