This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Sunday, March 22nd, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here. Our guide to understanding New York on PAUSE, NY's stay-at-home order; is here; 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.

You can send us tips/questions/comments at tips@gothamist.com.

Mayor De Blasio: No More Team Sports In Parks, But We'll Keep Playgrounds Open (For Now)

Responding to Governor Andrew Cuomo's demand that NYC figure out a plan to reduce the crowding in parks, Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers Sunday, "You can't play team sports at this point. It's going to be quite a while before you can do that."

The Parks Enforcement Police and NYPD will help enforce this. But the city will not close playgrounds; the mayor reminded parents that they need to be responsible for their children, because the playground equipment will not "be sanitized... They never are," saying it would be a "Herculean" effort that would have to happen every five minutes.

"Parents have to make their own choices for the next week for what they feel is appropriate," de Blasio said, adding that next week might be different. "If parents are being responsible, we'll keep them open but if we see people are taking advantage or not paying attention to rules... we'll have to at that point strongly consider shutting them down."

The mayor is open to Cuomo's suggestion of possibly shutting down some streets to traffic to create more exercise space for pedestrians, but the challenge is that if we put "barriers at ends of the block, everyone would come out and hang out like normal. We cant have that."

De Blasio acknowledged people's desire to go outside and get exercise, but urged people to get home as soon as possible. Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot made the point more forcefully: "I want [New Yorkers] to special attention to distance. It's not about time as much as it is about distance. The longer someone stays outside, the greater the risk you'll come into contact with someone within six feet."

The mayor again criticized the federal government for not acting decisively on bringing needed medical supplies to area hospitals, as NYC is the epicenter of cases in the United States. There have been "no specifics from FEMA about what we'll get and when," he said, adding that he was furious at the lack of action from Washington.

NYPD Visited Over 7,000 Supermarkets, Pharmacies, Bars, Restaurants To Enforce Social Distancing

With numerous businesses closed, the NYC Police Department announced that it "began a new series of patrols in connection with monitoring locations and educating members of the public on safe social distancing," a press release from the department explained.

According to the NYPD, officers are telling citizens to "be aware of their distance from each other." Here are their stats from Saturday:

  • NYPD officers visited 1,647 Supermarkets / Pharmacies and only issued three verbal (3) warnings for crowd conditions
  • NYPD officers visited 5,559 Bars / Restaurants / Clubs of which 4,111 were closed
  • One (1) summons in the Bronx for Failure to Comply
  • Two (2) arrests in Queens for Unlicensed Bottle Club

The police will also be visiting hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors, and other businesses that closed yesterday.

NewYork-Presbyterian Said To Be Excluding All Visitors, Including Partners, For Women In Labor

In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals, NewYork-Presbyterian, one of the biggest hospital systems in New York City, has reportedly banned all visitors, including partners, for women in labor.

The policy change, which had been talked about by some doulas late last week, was reported Sunday morning by a Propublica editor. NewYork-Presbyterian has 10 hospital locations in New York City. Its decision could have broader implications on other hospitals in New York City.

Efforts to reach a NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital spokesperson on Sunday were not successful.

Under the state Department of Health's guidelines to hospitals dated March 21st, the state considers one support person "essential to patient care throughout labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period."

The guidance states that the support person can be the patient’s spouse, partner, sibling, doula, or another person they choose.

Gessica Lesser, 34, said she was just informed by her doula about the new rule and word of such a change had been floating around last week. The Williamsburg resident is due to deliver her first child in late May at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan hospital.

The rule would also apply to doulas, professionals hired to support and provide guidance to expectant mothers during pregnancy and labor. One New York doula, Jessica Pournaras, recently started a petition against the policy.

Lessler said that while she understood why the hospital was enforcing such strict visitation rules, she was worried about the prospect of hours of having to undergo labor by herself.

"The thought of doing that experience for the first time myself sounds very scary and nerve-wracking," she said. She added that her husband was even more upset at the idea of being shut out of his child's birth. "It's our first child," she said. "It's an experience we want to be able to share together."

She said that they have been talking about other options, including doing a home birth as well as going to a hospital further upstate where her husband's family lives. She has yet to speak with her obstetrician, who recently informed patients that she would be performing house visits to limit their risk of exposure.

Home birthing, unfortunately, is not covered by their insurance plan, which is provided by Aetna.

Asked about the reported policy change, Governor Andrew Cuomo at his press conference replied only, "That is not my area of expertise."

Little is known about the effects of coronavirus on pregnant mothers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “We do not currently know if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public nor whether they are more likely to have serious illness as a result.”
But the CDC also warns that “pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may increase their risk of some infections. With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses.”

Governor Cuomo's office

Cuomo: NY State Has 53,000 Hospital Beds But We Might Need 110,000 Beds

During his Sunday press conference, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a number of ways he was working to increase the number of hospital beds in the state. As he outlined it, there are currently 53,000 hospital beds, but "right now the curve suggests we may need 110,000."

Four locations of hospitals to be built by the Army Corps of Engineers were confirmed: SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Westbury, the Westchester Convention Center, and the Jacob Javits Center. All those locations would have indoor hospitals, and staff could live at the SUNY dorms.

At the Jacob Javits Center, Cuomo said he also wanted FEMA to build four FEMA hospitals, which would have 250 beds each. The FEMA hospitals would be staffed and have supplies, while the other hospitals, built by ACOE, do not have staff and have supplies.

Amidst his desires for the federal government to act, paramount is getting the White House to spur companies into producing necessary equipment for health care workers. While the Trump Administration has repeatedly said they will let private companies offer their services, Cuomo's issue is that it forces states and countries to compete with each other.

He also said he wanted all hospitals to double their capacity, but he would accept an increase of 50%. All elective surgery should be cancelled by Wednesday (Mayor Bill de Blasio also asked for a wind-down of electives in NYC by the end of last week), which would free up some beds.

Governor Cuomo's office

There are now 15,168 cases, an increase of 4,812 since his Saturday update. This is due to the dramatic increase in testing. In NYC, there are 9,045 cases; other leading counties are Nassau with 1,900 and Westchester at 1,873. The hospitalization rate is 13%, with 1,974 people out of 15,168 cases. Cuomo paused while mentioned that 114 people have died, noting that was a tragedy.

He also emphasized that young people need to get serious about the disease, pointing out that 53% of the cases in New York so far have been people between 18 and 49 years of age, plus that older people and those with pre-existing condition can die from it.

Cuomo was disturbed about seeing the crowds in NYC parks on Saturday, calling it "arrogant," "insensitive," and "disrespectful of other people." He demanded that NYC officials to come up with plan to reduce density within 24 hours. He was incredulous that he saw people playing basketball, "You can't stay six feet away while playing basketball. Well, you can, but then you're a lousy player and you'll lose."

On an optimistic note, he revealed that Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton had recovered. Cotton's diagnosis was revealed on March 9, and Cuomo said that Cotton stayed at home for the past couple weeks and now tested negative.

"Don't be reactive at this point to this situation. Yes, you are out of control in many ways. You're out of control to this virus. You're out of work, situation's changing... you don't know how long this is going to go on. It's a very frightening feeling, that is true. But you can also take back some control," he said, during a moment where he offered "personal advice." "Start to anticipate and plan what's going to go on—plans for the negatives and plan for the positives... there are real economic consequences, how do you handle [them], you're not alone, it's the whole United States... think through the social issues. It would be unnatural if you didn't have a flood of emotions going on."

"When you stay home, remember the expression 'cabin fever'? [But] you don't want to be isolated emotionally. You want to talk to people, write letters," he said. He acknowledged the "emotional complexities" of families now being cooped up together with work from home and remote school learning. "Normally the kids are out, you're at work... now you're all in the same place for 24 hours... it's complicated. I live alone, and I'm even getting annoyed with the dog being in one place."

"This is not a short-term situation. This is not a long weekend. This is not a week," Cuomo said. "The timeline, nobody can tell you, it depends on how we handle it. But 40%, up to 80% of the population will wind up getting this virus. All we're trying to do is stop the spread, but it will spread, it is that contagious. That's nothing to panic over, unless you're older, with an underlying illness... it's going to resolve. It's going to work its way through society."

However, he continued, "It's going to be four months, six months, nine months... no one can tell you" how long this will take. "But it is in that range. So plan accordingly... [After this] we're are going to be the better for it... Dealing with hardship actually makes you stronger... Life is not about avoiding challenges... Life is going to knock you on your rear end at one point... And then life becomes overcoming those challenges. That's what life is about. and that's what this country is about. America is America because we overcome adversity and challenges."

"We're going to overcome this and America will be the greater for it," he said. "And my hope is that New York will lead the way for it."

AboveTheLaw Legal Blog Founder David Lat Placed On A Ventilator 

Lawyer and founder of the AboveTheLaw legal blog, David Lat, has been placed on a ventilator after he became sick with COVID-19.

Lat, who has been battling the virus for about two weeks, was put on the ventilator sometime over the weekend after his oxygen levels decreased, according to the New York Law Journal, which first wrote about Lat’s condition. 

“They’re giving him a number of different treatments at NYU Langone and we’re just hoping that one of them starts kicking in and working, although it’s going to take time,” his husband Zachary Baron Shemtob told Gothamist in a phone interview. Lat remained on a ventilator Sunday morning, Shemtob said. Family and loved ones are unable to visit Lat in the hospital. 

Lat, 44, founded the AboveTheLaw blog and is a managing director at Lateral Link. Shemtob and Lat have been together for a decade and are raising a 2.5-year-old son.

“He’s one of the most lively, funny, just amazing people on Earth,” Shemtob said. “Truly such an original human being in so many ways.” Shemtob said he has received an outpouring of support in recent days. 

In tweets about his experience while hospitalized with the virus, Lat wanted to spread the message about how serious the virus can be, even for overall healthy people. 

“If he could get this and be in this condition then I think everyone really needs to take that seriously and understand that this affects the young and people in good health as well,” siad Shemtob, who was a presumed positive COVID-19 case after dealing with similar symptoms he has mostly since recovered from. 

“In my current state,” he wrote on March 17th, “I am constantly weak and winded.” 

Lat has run two New York City marathons. Shemtob said Lat has exercise-induced asthma, which he suspects could be the underlying condition making it worse. 

“This morning, this ex-marathoner could barely walk five feet from the bed to the toilet,” Lat wrote. “Today it took my 90 minutes to eat my lunch - because I kept getting winded. … I’ve had 10 days & counting, with no real improvement, of fever, fatigue, joint aches, chills, cough, respiratory difficulty. I have never been this sick in my entire life.”

A very empty Penn Station, at the Long Island Rail Road waiting area, on March 21, 2020

A very empty Penn Station on March 21, 2020

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A very empty Penn Station on March 21, 2020
Bart Ianantuoni / Gothamist

NYC Coronavirus Cases Now At Least 8,115

Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a bleak assessment of the spreading novel coronavirus pandemic on Sunday morning. During an appearance on CNN, he said, "April is going to be worse than March, and May could be worse than April."


Updated figures for COVID-19 cases in NYC released on Saturday night reveal that there were 8,115 cases, with 60 fatalities so far. This is an increase of nearly 2,000 cases since yesterday's state-wide update. (There has been increased testing across the state and especially in the city, enabling more cases to be discovered.)

City Council Member Mark Levine, who chairs the Council's health committee, shared the details:

"Hospitals are 10 days away from shortages of fundamental supplies," de Blasio said on CNN, reiterating the urgent demands that he and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have been making for the federal government to direct companies to make equipment like masks, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment health care workers need.

President Donald Trump has yet not invoked the Defense Production Act, which he signed last week and could be used to mobilize businesses to produce such equipment. On Friday, he claimed, "We are literally being besieged in a beautiful way by companies that want to do the work and help our country. We have not had a problem with that at all."

However, it's unclear what concrete efforts have been made by businesses to offer resources. De Blasio told CNN that there is "not a president in our history who wouldn't have done this already... This is greatest domestic crisis since the Great Depression."

The chair of surgery at New York-Presbyterian at Columbia University also noted the shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), as well as an increase of patients related to the coronavirus:

Barbers Close Their Doors

Ahead of the New York State on PAUSE "stay-at-home" program that begins on Sunday night, Cuomo ordered hair salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, piercing services, and other similar services to close on Saturday evening. Denny Moe, who has owned Denny Moe's Superstar Barbershop on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem for 16 years, isn't sure what will happen if he has to keep the shop closed for more than a few weeks.

"I have a bunch of people trying to get housecalls, you know, so that would help me out if I could do that," he told Gothamist/WNYC. "I just tell them, don't be offended when I come over there fully dressed, you know what I'm saying? Like masks and gloves and everything."

Timothy Polo Greene, owner of Harlem Masters Barbershop on Lenox Avenue for 20 years, said he only had a handful of customers on Saturday. He mourned the loss of community and camaraderie his shop fostered. "There's usually, you know, 8, 10 people in here, sitting down, waiting, and you know, engaging with the activities that's going on in the shop, and just, you know, meeting up," he said.