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Coronavirus crisis may last months, Cuomo says

Coronavirus crisis may last months, Cuomo says

State considering all-absentee ballots for upcoming primary elections
Coronavirus crisis may last months, Cuomo says
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

In photo: Saratoga County Sheriff Mike Zurlo, right, Bill Lewis, a volunteer from the Town of Milton Community Emergency Response Team and Saratoga County Office of Emergency Services Commissioner Carl Zeilman bring boxes of surgical masks, N95 masks and surgical gloves for Home of the Good Shepherd through the Saratoga County OES at Saratoga County Sheriff’s property in Ballston Spa on Sunday. It is the first shipment of what officials hope to be several through Saratoga County OES.


CAPITAL REGION

The coronavirus crisis will last for months, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday, while adding that people shouldn't over-react, and "life will go on."

“It is going to be four months, six months, nine months...No one can tell you," Cuomo said during the latest of what have become daily briefings on the crisis at the state Capitol in Albany.

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The total number of COVID-19 cases in the state continues to rise, and has topped 15,000, with 13 percent hospitalized and 114 deaths, Cuomo reported. Sixty percent of the cases are in New York City.

But Cuonmo also sought to reassure, and said life in many ways will be normal. "It's going to be hard. There is no doubt," he said. "I'm not minimizing it, and I don't think you should either, but at the same time it is going to be okay. We don't want to overreact, either."

"The grocery stores are going to function, there is going to be food, the transportation systems are going to function, the pharmacies are going to be open, all essential services will be maintained," he said.

Cuomo and other state officials, meanwhile, are considering whether the upcoming April 28 Democratic presidential primary and possibly other future elections can be conducted entirely by absentee ballot. "I think it's a good idea," Cuomo said.

Among the questions being studied is whether Cuomo has the power to order that under his executive authority, or whether it would require the state Legislature to amend election law, said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor. Current law allows absentee balloting only due to a voter being away on an election day, or unable to get to their polling place due to illness.

State Attorney General Letitia James on Sunday called for making the primary an all-absentee vote, citing the social distancing efforts being made to control the spread of the flu-like virus, while has spread rapidly around the world this winter, and across New York state in recent weeks. There are more than 15,000 confirmed cases in the state, the most in the nation.

"Voters shouldn't have to chose between their health and right to cast a ballot," James said Sunday morning. "If we act now, we have more than a month before the presidential primary and numerous special elections across our state to take action and ensure every eligible New York voter receives an absentee ballot. Let's make it easier for every voters to cast their ballot without spreading the coronavirus amd jeopardizing public health."

Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman on Saturday used emergency powers to cancel plans for a $12 million new fire station referendum in the village of Scotia on April 7. In addition to the April 28 primary, there will be widespread federal and state office primaries on June 23.

New York isn't the only state dealing with the issue. The Associated Press reported that 13 states, including Georgia, Ohio, Maryland, Indiana, Lousiana, Connecticut and Kentucky, have postponed planned spring primaries for the Democratic presidential nomination because of coronavirus concerns.

During his press conference, Cuomo urged the federal government to invoke the Defense Procurement Act, which would allow the government to order private industry to make masks, gowns, ventillators and other needed medical equipment. He said federal intervention is the only way to prevent the "price-gouging" caused by competition between states for limited privately made supplies.

Medical supplies are being distributed through local offices of emergency services in Saratoga and other local counties.

Cuomo also outlined plans to improvise thousands of new hospital beds in the New York City area, which has the highest number of cases. And he warned that New York is in for a long battle, and most of the population may eventually be exposed to the novel virus. He also said all hospitals in the state are being asked to increase their bed capacity at least 50 percent, and 100 percent, if possible -- and he said hospitals have been ordered to halt all non-elective non-critical surgeries, effective Wednesday, to free up existing bed capacity.

"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 percent, up to 80 percent of the population will wind up getting this virus. All we're trying to do is slow the spread, but it will spread. It is that contagious."

But, he added, most people will recover without hospital treatment. Of the 114 deaths in the state to date, 70 percent have been of people over age 70, most with an underlying health condition, Cuomo said. DeRosa later tweeted a graphic showing that more than half that group were over age 80; nobody under age 40 has died so far.

Also on Sunday:

  • Albany County had 123 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the highest in the region, according to state Department of Health figures released Sunday afternoon. County Executive Daniel P. McCoy said the county has 318 people under mandatory quarantine and another 634 people under precautionary quarantine. Six Albany County residents are hospitalized.

McCoy also encouraged children and families to send messages to residents of the Shaker Place Rehabilitation and Nursing Facility, the county-operating nursing home, since that facility has been closed to all outside visitors. E-cards can be sent to [email protected]

Among other Capital Region counties, the Health Department reported there are 41 confirmed cases in Saratoga (county officials later put the current number at 54), 39 in Schenectady, 26 in Rensselaer, three cases in Montgomery, and one each in Fulton and Schoharie counties.

  • Saratoga Springs Public Works Commissioner Anthony "Skip" Scirocco said his staff will be working only on an "as-needed" basis. People who need DPW services should call the city police department at 518-584-1800.

"The governor has directed all non-essential workforce to remain home, for DPW that means staying home and being prepared to respond as-needed, this is for the good of our personnel and to help stop the spread of COVID-19," Scirocco said. "The public can rest assured that in any emergency during this time our work force will respond and resolve the issue as quickly as possible."

The city waste transfer station on Weibel Avenue will have reduced hours, 8 a.m. through noon, Tuesday through Saturday.

  • Saratoga County and Saratoga Hospital will host a Facebook Live event to answer residents' questions at 2 p.m. Monday, March 23.

Reach staff writer Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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