CAPITAL REGION — There was relatively good news on the COVID-19 front Saturday, as the statewide death toll on Friday dropped from 630 to 540, meaning the number of deaths has dropped nearly one-third since the high point of the pandemic, just ten days ago.
The peak was 799 deaths on April 8. There have now been 13,362 deaths statewide from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, by far the most in the nation, with 94 percent of deaths in New York City and its suburbs.
“If you look at the past three days you could argue that we are past the plateau and we’re starting to descend which would be very good news,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. “Again, it’s only three days, but that’s what the numbers would start to suggest and you see that basically across the board.”
Cuomo, at his daily briefing at the state Capitol, said the number of deaths remains tragically high, but in addition to the drop in deaths, drops in daily hospitalizations and intubations were good news. He spent much of the 45-minute briefing on what needs to happen to be able to re-open businesses shuttered by the pandemic and restart the economy once cases drop further.
“Nobody wants to reopen more than me. Nobody wants to get the economy going more than me. Nobody wants to get on with life more than me and everybody else. We’re all in the same boat. We all have the same feelings,” he said. “The tension on reopening is how fast can you reopen and what can you reopen without raising that infection rate so you go right back to where we were overwhelming the hospitals?”
Cuomo’s answer is vastly increased testing to determine who has or has had the virus, and could spread it even without having symptoms themselves. Testing capacity needs to be ramped up everywhere, he said, which requires national coordination from the federal government, due to the shortage of test kits and the needed chemical agents.
Following Cuomo’s decision Wednesday to keep business closure and state-at-home orders in place under the New York PAUSE through May 15, there have been scattered protests of the continued lockdown, as there have been in some other states. President Donald J. Trump on Twitter Friday urged governors to re-open certain states and citizens to “liberate” them, though he hasn’t yet targeted Cuomo and New York.
The two powerful Queens natives, who despite past acrimony have largely avoided criticizing each other since the pandemic started, had testy exchanges on Friday, with Trump tweeting and Cuomo responding at length during his briefing and in subsequent interviews. On Saturday, without naming Trump, Cuomo said that nobody should be taking advantage of the emotion of the moment, even as he acknowledged people are feeling frustrated, anxious, scared and angry.
“How does the situation get worse? If you politicize all that emotion. We cannot go there,” Cuomo said.
He called the current public health threat the greatest crisis the country has faced since World War II. “This is no time and no place for division,” he said. “We have our hands full as it is. Let’s just stay together and let’s work it through and that’s why we’re called the United States, right?”
Public protests over New York’s coronavirus restrictions were virtually non-existent until last week — but that is changing.
There was a small and brief protest of the May 15 PAUSE extension and the new face mask use requirement outside the state Capitol on Wednesday. Frustration is also growing in the North Country, which has relatively few cases of COVID-19.
In Watertown, there was a protest Saturday morning, with vehicles circling a city park and honking their horns, the Watertown Daily Times reported. Jefferson County, the dairy-centric county where Watertown is located, hadn’t had its first COVID death as of Friday, though the state Health Department reported 50 confirmed cases there. Neighboring Lewis County has only eight confirmed cases.
Without giving specifics, and while saying approaches need to be coordinated, Cuomo acknowledged there could be different re-opening strategies for different parts of the state — though he said he’s not ready for any regions to re-open in the immediate future. “We’re going to talk about different strategies in different parts of the state,” he said. “You do have different situations, based on different numbers.”
In other developments on Saturday:
- Cuomo issued a new executive order that will allow remote issuing of marriage licenses, and video wedding ceremonies. Current law requires obtaining a marriage license in person, but many city and town clerks have temporarily closed, preventing New Yorkers from getting a marriage license; the executive order will temporarily suspend a provision of law that requires in-person visits.
- Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s secretary, said the state is starting to implement a new policy to release inmates from state prison if they are age 55, have less than 90 days left in their sentence, and are serving time for a non-violent crime. That will result in the immediate release of about 200 inmates, and more inmates will be released as they meet the release criteria, she said. The releases are part of an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread in state prisons.
- Saratoga County officials announced two more residents had died of COVID-19, the eighth and ninth to pass away since the pandemic arrived. One was a 61-year-old man from Clifton Park, the other a 77-year-old man from Mechanicville. The county has 259 confirmed cases, with 11 people hospitalized.
- Schenectady County reported 311 confirmed cases, up nearly 50 from the day before. The death toll remains 14. Albany County has 621 confirmed cases, and its death toll stands at 20. Montgomery County has 34 cases with two deaths, Fulton County 27 cases with two deaths, and Schoharie County, 20 cases with one death.
- The Schenectady County COVID-19 Emergency Response Coalition announced plans for a drive-thru food distribution event on Wednesday, April 22, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., in the back parking lot of Schenectady County Community College. The event will involve no-contact, no-cost distribution of fresh produce, dairy, and frozen meats, as well as non-perishable foods. Participants must be county residents.
- State Attorney General Letitia James issued guidance to banks, creditors and debt collectors telling them the $1,200 federal stimulus checks people are now receiving are exempt from debt collection efforts under state law.