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NEW YORK, NY — A testy Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered blunt advice Wednesday to protesters who reportedly said they hadn't received their unemployment checks, were quickly running out of money and had to return to work.
"You want to go to work?" Cuomo said. "Go take a job as an essential worker. Do it tomorrow."
The tense exchange came in an extended question-and-answer session following his daily briefing. Cuomo said 474 people had died of the new coronavirus overnight — 28 in nursing homes and 446 in hospitals — and announced that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg will coordinate a massive, tri-state testing operation for diagnosis and antibodies.
The governor, who has repeatedly said he will try to avoid restarting the economy too soon and risk a second wave of infections, was pressed about the struggle facing unemployed New Yorkers, many of whom have gone days or weeks without receiving unemployment benefits. A reporter said she'd spoken with protesters outside the building who were demanding to go back to work since they haven't received financial assistance from the state and were seeing their bank accounts depleted.
Cuomo stressed that economic hardship is not the same as death, which he said would result from reopening the economy too soon.
"Economic hardship, yes very bad, not death," he said. "Emotional stress from being locked in a house, very bad, not death. Domestic violence, on the increase, very bad. Not death."
He emphasized that allowing people to return to work puts not only their own lives at risk but the risk to others.
"Yeah, it's your life, do whatever you want," he said. "But now you're responsible for my life. You have a responsibility to me. It's not just about you."
Cuomo said he understands people are suffering an economic hardship, but noted the federal government is sending people $1,200 and an additional $600. The state government is also "moving heaven and Earth" to get unemployment checks out, he said.
"You will be paid," he said, adding that the payments have been delayed a couple days. "You will be paid unemployment."
"They will get the check from the date of unemployment," he said. "It does not cost them an extra penny."
When asked if people have a fundamental right to work if residents can't get their money from the government, an exasperated Cuomo said they should consider getting a job as an essential worker.
"There are people hiring," he said. "You can get a job as an essential worker. So now you can go to work and you can be an essential worker and you're not going to kill anyone."
Earlier in the briefing, Cuomo noted it is Day 53 of the coronavirus crisis in New York. Other crises, such as wars and even the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, lasted much longer.
Hospitalizations, intubations and intensive care admissions all continue to trend downward, which show that New York's severe social distancing measures slowed the spread of the virus, the governor said.
Hospitalizations on Tuesday dipped below 16,000 after peaking at over 18,800 earlier in the month, and the net change in hospitalizations fell to minus 536 following a peak of 1,427.
The number of new COVID-19 hospital patients was nearly identical from Monday at 1,366 and continued to show a downward trend since peaking at 3,177.
The net change in intubations ticked up slightly to minus 41 but continued to trend downward after peaking at 351 earlier in the month.
At the briefing, Cuomo said New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will work together to build a "tracing army" that would attempt to work and ignore geographical and political lines.
"The virus doesn't stop at jurisdictional boundaries," Cuomo said.
Furthermore, billionaire Michael Bloomberg volunteered to help develop the massive tracing program with the help of Johns Hopkins University and Vital Strategies as partners. Bloomberg will design the program, handle training and make a financial contribution, Cuomo said. All will have to be done in weeks.
The state currently has several hundred tracers: 200 in New York City, 60 in Nassau County, 140 in Suffolk, 40 in Rockland, 50 in Westchester and 225 across the rest of upstate New York.