This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Monday, May 18th, 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, as well as what the upstate reopening means; 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.
5:10 p.m.: New York State has paid $9.2 billion in benefits since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. But tens of thousands of claims remain pending because additional information is missing or other issues—like suspected fraud or duplicate applications from New Yorkers who filed more than once.
At a press call on Monday, Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon announced that 1.2 million applications submitted between March 2nd and April 22nd have been approved and are now payable. New Yorkers only need to re-certify their claim each week, or back certify online if they had not certified in previous weeks.
"I want to address the quote-unquote backlog that we're asked about on every press call," Reardon told reporters Monday afternoon. "As I've previously explained, this number can be misleading because the count of applications that have not yet been processed includes duplicates, applications that were abandoned, and applications that only contain partial information."
"In other words, the data is not straight forward," she said.
Over that time period, 50,000 people who'd applied weren't eligible, and they've been provided details on how to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a federal program that expanded unemployment to freelancers and gig workers who aren't typically covered by the state's unemployment insurance.
Another 16,000 are either in the final stages and will be payable soon or are waiting on additional information to complete the claim. Some applicants require additional information to prevent fraud.
Then, there are 23,000 applications that haven't begun to be processed since they are missing critical information—like a social security number or even someone's name—or they're duplicates. A majority of applications with missing information require the federal employment identification number, which can be found on a someone's W-2 tax form.
All told, about 2 million people have lost work since the beginning of the crisis, according to the federal labor department's weekly report. The state labor department announced May 13th that 330,000 unemployment payments for freelancers under PUA had been approved. But the federal labor department's weekly report showed just about 21,000 were receiving payments through April 25th. A spokesperson for Governor's office, Jack Sterne, said the discrepancy is due to new progress made on freelancers' claims between then and now, though the numbers may not include PUA claims prior to when the feds began reporting PUA versus unemployment claims. More data on PUA claims will be available in the next week or so, he said.
Those who applied less than three weeks ago are not included in the latest backlog numbers since their claims would be considered new.
"That doesn't mean every single person has been cleared from the backlog," the governor's secretary Melissa DeRosa said during a press briefing on Monday. "It's the majority of the people that have been cleared from the backlog."
She added: "For the people who are outstanding, that is now the exception not the rule."
Governor Andrew Cuomo said another added pressure is ensuring unemployment benefits aren't being paid to those defrauding the system.
"I guarantee you a few weeks from now, I'm going to be at a press conference like this and someone's going to say, 'People are really angry that you gave out a lot of money and the people didn't exist and they were just computer scam artists and how did you not know,'" Cuomo said.
Reardon did not provide numbers on how many applications are suspected of fraud.
NYC Health Commissioner Issues Public Apology To NYPD
2:50 p.m. Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city's health commissioner, issued an apology on Monday for a remark she made during the height of the coronavirus crisis to a police department officer after he asked her to provide the NYPD with 500,000 N-95 masks.
“The members of the NYPD fight valiantly every day to keep New Yorkers safe. In mid-March, I was asked to provide the NYPD with a half million N-95 masks, while masks and other PPE were in terribly short supply," Barbot said in a statement. "I wished we had sufficient numbers to meet their full request and were ultimately able to partially fulfill what was sought. This regrettably led to an argument in which words were exchanged between a police official and myself. I apologized to that police official then and today, I apologize to the NYPD for leaving any impression whatsoever that I don’t have utmost respect for our police department, which plays a critical role on the frontlines each and every day to keep our city safe.”
Barbot's public apology comes days after Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he would look into the incident, which was first reported last week by the New York Post. Citing an anonymous source, the paper reported that during an argument over masks with NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan, Barbot had said, “I don’t give two rats’ asses about your cops."
Barbot did not deny the report. The Health Department issued a statement saying that she had already apologized to Monahan "for her contribution to the exchange." The city's health department eventually sent 250,000 masks to the NYPD.
But de Blasio last week said that if the story were true, Barbot would need to issue a public apology.
"I need to understand what happened here, I am concerned about it. It does need to be addressed," he said last Thursday. "If what is being reported is accurate, the commissioner needs to apologize to the men and women of the NYPD, unquestionably."
The Post story, which came amid a widening rift between de Blasio and his health department, provoked a misogynistic attack on Barbot from a police union leader and also raised questions about her future in the administration. Barbot, who was until last week a regular participant in de Blasio's daily coronavirus press conferences,
Earlier this month, the mayor controversially stripped away the traditional task of contact tracing from the Health Department and instead put the public hospital system, Health and Hospitals, in charge of the effort. Prior city health commissioners as well as elected officials have questioned de Blasio on the decision. Last Friday, the City Council held a committee hearing to examine the change.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson criticized the “serious dysfunction playing out behind the scenes” in the mayor’s office at a moment "when New Yorkers desperately need to have confidence in their city government.”
“That confidence is being eroded daily by leaks and agency-vs.-agency infighting," Johnson said. "The future of this city is literally hanging in the balance. Enough is enough."
Facing Criticism For Response, Cuomo Says State Will Send 320,000 Testing Kits To Nursing Homes
1 p.m. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday said that the state will send 320,000 coronavirus tests to nursing homes in New York to help facilitate a recent mandate that requires them to have their staff tested twice weekly for the virus.
"These are senior citizens and I want to be able to say on behalf of the state we did everything we could," Cuomo said during a press conference in Buffalo.
The governor has been facing increasing criticism for how the state handled outbreaks at nursing home and assisted care facilities. The two groups were considered the most vulnerable population for the virus given their age and congregate dwelling circumstances.
Early on, the state took a hands-off approach, saying most of the nursing homes were private facilities that were responsible for managing the crisis on their own. As a result, some state Republican leaders and nursing home advocates said that the state was late to provide testing as well as report statistics on deaths at nursing home and assisted facilities.
As of Saturday, the state has confirmed more than 3,000 deaths in New York nursing home and assisted living facilities. Approximately 2,700 additional deaths in these facilities have been identified as probable. These tallies do not include residents who were transferred to hospitals and died there.
Nursing home staffers complained for weeks about a lack of access to testing as well as personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, families of residents who were prevented from entering the homes said they were kept in the dark about the conditions. Like New Jersey, New York state officials also ordered all nursing homes to accept recovering coronavirus patients, a move that critics say beleaguered those facilities.
Last week, the directors of five nursing home industry trade organizations questioned the feasibility of the governor's order for twice a week testing of nursing home staffers, which would have amounted to testing 140,000 employees.
“There are not sufficient testing supplies to accommodate this new demand,” the letter read. “Simply put, the State must take ‘ownership’ of ensuring that sufficient testing materials will be made available to all facilities to enable them to meet any deadline.”
On Sunday, Cuomo pushed back against the accusation that the state had failed to do enough for nursing home residents. His administration has said that it provided more than 10 million pieces of protective equipment to nursing homes and created a database of hundreds of volunteers that nursing homes were able to access.
"Older people, vulnerable people are going to die from this virus," he said. "That is going to happen despite whatever you do. Because with all our progress as a society, we can't keep everyone alive."
145 NYC Children Identified With Covid-Linked Illness
11:30 a.m. The number of children in New York City diagnosed with a rare illness linked to coronavirus has now grown to 145, eight more than the prior day.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the latest number on Monday during his daily press briefing. It has been two weeks since city health officials first alerted healthcare providers about the condition now being called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). At that time, only 15 children had been identified as having the illness, which can lead to multiple organ failure and shock.
The increased case numbers on Monday reflected an expanded list of criteria following a flurry of attention and investigation by broader public health agencies. The state Department of Health last week had released a list of additional symptoms. On Friday, one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a national health advisory about the illness, the World Health Organization released a briefing citing a list of preliminary symptoms and called on health practitioners to submit their data to the agency so that they can track the global cases.
In addition to persistent fever, rash, abdominal pain, and a red tongue, the city is now advising parents to look out for conjuntivitis (red or pink eyes), enlarged lymph node "gland" on one side of the neck, red cracked lips and swollen hands and feet.
Three children in New York have died from the syndrome, including a 5-year-old in New York City.
The WHO said that based on tests, the majority of the patients have showed positive tests for antibodies for coronavirus. Similarly, the state Department of Health has said that 90 percent of the children with the syndrome have tested positive for COVID-19 either by diagnostic, antibody testing or both.
Pediatric experts are still learning about the illness and why it suddenly appears to be affecting children.
"It is not yet clear the full spectrum of disease, and whether the geographical distribution in Europe and North America reflects a true pattern, or if the condition has simply not been recognized elsewhere," the WHO wrote in its briefing.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that given that the impact of the virus is still being understood, the pediatric syndrome could be much more widespread. Children who have been sickened with the illness in New York have ranged in ages from those in infancy to young adults as old as 21.
However, the CDC in its advisory noted, "It is currently unknown if multisystem inflammatory syndrome is specific to children or if it also occurs in adults."
First Covid Vaccine Tested On Humans Shows Promising Results
In what could present a possible breakthrough for fighting the coronavirus, Moderna, a Massachusetts biotech company, announced on Monday that its vaccine candidate has been tested safely on humans and showed promising results.
Eight patients who were delivered two doses of the experimental drug had developed antibodies against coronvirus that were similar or greater than those levels found in patients who have recovered. The drug was determined to be "generally safe and well tolerated."
The Federal Drug Administration recently granted Moderna a fast track designation on its proposed vaccine. A phase two study with 600 patients is already underway. The company is now planning a phase 3 clinical trial in July. Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, told the New York Times that should all of the trials show good results, a vaccine could become available for widespread use by the end of this year or early 2021.
If the drug is approved, the company has indicated that it is prepared to produce a large number of doses.
“We are investing to scale up manufacturing so we can maximize the number of doses we can produce to help protect as many people as we can from SARS-CoV-2,” said Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer at Moderna, in the press release on Monday.
While the news on Monday was the most encouraging to date about a possible vaccine, Moderna has faced scrutiny in recent days for an apparent conflict of interest involving one of its former high level employees.
Last Friday, it was announced that one of its directors, Moncef Slaoui, had stepped down from the board to serve as a chief scientist for the so-called "Operation Warp Speed," a White House-led effort create a public-private partnership that would ramp up the timeline for a vaccine.
“Mr. President, I have very recently seen early data from a clinical trial with a coronavirus vaccine,” Slaoui said, during a press conference with President Trump on Friday. “These data make me feel even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020.”
Slaoui, however, still owns stock options in Moderna worth $10 million, leading watchdogs to criticize his new role.
"Slaoui’s blatant financial conflicts of interest disqualify him for the role of vaccine czar, unless he commits immediately to global vaccine access conditions over the obvious profit interests of the corporations he serves," said Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen.
He added: "If the Trump administration approaches vaccine development as it has COVID-19 prevention, testing and treatment, the world may be in for years of more extraordinary pain. The dangers of global vaccine rationing are profound. No one corporation has the capacity to deliver a vaccine to all the world’s people.
Moderna has also received $483 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a federal agency, according to the Washington Post.