This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Friday, March 13th, 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 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.
6:45 p.m. At a press conference on Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio stuck to his plan to keep the public schools open during the COVID-19 epidemic.
School attendance on Friday slid to 68 percent, a significant drop from 85 percent on Thursday. There was a "slight uptick" in the number of teachers who were absent, according to Richard Carranza, the city schools chancellor.
There are currently 154 coronavirus cases in New York City. And according to an earlier breakdown by borough, 35 are in Manhattan, 24 in Brooklyn, 26 in Queens, 13 in the Bronx, and five in Staten Island.
Elected officials, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, parents and the teachers union have all called on de Blasio to shut city schools, saying that the move would stem the spread of the disease as well as protect the health of students, teachers and other staff members.
But the mayor remained resolute in his decision, calling it difficult and complex. He described three interconnected pillars in the city: the public schools, mass transit, and the city's healthcare system
"My goal is to keep all three of those going as effectively as we can," he said.
During the 2009 swine flu crisis, Mayor Mike Bloomberg closed schools on a case by case basis. In the end, nearly 60 schools closed.
One of de Blasio's looming concerns with school closures is its impact on doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who will become critical once patients infected with the disease start to overwhelm hospitals.
On Friday, 1199 SEIU, the city's largest union that represents healthcare workers, issued a statement in support of de Blasio's stance.
“While calls to close New York City’s public schools are being received, we urge Mayor de Blasio to recognize the plight of the healthcare workers, transit workers, and other essential workers who are unable to take time off," wrote the union president, George Gresham. "These hardworking women and men rely on our public schools to not only educate their children, but to provide a safe environment for them while their parents work."
De Blasio pointed to the statement, and said he had also spoken to Michael Mulgrew, the head of the teacher's union on Friday.
Three schools that closed Friday due to coronavirus concerns—New Dorp High School and the Hungerford School, which share a building in Staten Island, and Brooklyn College Academy—are set to reopen on Monday.
The closure of the Staten Island School followed a confirmed case of coronavirus in a student at the Hungerford School. Brooklyn College Academy, which is located on the campus of Brooklyn College was forced to shutter after the college received a self-reported but unverified positive test by a student and decided to close its campus.
Brooklyn Occupational Center, a program for medically vulnerable students located at four different sites, would remain closed until further notice. In that case, a teacher self-reported a positive case that was confirmed by the Department of Health later in the day.
Asked if there was an attendance threshold in which he would feel forced to close city schools, de Blasio said, "There's a really high bar for shut down."
He warned that a shutdown could result in unintended consequences on the lives of children and working parents.
"If you shut down, you have to be ready that might be it for the school year, that it might be it for the calendar year," he said.
Trump Declares National Emergency
4:30 p.m. President Trump has declared a national emergency, a measure that will enable states and localities to tap into $50 billion in federal funding to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The declaration will allow the U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar to waive certain federal regulations that will give hospitals and healthcare providers more flexibility to respond to the epidemic. For example, one waiver would allow doctors to practice in other states where they are not licensed, in order to provide extra staffing to states with the worst outbreaks. Other rules, such as the maximum number of beds and stay requirements, could also be lifted.
In addition, Trump called on every hospital in the nation to activate their emergency preparedness plans.
Doctors would also be able to practice "telehealth," which allows them to provide care using videoconferencing, the internet, and phone.
"No resource will be spared," Trump said at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.
In a targeted relief for college students, many of whom have seen in-person classes suspended as a result of the virus, Trump also waived interest payments of students loans for the foreseeable future.
He also announced partnerships with the private sector: Google will be tapped to develop a website to help screen people for COVID-19, while Walmart will allow the federal government to use its parking lots to facilitate drive-through testing.
Trump has been widely criticized for failing to take the epidemic seriously and initiate aggressive testing measures that have helped countries like China and South Korea contain the new virus. South Korea has been testing 10,000 people a day. Total testing numbers in the U.S. have been confusing and elusive, but the New York Times reported that the overall number of those tested to date in the U.S. is fewer than 15,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The president's speech on Friday comes one day after the U.S. stock market suffered its worse losses since the 1987 crash. Analysts attributed the market turmoil to a lack of sufficient government action. Still, Trump continued to defend his response, singling out his early travel ban on China as instrumental to keeping the virus at bay.
"We've done a great job because we acted quickly, we acted early," he said.
Earlier on Friday, the Federal Drug Administration announced that it had gave Swiss health care giant Roche emergency permission to sell its test to U.S. labs and said it was working with private companies to accelerate the development of one-hour tests.
Trump said he expected 500,000 tests to be available by early next week at locations to be announced.
"This will pass," he said. "And we’ll be stronger for it."
Cases In New York Rise To 421, Cuomo Urges Public To Prepare For "Months" Of Outbreaks
2:40 p.m. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday urged the public to gird themselves for what is likely to be a months-long ordeal that will disrupt and impact the lives of many New Yorkers.
“This is not going to be a quick situation,” he said, adding that it would last for "weeks, months."
“My guess is there are thousands and thousands of cases walking around the state of New York. Thinking you’re going to escape coming into contact with this, it’s not going to happen.”
There are now 421 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, an increase of 96 overnight. New York and Washington, which also has more than 400 cases, have been neck-and-neck in the number of infections.
As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,800 people across 47 states have contracted the disease. At least 41 people in the U.S. have died.
New York City has 154 cases, a jump of 59.
As the situation becomes more dire, the state and city has imposed what may have once been unthinkable restrictions. On Thursday, Cuomo moved to ban gatherings of over 500 people, effectively shutting down large sporting arenas. Broadway shows were forced to suspend performances on Thursday night.
In New York City, Mayor de Blasio has declared a state of emergency.
Putting the crisis in the most personal terms to date, the governor revealed that one of his own daughters had been forced into quarantine as a precaution.
“That’s my daughter,” he said. “That’s everything to me.”
Still, even as the crisis worsens, Cuomo has stressed that roughly 80 percent of people infected with coronavirus get better on their own.
The most vulnerable are older adults and those with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung cancer, who are prone to developing potentially deadly complications.
Foremost on the state’s priorities is preparing for what is expected to be a surge of coronavirus cases that require hospitalizations.
Of the current 421 people in the state who have tested positive, 50 —or 12 percent— have been hospitalized. Eighteen are in intensive care units.
Across New York, there are 53,000 hospital beds, 3,200 of which are in ICUs.
Cuomo said he feared that the numbers would not be sufficient. One option the state is weighing is to canceling some elective surgeries.
“We do not have the capacity to create additional beds,” he said. “What you can do is free up existing ICU beds to handle a surge.”
He said that looking at the projections, without aggressive containment measures, the virus could become a “a tsunami that totally swaps the existing hospital system.”
On the topic of testing, Cuomo said that the federal government had given the state permission to authorize 28 labs in New York run testing for the virus.
Starting Wednesday, the state expects to run 5,000 tests a day.
City Council Members, Teachers Union Urge De Blasio To Close City Schools
2:12 p.m. As the number of reported COVID-19 cases rises, Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing mounting pressure from elected officials, parents, and health experts to close the city's public schools. On Friday afternoon, the United Federation of Teachers, the union that represents most teachers in the system, joined the rapidly growing list of groups calling for a schools shutdown.
"We don’t suggest this lightly. We understand the immense disruption this will create for our families," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. "But right now more than a million students and staff crisscross the city every day on their way to schools, putting themselves and others at risk of exposure and increasing the likelihood of bringing exposure into their homes and communities."
Council Speaker Corey Johnson also announced his support for closing schools in a tweet on Friday, saying that it was "time to act." Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger has proposed a “summer school” approach, in which a handful of schools would stay home to serve the most at-risk students.
From the start of the crisis, the mayor been adamant about keeping the schools open, since they are a form of childcare for many working parents and also provide meals and social services to roughly 700,000 of the city’s low-income students. On Friday, he told WNYC's Brian Lehrer that closing schools would be a serious disruption in the lives of many parents. “If they can’t have their kids in school, everything else is going to change in their lives.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that the decision should be made by local officials, and clarified Friday that no school would lose state funds for not making up the required 180 days of school. The premise that closing schools would reduce the spread of the virus is "debatable," he added.
On Friday, Los Angeles and San Diego Unified School Districts, the two largest districts in California, announced that they will close on Monday. Los Angeles is the second largest school district in the country, after New York City, with 600,000 students. San Diego's school district has around 121,000 students. The NYC public school system currently has 1,126,501 students.
The two school districts in California now join a host of others in the country, including Seattle, San Francisco and Washington D.C., that have decided to shutter schools due to fear of spreading the contagion and endangering students and teachers.
As of Friday morning in New York City, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced that it would close 228 Catholic elementary schools in Brooklyn and Queens next week, a decision that would impact more than 41,000 students.
Success Academy, the largest charter school network with 18,000 students, also said it would close its schools and transition to online learning.
State's First Drive-thru Clinic Now Open In Westchester
11:50 a.m. New York's first drive-through testing clinic is now open in New Rochelle.
Doctors in protective gear began administering swabs to motorists on Friday morning, as members of the National Guard stood watching in the rain.
The testing site is a six-lane drive through on Glen Island Park, a now-closed public park on the Long Island Sound, about five miles south of New Rochelle's "containment zone." The facility can currently test 200 Westchester residents daily, with priority given to high-risk individuals in New Rochelle, which has seen the country's largest confirmed outbreak of COVID-19 to date.
The testing center is being operated by Northwell Health, one of the state's approved testing providers.
At the opening Friday morning, Governor Cuomo said the site's capacity will soon ramp up to testing 500 people per day.
"Up until now if somebody thinks they’re positive, they may walk into a hospital," Cuomo told reporters. "It’s safer to keep them in their car...it's not only faster and easier, it's smarter and better."
Similar facilities have come online in recent days in Colorado, Connecticut, and Washington. The widespread availability of drive-through testing has been cited as one reason for South Korea's relative success in reducing their rate of infection.
But not all the residents have welcomed the new testing facility. "This is totally inconsiderate and preposterous that they are going to spread this virus instead of trying to contain the area where it’s most prevalent," Ivy Lolacono, who lives not far from the site, told Gothamist on Thursday.
On Friday, Cuomo once again criticized the federal government's testing process for coronavirus.
"We do have a crisis in testing," he said. "We're not up to scale. You need to change that quickly and let the federal government turn that function over to the state."
On Thursday, the Federal Drug Administration granted the go ahead for 28 labs in New York state to begin testing. The FDA also approved automated testing (see story below), a process which will significantly speed up the results and turnaround time for coronavirus tests.
According to the governor, New York will have the ability to conduct 5,000 tests per day by next week.
Westchester residents interested in getting tested at the new drive-through in New Rochelle can make appointments by calling 888-364-3065.
Federal Government Authorizes Automated Testing In NYC
11:10 a.m. The Federal Drug Administration has approved automated testing for COVID-19, a process that is expected to significantly expand testing capacity and turnaround time.
After weeks of complaints from elected officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, the drug company Roche was granted "emergency use authorization” for two of its high-volume testing systems. One can test 4,128 patients a day, while another can test as many as 1,400, according to the company.
By comparison, the city's health lab can process 60 tests a day. Cuomo has said he wanted to test 1,000 people a day.
"We’ve been pushing hard for this and we’re working to get it up and running on the ground here in NYC as fast as possible," Mayor de Blasio said in a tweet.
The U.S. has been criticized for its slow rollout of tests for coronavirus, which has frustrated local governments seeking to determine the extent of the spread. Both labs as well as any newly developed tests must be approved by the federal government.
On Thursday, the FDA authorized 28 labs in the state to perform testing. Prior to that, the Wadsworth Center in Albany and New York City's health lab have been the main testing facilities in the state. On Sunday, Northwell Health, which runs 23 hospitals in the state, received approval to begin manual testing at its lab, which can churn out 75 to 80 samples per day.
As of Thursday afternoon, 2,314 people in New York state had been tested. With the new testing capacity in New York, results are typically available within a few hours.
One Confirmed And Two Self-Reported Cases Leads To Multiple School Closures In Staten Island And Brooklyn
Six public schools sites in Staten Island and Brooklyn, along with Brooklyn College, were closed Friday due to one confirmed case of COVID-19 and another self-reported case which was not yet officially verified.
In Staten Island, New Dorp High School and the Hungerford School, which share a building, were forced to close their doors after a student tested positive for coronavirus. The test was confirmed by the Department of Health, according to a tweet early Friday morning.
New Dorp High School alone has more than 3,000 students.
Staten Island Councilmember Steven Matteo also tweeted about the confirmed case, which under state rules, will require the schools to close for at least 24 hours so that the building can be disinfected.
Another public school, Brooklyn College Academy, which is located on the Brooklyn College campus, closed because of a self-reported case of coronavirus. The small high school has an enrollment of rough 600 students.
Brooklyn College, which is part of the CUNY system, has closed its 35-acre campus in the Midwood and Flatbush area. All CUNY schools had already canceled in-person classes on Thursday but the Brooklyn College's campus and facilities had remained open.
Altogether, Brooklyn College serves 14,700 undergraduate students and 3,100 graduate students.
Brooklyn Occupational Center, a District 75 program, which serves special education students, saw all four of its program locations close after a teacher self-reported a case. According to the Department of Education, the school serves students who are "medically fragile," with a lower student to teacher ratio.
On Thursday, two schools in the South Bronx closed after a "self-confirmed" case that was not known by city health officials. But New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza later announced that the student had tested negative. Both schools, Laboratory School of Finance and Technology and South Bronx Preparatory: A College Board School, were set to reopen on Friday.
As of Friday, public schools have been closed in Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, San Francisco and the District of Columbia, for at least several weeks. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said this morning that he believes NYC should close its public schools.