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New York coronavirus deaths 'effectively flat' as U.S. braces for peak cases in hot spots

New York state remains at the center of the coronavirus outbreak with more than one-third of all cases in the United States. "Now is not the time to be lax," Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned.
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The mounting number of New York's coronavirus deaths has stayed "effectively flat" over the past two days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, offering a glimmer of hope that the state may be at a peak even as the country braces for what the Trump administration is calling the "toughest week" yet in the fight against the pandemic.

While the state has recorded 4,758 total deaths, with an additional 599 from the day before, it's only a slight uptick from the 594 added two days ago, Cuomo said, and shows a "possible flattening of the curve" that is "better than the increases we have seen."

He added that total hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and intubations are down, crediting how people are largely adhering to social distancing guidelines in place over the past three weeks and are following a new way of life, which has upended the nation's workforce. But he advised that "now is not the time to be lax," and that even if New York does not see a continual spike in cases and is potentially at its apex, it could be stuck at this plateau for a painfully long time.

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"If we're plateauing, we're plateauing at a very high level," the governor told reporters during his daily briefing from the state capital of Albany. "We are at a red line. People can't work any harder. The staff can't work any harder. Staying at this level is problematic."

Cuomo said he is extending his executive order that has kept schools closed and nonessential workers at home through April 29.

New York remains at the center of the coronavirus outbreak with more than one-third of all cases in the United States and about half of the deaths, which has put a tremendous strain on the state's health care system. Medical workers have complained about the lack of personal protective equipment and the need for more resources, including staffing, as the crisis deepens.

Two field hospitals in Manhattan — one in Central Park and the other at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center — have been operating in full swing to relieve overburdened hospitals.

Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, warned Monday on "TODAY" that in addition to New York, other virus hot spots, including New Jersey and Detroit, are set to reach a peak number of hospitalizations and deaths this week.

Other places that have seen a swift spread of the coronavirus, including New Orleans, aren't projected to see their highest point of cases until later.

"No one is immune from this virus. It is a brand new virus," Dr. Giroir said. "Whether you live in small-town America or you live in the Big Apple, everyone is susceptible to this and everyone needs to follow the precautions we've laid," he said referring to continued social distancing.

Over the weekend, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, asked all Americans to limit even essential trips to grocery stores and pharmacies in an effort to curb the virus' spread and save lives. She declined to say how many people could die in the worst-hit places.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams also told "Meet the Press" on Sunday that this week will be a Pearl Harbor and 9/11-like moment in the face of an exponential growth in deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

That sentiment was echoed in a memo Sunday to the staff at Columbia University's Department of Surgery, in which chief surgeon Dr. Craig Smith gave a blunt assessment about what they will be seeing in the coming days.

The fight against the virus, he wrote, is "our Gettysburg, our Somme, our Iwo Jima, our Khe Sanh, our Fallujah."

"I do know that right now we are waist-deep in execution, in the fog of war," Smith added.

Dr. Bret Rudy, the senior vice president at NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn, said he anticipates this week will be bustling for the hospital, which already has one of the busiest emergency departments in the borough.

"We continue to see patients that require care in the intensive care units as we see those numbers change," Rudy said Monday on MSNBC. "We already have plans in place for how we will care for increasing numbers should that need arise during the next week."

But what remains unknown is whether New York can effectively marshal its resources and medical supplies as it grapples with additional cases during this peak week. Cuomo, who said Monday that "everybody is overcapacity," expressed confidence that New York will be prepared.

Cuomo tweeted Monday evening that President Donald Trump has agreed to allow the 1,000-bed USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship temporarily docked in New York City, to begin accepting coronavirus patients.

The ship was initially brought in to admit non-COVID-19 cases in the city to help overwhelmed hospitals, but Cuomo said the shift is needed because there are fewer non-coronavirus trauma incidents occurring during the pandemic.

On Monday morning, the Javits Center reported caring for 36 patients, including some who don't have the coronavirus. It has the capacity for 2,500 beds.

At the field hospital in Central Park, which was constructed in 48 hours and resembles a tent city, about 40 coronavirus patients were being treated Monday, including three in intensive care, Dr. Elliott Tenpenny said on MSNBC. The facility allows for nearly 70 beds and can take 10 patients who require ventilators. The youngest patient is 20 years old.

Patients "could be here weeks," said Tenpenny, of Samaritan's Purse, the evangelical Christian organization that setup the field hospital. "Even two to three weeks for the sicker patients."

During a news conference Monday at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio applauded local companies that have transformed their businesses to sew reusable hospital gowns and masks.

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He said 9,200 gowns would be created by the day's end, with some 320,000 manufactured by the end of April. Last week, hospitals across the city used a total of 1.8 million surgical gowns, and another 2.5 million are expected to be needed this week.

"We will leave no stone unturned," de Blasio said in the securing of more personal protective equipment for hospital workers. "We will be as creative as we need to be."

But New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said resources remain desperately needed, and that America's largest city requires about 1,000 to 1,500 ventilators to meet the capacity for the next week and that the 600,000 N95 masks it received from the federal government is "a fraction of what we need."

Still, Cuomo on Monday said that no one in New York has died because of a ventilator or staffing shortage at a hospital.

U.S. Army Major Sean Shirley holds a meeting with staff in the Javits New York Medical Station intensive care unit
U.S. Army Major Sean Shirley holds a meeting with staff in the Javits New York Medical Station intensive care unit bay monitoring coronavirus disease patients in New York City on April 4, 2020.Barry Riley / US Navy via Reuters

With the coronavirus showing no sign of abating in the long term, another concern remains — how New York City can keep pace with the number of burials.

Mark Levine, the chair of the New York City Council's health committee, initially tweeted Monday that a city park will be needed to cover the surge because cemeteries cannot handle the volume of bodies. New York officials, he added, wanted to "avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets."

But the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner responded that it is not considering temporary burials in New York City parks, and Levine walked back his comments, tweeting that "if the death rate drops enough, it will not be necessary."

De Blasio also told reporters that "if we need to do temporary burials, we have the ability to do that," but the city is "not at the point where we're going to go into that."