This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Monday, March 16th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here. Our guide to preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is ourregularly 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.


Here are some related stories you might want to read (or listen to):

-A Department of Correction staffer who tested positive for COVID-19 has died.
-The Met Opera will stream operas for free.
-Bars and restaurants can sell liquor to go during the shutdown.
-The Brian Lehrer Show shared tips on working from home for parents affected by the city's school closures.


Christopher Robbins / Gothamist

7:14 p.m. During Monday afternoon’s press conference, Mayor de Blasio said his administration was doing its best to allow city employees to work from home to avoid transmission of COVID-19.

New York City employs around 331,000 people, roughly 121,000 of them are teachers, who will begin teaching remotely next week. That leaves around 210,000 other workers, and the mayor said just ten percent of them, or 21,000, are able to work remotely. 

“We signed up for putting ourselves in harm’s way,” the mayor said, stressing that it was essential for many city workers to be physically on the job. “If we get sick that’s the price of admission.”

But one healthcare worker on Rikers Island told Gothamist that there are plenty of other city staff who shouldn’t be forced to come in and risk exposing themselves or others to the virus.

“There's just an assumed attitude you signed up for some kind of heroism. I don't think that's a fair assumption,” the worker said, asking us to withhold their name because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

“Several of us have families, we're vulnerable, there's people around us who are vulnerable. We're gonna be bringing ourselves to the inmates who are vulnerable, it just doesn't feel thoughtful at all that many of us are not being considered. There's many of us who should not be required to be at work right now,” the worker said. 

Some staff are not able to perform their normal jobs because of the protective measures, the worker said.

“If you're talking about a pandemic, does a psych worker make sense? Doctors? Nurses? Yes. But Social workers? Discharge planning? Therapists? And some non-essential clinic staff? No, not really, especially if you're being made to come to work and do nothing.”

The worker urged the mayor to “Say something. Say we're paid, not paid, whatever, just acknowledge us.”

5:15 p.m. Mayor de Blasio on Monday laid out an aggressive plan to build out thousands of hospital beds in the next few weeks to handle a coronavirus crisis that is expected to push the city’s healthcare system to the brink.

“It will get a lot worse before it gets better,” Mayor de Blasio said during a press conference. “We understand that so many people are going to be affected by this.”

In the most drastic recommendation yet, he instructed even healthy New Yorkers to spend as much time as they can at home.

As of Monday, the city had 463 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Day by day, the mayor’s message on the outbreak has become increasingly dire and in line with Governor Cuomo, who outlined the plan to build out additional hospital facilities earlier in the morning.

For New York City, the state set a targeted hospital bed count of 5,000.

But during his briefing, De Blasio unveiled a plan to bring roughly 8,200 beds across the five boroughs within the next several weeks.

About 1,200 beds will come from four existing facilities, including a newly built but unoccupied nursing home in Brooklyn as well as two city hospitals in the Bronx: Westchester Square and North Central Bronx. A closed city hospital on Roosevelt Island called Coler will provide an additional location.

Another 7,000 beds will be created at existing hospitals by expediting discharging procedures, calling all hospitals to cancel elective surgeries and building out additional space in city hospitals.

“This will be a race against time to create these facilities,” he said. “We have no choice but to expand rapidly and be ready for anything.”

The city has also procured 11 tents to set intensive care units. Another 10 to 20 are coming, the mayor said.

The city is also planning to reserve 250 hotel rooms in five small hotels for use as quarantine space for city workers.

In an effort to seek reinforcement for the city’s health care workers, who are expected to become depleted at some point, de Blasio said the city would seek help from the U.S. military’s medical staff. Assistance may also be sought from doctors and nurses in other states.

“We’re going to need all of this help to get through this,” the mayor said.

In recent days, De Blasio has been criticized for taking too long in addressing the crisis and introducing what now feels like a whiplash-inducing sense of urgency.

There were some early missteps. Early on, he told New Yorkers to "get to a doctor" or a hospital even as many physicians complained that their offices and ERs were not equipped to handle infectious patients. The safer advice, they said, was to call ahead.

On Monday, de Blasio appeared to have finally come around. "Do not go to the emergency room unless it is an emergency," he said.

On the other hand, his stubborn refusal to back down at times has demonstrated his ability to examine all sides of a what has been a truly challenging crisis. Even as he was attacked late last week for his refusal to close city schools, his explanation reflected an understanding of the toll it would take on vulnerable children and working class families. He also rightly pointed out that healthcare workers and other city employees who provide essential services would be left without childcare if the schools shut down.

Earlier in the day, he was portrayed in the media as a hypocrite for taking the time to travel from Gracie Mansion in Manhattan to his regular gym at the YMCA in Park Slope. Under the state's rules, all gyms must close after 8 p.m. Monday

"I knew in advance it was a very socially distanced situation," he said. "There was almost no one there. This was the last chance to get some exercise."

Pressed as to whether he was setting a bad example, the mayor was unapologetic.

"I am very comfortable with what I did," he said.

Federal Government Advises Against Gatherings Of More Than 10 People, Trump Says Outbreak Could Last Thru Summer

4:20 p.m. The U.S. coronavirus task force is now recommending that people avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, a significant shift in policy reflecting the worsening crisis.

As recently as Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country's leading public health agency, urged the cancelations of all gatherings with 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.

President Trump delivered the news during a White House press conference, in which he also said that the task force believed that the outbreak could last through July or August.

He said administration officials were not considering a nationwide lockdown, but said, "We may look at certain hotspots."

Asked if he would fulfill Governor Cuomo's request to send in the Army Corps of Engineers to help New York state build out emergency hospitals to handle coronavirus patients, Trump said, "We hope we don’t have to get there."

Later on, he said, "We're looking into it very strongly."

Earlier in the day, following a conference call with the nation's governors, Trump tweeted, "Very good tele-conference with Nation’s Governors. Went very well. Cuomo of New York has to 'do more.'"

Jen Chung contributed reporting.

State Will Add Three More Drive-Through Testing Sites

2: 39 p.m. New York will create three drive-through COVID-19 testing facilities in Staten Island, Long Island and Westchester.

The state's first drive-through testing site opened last Friday in New Rochelle, which has been battling a large outbreak of the disease. The facility can test 200 people daily. It is reserved only for Westchester residents with priority given to high-risk individuals in New Rochelle.

Cuomo said the state is looking to replicate the New Rochelle model, where testing time has averaged less than 15 minutes per driver.

Drive-through testing has been cited as one of reasons South Korea has been able to slow its rate of infection. The process diverts patients away from hospital emergency rooms, where they risk infecting others.

Westchester has recorded a total of 220 known cases of coronavirus, while Long Island has 172 confirmed cases of coronavirus. According to the latest breakdown provided by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Staten Island has 16 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the fewest of any borough.

Cuomo said the decision to locate the drive-through site in Staten Island was because the borough has relatively few hospitals and a large proportion of drivers. The exact location of the Staten Island site is TBD.

"It's critical to expand testing in a manner that doesn't overwhelm our hospitals and healthcare providers," said Max Rose, the Democratic congressman who represents Staten Island, in a statement. "Drive-through testing is a proven way to do that and I thank the Governor working with us to make Staten Island be the first site in the city."

"Try Getting It Yourselves": Trump Reportedly Told Governors Not To Rely On Federal Government To Buy Medical Equipment For Coronavirus Patients

US President Donald Trump, with members of the COVID-19 coronavirus task force, responds to a question from the news media during a press conference in the press briefing room

US President Donald Trump, with members of the COVID-19 coronavirus task force, responds to a question from the news media during a press conference in the press briefing room.

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US President Donald Trump, with members of the COVID-19 coronavirus task force, responds to a question from the news media during a press conference in the press briefing room.
Shutterstock

1:20 p.m. President Trump reportedly told a group of governors on Monday morning not to wait for the federal government to buy much needed equipment for patients infected with coronavirus.
“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Mr. Trump told the governors during a conference call, which was shared with and reported by the New York Times. “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”

The report did not identify the governors but it comes after Cuomo spent the morning repeatedly criticizing the president on the lack of a nationalized response to the coronavirus. On Sunday, he wrote an open letter to Trump asking him to send the Army Corps of Engineers to build hospitals in New York in preparation for a surge of coronavirus patients.

The Times said the governors on the call were surprised at the president's response.

The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request asking if Cuomo had been on the call with Trump. The governor was occupied with press appearances and briefings most of the morning.

The two, however, engaged in a war of words on Twitter. "Cuomo of New York has to 'do more,'" said Trump in a tweet.

During his press conference, Cuomo said states are currently unable to buy medical equipment related to treating coronavirus because the global demand has eclipsed supply. He said the best way to acquire items like ventilators and oxygen tanks would be from the federal government, which has emergency reserves of medical equipment.

The White House has yet to respond to Cuomo's request for federal assistance to build hospitals. In the interim, the governor said he is moving with his own plan, but the state will still require funding.

Cuomo Unveils Plan To Add Hospital Beds

Shutterstock

12:10 p.m. New York state is initiating a plan to add an additional 9,000 hospital beds in hopes of preventing infected patients from overwhelming the state's healthcare system.

New York now has 950 confirmed cases, the most of any state in the U.S. The state of Washington has the second most recorded cases, that of 676. Due to the relatively limited testing thus far, the actual number of infected cases is widely believed to be much higher.

Here in New York City, the number of known cases is 463, an increase of 134 overnight. To date, seven people in New York state have died from complications related to coronavirus, an increase of two from Sunday.

During a press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was going to enlist the National Guard, building unions, and private developers to retrofit existing state and municipal buildings to accommodate hospital beds. He cited student dorms and nursing homes as examples of facilities that could more readily be converted for medical uses.

The plan is his backup in the event that the federal government fails to respond to his request to send in the Army Corps of Engineers to build out the hospitals. With either plan, the state would require federal aid.

Statewide there are 53,000 hospital beds, which include about 3,200 intensive-care unit beds, according to the American Hospital Association. The state Department of Health is planning to suspend regulations to allow existing hospitals to increase space and capacity.

In New York City, the state has identified a goal of adding 5,000 beds. Cuomo said it will be up to each municipality to locate facilities that can be adapted. The city currently has about 20,000 total beds. Of that number, an estimated 1,200 hospital beds have already been reserved for coronavirus patients.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital announced on Saturday that it would postpone all elective surgeries until further notice. New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation plans to do the same, according to the New York Times. Mayor de Blasio has also ordered all city hospitals to suspend elective surgeries.

Previously, Cuomo had also suggested the possibility of moving some patients in downstate areas to upstate hospitals in an effort to alleviate overcrowding.

The targeted number of new beds to prepare for COVID-19 on Long Island is 2,000. Westchester County, which has 222 confirmed cases, the most per capita in the state, is set to gain 2,000 beds under the plan.

Cuomo prefaced that these targets were conservative. He said all of the projections he has seen to date have suggested that the coronavirus pandemic would produce an "avalanche on the healthcare system."

Tri-State Region Will Coordinate Response To Coronavirus

Fewer commuters have gone through Grand Central during the coronovirus pandemic.

Photo by Daniel Alonso

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Photo by Daniel Alonso
Photo by Daniel Alonso

10:45 a.m. New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey will coordinate their policies to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Gatherings of more than 50 people will be prohibited in all three states. Beginning 8 p.m. Monday, all casinos, movie theaters and gyms in the tri-state region will be closed for the foreseeable future. Restaurants and bars will only be open for take-out and delivery service.

Mayor de Blasio, however, on Sunday said that the restrictions on bars and restaurants and other venues would take effect Tuesday morning.

The states are also strongly discouraging non-essential travel within their borders from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

"We have agreed to a common set of rules that will pertain in all of our states," Cuomo said during a phone press conference. He was joined by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.

Cuomo also announced that he was closing all state schools in New York for at least two weeks.

The coordination of the three Democratic governors is the latest indication that the region is bracing for a surge in coronavirus cases. New York has the largest number of cases in the country, with the most recent tally of known cases at 732. New Jersey has 98 confirmed cases and Connecticut has 26.

Over the last few days, Cuomo has been urging the federal government to enact a national response of shutdowns and restrictions rather than risk a "patchwork quilt" of measures which would only allow people to escape restrictions by going to another state. In doing so, they risk further spreading the disease.

The governors said they were also reaching out to Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Cuomo said he believed New York, New Jersey and Connecticut represented the first region to devise the same rules and restrictions toward containing the pandemic.

"You're going to see more and more of this," Cuomo said.

Jake Dobkin contributed reporting.

"We Have A Pending Catastrophe"

Appearing on three back to back television programs Monday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo repeated his warning that New York is on the brink of a hospital crisis caused by the fast-growing spread of COVID-19.

"We have a pending catastrophe when this wave of growth crashes on the hospital system," Cuomo said on CNN.

New York has 3,000 ICU beds statewide, only 600 of which are currently available. Cuomo on Sunday wrote a New York Times op-ed, in which he urged President Donald Trump to send the Army Corps of Engineers to help the state retrofit buildings as hospital facilities to prepare for a surge of patients.

Michael Donnelly, a data analyst for Facebook has projected that that New York will start running out of hospital beds by early April. His analysis has attracted the attention of City Council members.

"There has been no country that has handled this without a national response," Cuomo said.

He added that he would be "announcing more actions today."

As of Sunday evening, New York had 729 coronavirus cases. Of them, 329 were in New York City. Over the weekend, five people died across the state, marking the first fatalities from the disease.

In the span of a week, elected officials have swung from trying to contain the virus and keeping significant sectors of the economy running to a broader shutdown involving the closure of the city school system, Broadway theaters and large gatherings exceeding 500 people.

On Sunday night, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an order that shuttered nightclubs, movie theaters and concert venues and restricted bars and restaurants to providing take-only service only, effective Tuesday morning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, has recommended canceling all gatherings with 50 people or more across the United States for the next eight weeks.

New Yorkers now face a grim new reality, with hundreds of thousands of people in the restaurant and entertainment sector without a job, and more than a million children with schooling interrupted until at least April 20th but possibly for the rest of the school year.

"I fear that this crisis is going to start to crescendo through April and May before it gets better," de Blasio said on MSNBC.

Similar to Cuomo, the mayor called on the federal government to provide military assistance as well as economic relief.

He likened the current public health crisis to that of the Great Depression, which ushered in historic safety social net programs under President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

"A lot of lives are going to collapse if there's no money flowing into their hands," he said.

Sophia Chang contributed reporting to this story.