NEW YORK, NY — Top health officials in New York politely rejected Wednesday a strong recommendation from the White House that anyone who visited New York City recently self-isolate for two weeks due to potential exposure to the new coronavirus.
In response to a reporter's question Wednesday, Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, broke with advice delivered at a White House news briefing a day earlier by Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert.
Birx said anyone who was recently in the Big Apple may have been exposed to the virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. People leaving the city may be behind an uptick in infections in places such as Florida and Long Island, she and Fauci said.
"We are starting to see new cases across Long Island," Birx said. "That suggests people have left the city. This will be very critical that those individuals self-quarantine in their homes over the next 14 days to make sure they don't pass the virus to others based on the time that they left New York. So if they're already four days out, then it's just 10 more days."
But on Wednesday, Zucker, who has regularly appeared next to Gov. Andrew Cuomo since the outset of the outbreak, flouted the advice.
"I would not follow that," Zucker said, adding that folks who've been in the city recently should continue following the guidelines set forth by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Zucker's comments come as Cuomo announced 5,146 new cases in the state, bringing the total to 30,811 — by far the most in the country. He noted New York has 10 times as many cases as New Jersey and 15 times as many as California, the states with the next highest number of cases.
The death toll climbed to 285 as the number of hospitalizations topped 3,800, with about 3 percent needing intensive care treatment requiring ventilators for assisted breathing.
Cuomo has said New York is testing more than anywhere else in America, and that he believes the high number of cases is mainly due to how physically "close" New Yorkers are to one another, as well as the number of international travelers.
"We talk about the virus and how it transfers in a dense area," he said. "It’s literally because we are close."
On Wednesday, Southold officials said they want a travel ban to Long Island's East End as the number of cases spiked. Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he was joining with other area supervisors in asking Cuomo to"put a travel ban to the East End" limiting travel to just "essential personnel."
"Our resources are scarce, the risk of spread is too high for a town which is already seeing more than its share of confirmed cases and deaths," he said. "Southold should not be treated as someone's personal isolation unit."
At the same time, Cuomo continued to sound the alarm about the severe shortage of hospital beds, staff and — most importantly — ventilators the state faces. He also revised his projection about the highest number of hospitalizations from as early as two weeks to three weeks. The latest projections mean the state has less than 21 days to find more ventilators, staff and hospital beds. A lot more.
Based on expert modeling, Cuomo estimated the state will need about 140,000 hospital beds and 30,000 ventilators. Currently, the state has about 53,000 hospital beds and just 4,000 ventilators.
Cuomo this week ordered hospitals to increase their capacity by at least half, and some were asked to try to double their capacity. The federal government plans to add thousands of beds — including about 4,000 from federal emergency management officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — and the state plans to add tens of thousands of beds by converting college dormitories. But even with all the additions, Cuomo estimated the state is still short by about 21,000 hospital beds.
When it comes to ventilators the state has bought 7,000 and continues to shop for more. The federal government has agreed to send New York about 4,000 more. Cuomo said the state is looking to experiment with splitting ventilators between two patients, as was necessary in Italy.
"That is our single greatest challenge," Cuomo said of finding enough ventilators.
He also urged President Donald Trump and the federal government to use a rolling deployment strategy when it comes to federal assistance. The government should help New York first since its apex is highest and nearest, then focus on other hot spots once the first crisis is addressed, the governor said.
When it comes to staffing, about 40,000 doctors and nurses have signed up to provide what he called "surge" health care. This includes retirees and those in medical school.
"That is a big, big deal," Cuomo said. "You can find the beds and equipment, but you need the staff."
Furthermore, about 6,100 mental health professionals have volunteered to help folks deal with the emotional trauma of the coronavirus cases, including those out of work. New Yorkers are encouraged to call the mental health hotline at 1-844-863-9314 to schedule an appointment for free services.
"Don’t underestimate the emotional trauma people are feeling," Cuomo said.
When it comes to personal protective equipment, the state has enough to last for about three weeks, Cuomo said. This includes hospital necessities such as face masks and shields.
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