ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – New York has now followed California and is ordering that as of 8 p.m. Sunday, all state residents must stop going to work and stay in their homes unless they are working at jobs considered essential, or they need groceries, medicine or gasoline.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he needed to take the step in order to curb the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
“This is the most drastic action we can take,” Cuomo said.
Only grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, pharmacies and hardware and home improvement stores will remain open, along with beverage centers and liquor stores.
Earlier in the day, Cuomo, along with the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, ordered the closure of all barbershops, hair salons, tattoo or piercing parlors, nail salons, and other personal care businesses to close after 8 p.m. Saturday.
Violators will face civil fines.
The governor as recently as Wednesday had criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for recommending that the city adopt a shelter-in-place policy. At the time, Cuomo said it would cause panic. Now, he said, staying home is the best option to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.
New Yorkers will still be allowed to go outside in family groups to get exercise and fresh air, for activities like walking or hiking, as long as they remain 6 feet away from others at all times.
There are special rules for people over 70, and those with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems. They should stay indoors, and go out only to do solitary exercise, wear a mask if they are in contact with anyone, and not take public transportation unless urgent and absolutely necessary.
Cuomo calls those measures “Matilda’s Law” for his 88-year-old mother, Matilda Cuomo, who he said has been reluctant in the past to adopt some of the precautions.
If someone feels sick, they should seek a telehealth appointment, or call their doctor, and should not try to go to a doctor’s office.
Cuomo said he’s also trying to increase hospital capacity; the state is short by more than 50,000 beds.
The governor said all non-critical elective surgeries will be canceled, beginning sometime next week. He said that will free up between 25% and 35% of hospital beds. He also wants hospitals to make plans to squeeze more beds into their spaces.
State health officials are scouring medical and nursing schools for volunteers and asking that retired health care professionals come back to work.
The governor is also putting a call out to companies that make medical supplies, saying New York state will “pay a premium” if they can manufacture more masks, surgical gowns and gloves as soon as possible.
He said he’s also looking into expanding existing state prison operations, where uniforms are made for inmates, to find out whether they could switch to masks or surgical wear.
Cuomo said state officials have located some potential sites for temporary hospitals, including the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, and State and City University campuses in New York and on Long Island, and Fordham and St. John’s universities.
But the governor said the hardest task remains getting enough ventilators.
Meanwhile, the state Education Department and Board of Regents canceled the required standardized math and reading tests for grades three through eight for this year, saying schools need to focus on meeting community needs right now. All of the schools in the state are closed indefinitely.
And school budget and school board elections scheduled for May are increasingly in question. The New York State School Boards Association is urging candidates for their local boards of education not to go door to door collecting signatures on petitions to get on the ballot.
Robert Schneider, the group’s executive director, said in a statement that “at this point in time, public health is the paramount concern.”