Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at the opening of a New Rochelle drive-thru coroanvirus testing facility; March 13, 2020. Video courtesy of NYS Governor’s office.
New York State Team
ALBANY – At least two New York state residents have died after being infected with the novel coronavirus, marking the state’s first deaths related to the virus at the center of a global pandemic, state and local officials announced Saturday.
The deaths come as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the Empire State, which had 613 confirmed cases as of Saturday evening, a number sure to rise as the state dramatically increases its testing capacity next week.
Both victims had underlying health conditions known to exacerbate the effects of the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, officials said.
The first, an 82-year-old New York City woman who died in a Brooklyn hospital, had been battling advanced emphysema,according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The illness is a respiratory condition that can cause shortness of breath.
The second, a 64-year-old resident of the Rockland County town of Suffern, had “significant health problems which were likely contributory to death,” county Chief Medical Examiner Laura Carbone said in a statement.
More: Coronavirus timeline in New York: Here’s how we got here and where we’re headed
The Suffern resident died Thursday, according to Carbone. Cuomo said the person was receiving hospital care for other ailments and tested positive for coronavirus during the coronavirus process.
The New York City woman was first admitted to the hospital March 3, said Cuomo, who has repeatedly stressed that people who are of advanced age or have underlying respiratory conditions take caution as the virus continues to spread.
“Is it accurate to say she passed away and she had the coronavirus? Yes,” Cuomo told reporters Saturday. “It’s also accurate to say she had the coronavirus and was 82 years old and had long been suffering with emphysema.”
Coronavirus on the rise in New York
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has continued its sharp rise in New York, increasing by 193 cases from Friday and spreading to new counties like Erie, home to Buffalo.
More than 117 of the state’s total cases have resulted in hospitalization.
The total number is expected to jump as the state dramatically increases its testing capacity, with a goal of testing 6,000 people a day as soon as next week.
By Saturday afternoon, the state had tested about 4,700 people total during the outbreak. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration allowed the state to contract with private labs to increase testing capacity.
Cuomo said the state is trying to slow the rate of infection in New York. On Thursday, he announced a ban on gatherings of 500 people or more and cut occupancy by half at many other businesses, including restaurants and bars.
Of particular concern to state officials is the availability of New York hospital beds. Of the state’s 3,000 intensive care unit beds, about 80% are already occupied, he said.
“That’s what this is all about,” Cuomo said. “How can you reduce the rate of spread to a level that your hospital system can manage?”
On Saturday, the state prison system banned visitors at its facilities across the state through at least April 11, saying it is necessary to safeguard the health and safety of all incarcerated individuals, employees, as well as their families and communities.
Inmates will instead be allowed five free stamps, two free electronic messages and one free phone call per week for as long as the visitor suspension remains in place, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
The move drew immediate criticism from criminal-justice reform advocates, who said visits provide a ” lifeline to incarcerated people and their families.”
Seven advocacy groups, including VOCAL-NY and the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, called on the state to make stamps, electronic messages and phone calls free for inmates.
“Banning visits must be an absolute last resort,” the groups wrote in a joint statement. “Any visit ban should be routinely reevaluated and visiting should be reinstated as soon as public health and safety standards permit.”
Also on Saturday, NewYork-Presbyterian — one of the top hospital systems in the country — announced it was postponing all elective procedures and surgeries beginning Monday. The move was out of an “abundance of caution,” according to the hospital system.
“We believe that taking this step now is in the best interest of all, and will help us to further concentrate on the adequacy of our equipment and supplies during this challenging period,” according to a statement issued by the system.
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More details about coronavirus fight in New York
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the deceased woman was one of the city’s first confirmed cases of the coronavirus last week.
He thanked the staff of the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, where the woman was apparently treated.
Like Cuomo, de Blasio stressed that the elderly and those with underlying respiratory conditions are particularly suspect to COVID-19’s effects.
“We’ve known from the outset that these people are the most at risk in this pandemic, and today’s news is a sad confirmation of that reality,” de Blasio said in a statement.
More: Coronavirus: States across the country are closing schools. Will New York do the same?
There have been at least 48 deaths in the U.S. related to the novel coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, which has been tracking coronavirus data around the globe.
At least 37 of those have been in Washington state, where the virus spread through a Seattle-area nursing home facility.
Meanwhile, a self-quarantine directive for congregants of the Young Israel synagogue in New Rochelle will expire Saturday.
Young Israel of New Rochelle, bottom, and Wykagyl Country Club on Norrth Ave. in New Rochelle March 4, 2020. (Photo: Peter Carr and John Meore/The Journal News)
Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said they will not extend the voluntary quarantine directive, which had applied to people who attended services or events at the popular synagogue the weekend of Feb. 22.
The synagogue is at the center of a major coronavirus cluster in New Rochelle after the virus was passed to a number of congregants at the crowded events that weekend.
Those who are subject to mandatory quarantine orders — including those infected by the virus — will still be required to stay in their homes for as long as their individual order remains in place.
The state and Northwell Health, a Long Island-based health care company, set up a drive-thru coronavirus testing site in New Rochelle on Friday, opening it by appointment only to Westchester residents.
More: Coronavirus: Drive-thru testing starts in New Rochelle, site of major outbreak
Cuomo said Saturday the testing site accepted 150 cars on Friday and would expand its capacity because the testing was taking less than 15 minutes, the amount of time the state originally anticipated it would take.
The Democratic governor also said the state will expand the drive-thru testing model to Long Island, where dozens of new cases have been confirmed in recent days.
Also, Cuomo said the state would require insurers to waive co-pays for telemedicine visits, which are essentially video conferences with health care professionals.
By waiving co-pays, Cuomo said the state is hoping to discourage people with illnesses from potentially exposing others by visiting crowded doctors’ offices or other health care facilities.
“If you do have a coronavirus we don’t want you walking into an emergency room and possibly infecting other people and staff,” he said. “If you don’t have the coronavirus we don’t want you going to an emergency room where other people may have the coronavirus.”
Cuomo has continued to resist shutting down schools statewide as the outbreak spreads.
On Saturday, he repeated his argument that a statewide school closure could set off a chain of unintended consequences, including for students who rely on the school for free or reduced-price meals and parents — particularly health care workers — who rely on schools for child care.
As of Saturday afternoon, at least 12 counties across the state have canceled school beginning Monday, including Monroe, Oneida, Dutchess, Orange, Ulster, Broome and Tioga.
More: Q&A: How New York’s ban on large events, limit on occupancy will work
Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.
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