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Construction work halted, schools closure extended due to COVID-19

Construction work halted, schools closure extended due to COVID-19

Cuomo rallies troops as case count approaches 50,000 statewide
Construction work halted, schools closure extended due to COVID-19
Gov. Andrew Cuomo applauds the men and women who built an emergency hospital Friday in Manhattan.
Photographer: Governor's Office

NEW YORK — Public schools will remain closed for two more weeks because of COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday.

Some 44,635 New Yorkers were known to have contracted the virus at the point when Cuomo gave his daily update Friday morning, with an unknown additional number infected but undiagnosed.

That was 7,377 newly confirmed cases in just 24 hours, more than any other state has in total for the last month. By Saturday morning, the number will almost certainly surpass 50,000.

Given this rate of expansion, “I believe the schools should remain closed,” Cuomo said.

“I don’t do this joyfully,” he said, adding that he’s closing schools for only two weeks at a time in the hope that the outbreak takes an unexpected turn and some part of the remaining school year can be salvaged.

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Many school districts already had shut down when Cuomo made the move mandatory March 18. That order would have expired April 1.

Also Friday, Cuomo halted many construction projects, a reversal of an earlier decision that construction work is essential, and could continue despite the contagion risk of workers in close proximity.

Now, only emergency construction projects (those involving a safety or health risk if halted) can continue, along with a types of projects deemed essential: transportation, health care facilities, affordable housing and homeless shelters.

Cuomo offered bad news and not so bad news during Friday’s briefing: The rate of increase of hospitalization is growing, but not as quickly, while the number of deaths is rapidly increasing, as the earliest COVID-19 patients, kept alive with respirators for more than two weeks in some cases, weaken and die.

“That is going to continue to go up, and that is the worst news that I could possibly tell the people of the state of New York,” Cuomo said.

The death toll stood at 519 Friday morning, up from 385 Thursday morning.

Statewide, 6,481 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Friday, 1,583 of them in intensive care units; 2,045 people who had been hospitalized since the first case was confirmed March 1 have recovered and been discharged.

RAPID RESPONSE

Cuomo spoke Friday from the Jacob Javits Center in midtown Manhattan, a cavernous convention hall in midtown Manhattan where a 1,000-bed emergency hospital has been erected in less than a week to prepare for an expected surge of sick patients.

Similar hospitals are being completed now in hard-hit Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties, and Cuomo said he’s asking the Trump administration for permission to build one more in each of New York City’s four other boroughs. That would put an emergency hospital in the eight downstate counties that are the epicenter of the pandemic here, with 91 percent of New York state’s confirmed cases.

Cuomo thanked the Army Corps of Engineers and the Javits staff for their rapid work fabricating the hospital at Javits, but he singled out the National Guard for special recognition, sounding in the process more like Henry V or Aragorn or William Wallace than a third-term governor with a progressive streak.

“You are the best of us,” he said to the men and women before him clad in camouflage fatigues. “Whenever we call on you, you are there. And what you did in this facility in one week is just incredible.

“This is not going to be a short deployment … it’s going to be a long day, it’s going to be a hard day and it’s going to be a sad day,” the governor said.

“Ten years from now, you'll be talking about today to your children or your grandchildren and you will shed a tear because you will remember the lives lost … But you will also be proud. You’ll be proud of what you did. You showed up when other people played it safe, you had the courage to show up. And you had the skill and the professionalism to make a difference and save lives.

“So I say, my friends, that we go out there today and we kick coronavirus’ ass, that’s what I say.”

PERSONAL DYNAMICS

Later Friday, Alan Chartock interviewed Cuomo on WAMC and asked him about relationship with President Trump, which had been antagonistic most of the last three years.

For the last few weeks, Cuomo has criticized the federal government and its decisions in the COVID-19 crisis, but he has refrained from lambasting Trump himself, even after sniping tweets from the president.

Someone who got angry about a Trump tweet would soon have an ulcer, Cuomo said. The tweets are emotional and provocative but not fact-based, he added.

Behind the news conferences and tweets, the two have a working relationship, Cuomo said, noting that the president has always personally taken or retuned the governor’s calls.

Cuomo offered opinion and insight on a few other matters: He’s looking for automatic formula-based budget cuts on a rolling basis through the 2020-2021 fiscal year to close a COVID-19 related budget gap of up to $15 billion; he is targeting school aid especially because New York schools will get money through the $2 trillion stimulus package. He expects pushback — the state’s teacher’s union did just that Friday afternoon, calling for higher taxes on the ultra wealthy instead of spending cuts — but he thinks cuts are necessary.

GAZETTE COVID-19 COVERAGE

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Chartock asked Cuomo about the growing call upstate for a ban on New York City area residents coming upstate — or at least a mandatory quarantine once they arrive. Cuomo has rejected the idea. He reiterated his opposition Friday:

“No. I don’t like it. I don’t like it socially or culturally. I don’t like what it says about us as one state, one family. Also, I don’t believe it’s medically justified. Our health commissioner, Howard Zucker, doesn’t recommend it.”

Some New England states have imposed travel bans and instructing their police to look specifically for New York license plates.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Some other COVID-19 developments Friday:

  • Albany County, with by far the highest number of confirmed cases in the Capital Region, will begin a partnership with the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York to supply food to needy people stuck at home in quarantine. Starting Monday, food will be staged at the Times Union Center and delivered by National Guard Members. As of Friday, the county had 782 people in mandatory or precautionary quarantine, 187 confirmed cases and 14 people hospitalized. There have been no COVID-19 related deaths in the Albany County.
  • Elsewhere in the Capital Region, Fulton County had one confirmed case Friday, Montgomery County five, Rensselaer County 35, Saratoga County 82, Schenectady County 66 and Schoharie County 3.
  • The Capital District Transportation Authority, which reduced frequency of some bus runs this past Monday due to low ridership, will increase service this coming Monday on routes that service critical facilities such as medical facilities and grocery stores. Also, CDTA will require social distancing on its buses.
  • Siena College extended remote learning to the end of the spring semester and postponed its commencement ceremonies until August. It will proceed with its summer courses, remotely if necessary.
  • The Albany Stratton VA Medical Center asked veterans to use online tools for all routine or non-emergency matters. Many appointments can be completed via telephone or video link, and prescriptions can be refilled via mobile app.
  • Quick Response said it would buy dozens of pizzas and dinner entree items several times a week from local restaurants that are struggling through the state-ordered ban on sit-down dining. The Malta-based fire restoration firm will have them delivered to various departments at most of the Capital Region’s hospitals, where medical professionals and support staff are working long hours to prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
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