New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking what he calls “the ultimate step” in his state’s effort to stop the spread of a deadly coronavirus, signing an executive order “mandating that 100% of workforce must stay home, excluding essential services.”
The order, which Cuomo announced Friday, excludes businesses such as pharmacies and grocery stores, along with essential services such as utilities and Internet providers.
“When I talk about the most drastic action we can take — this is the most drastic action we can take,” Cuomo said.
In addition to the workforce order, all nonessential gatherings of individuals in New York state are now canceled — “of ANY size for ANY reason,” Cuomo said via Twitter. The ban applies to any party, celebration or social event.
New York has confirmed more than 7,100 cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, making it by far the largest single source of the nearly 15,500 cases now reported in the U.S. As of Friday, 38 people in the state had died from the respiratory disease. Nationwide, the coronavirus is blamed for killing at least 205 people.
Experts warn that the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to rise, as testing becomes more widely available. On Friday, Cuomo said that at least part of the reason for his state’s high number of confirmed cases is due to federal approval to carry out tests on its own, rather than waiting for the U.S. government’s system that was slowed by critical errors.
“We have the testing so high in New York right now that we’re testing, per capita, more than China or South Korea,” Cuomo said, describing the statewide effort to add drive-through testing sites and authorize laboratories to test for the coronavirus.
New York has tested more than 32,000 people for the virus, including 10,000 in one day, Cuomo said. And he said the high number of new cases — New York added some 2,900 coronavirus cases from Thursday to Friday — should not in itself worry people.
“It was the reality,” he said. “The tests are just demonstrating what was.”
But in a separate part of his news conference, the governor also said his state must add more hospital beds and ventilators to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients.
“The rate of increase in the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system,” Cuomo said.
New York is working to boost its number of hospital beds, which currently stands at around 50,000. The governor’s office says around 18% of the state’s coronavirus cases, or 1,255 people, are currently hospitalized.
To help ease the burden on the health system, the governor said, “We’re planning to cancel all non-critical elective surgeries” — adding that the policy will likely be enacted next week.
“That will free up between 25%-35% of the existing hospital beds,” Cuomo said.
In a bid to help people whose finances are hurt by the widespread disruptions from the coronavirus, Cuomo also said New York is instituting “a 90-day moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants.”
Cuomo’s new workforce policy comes one day after he ordered all businesses in New York that rely on in-office personnel to cut their in-office staffing by 75%.
“I believe these policies will save lives. And I’m not willing to put a price on a human life,” Cuomo said at a news conference late Friday morning.
The coronavirus — and the restrictions meant to address it — have forced radical changes to everyday life in New York and elsewhere. As he announced more limits, Cuomo acknowledged the complex challenge posed by the pandemic, urging people to resist the urge to be in close contact with elderly loved ones who are in the most vulnerable age group.
“The instinct to love — ‘I want to be with them… my mom wants to see the kids’ — be smart,” Cuomo said, saying that some of those competing impulses were present in his own family.
The governor also had sharp words for people who seem to view their status as being outside the vulnerable groups as a license to ignore warnings about their own health, and the impact they can have on others.
For instance, he said, anyone seeking outdoor recreation should do so alone, not in groups. At all times, he said, people should stay 6 feet away from each other.
“It’s running. It’s hiking,” Cuomo said of the preferred activities. “It’s not playing basketball with five other people. That’s not what it is. It’s not laying in a park with 10 other people and sharing a beer. That’s not what this is.”
“There are people and places in New York City where it looks like life as usual,” Cuomo said. “No. This is not life as usual. Accept it and realize it and deal with it.”
The New York order is similar to escalating steps taken in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered the state’s 40 million residents to stay at home indefinitely to stop the virus from spreading.
As of noon ET Friday, Washington state had reported 1,376 coronavirus cases, and California had reported 1,030, according to a COVID-19 dashboard created by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, which reports coronavirus numbers in near real time.
Coronavirus: Know The Basics (And Wash Your Hands)
The primary symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some people also experience fatigue, headaches and, less frequently, diarrhea. Cases can range from mild to moderate to severe. About 80 percent of cases so far seem to be mild, according to the World Health Organization.
To prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer if a sink isn’t available. The WHO says people should wear face masks only if they’re sick or caring for someone who is.
If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, call your doctor. Many state and local health departments have set up hotlines to answer questions, so that’s another good place to start. It’s important that you don’t expose others. Call your doctor before you go to their clinic so they can take necessary precautions.
Wash your hands as soon as you walk through the door. Avoid sharing personal items such dishes, cups, utensils. Clean and disinfect “high-touch” surfaces like door handles and cellphones every day.
How do I self-quarantine? And what does it mean?
The CDC has a guide for caring for yourself at home if you have a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.