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Cuomo declares 'state of emergency' to expedite handling of coronavirus cases

Office of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo early Saturday evening confirmed 13 additional cases of novel coronavirus in New York State since his last update from earlier in the day, bringing the statewide total to 89 confirmed cases. The 13 new cases identified since the Governor's last update are located in Westchester County.

Of the 89 total individuals in New York State who tested positive for the virus, the geographic breakdown is as follows:

Westchester: 70

New York City: 11

Nassau: 4

Rockland: 2

Saratoga: 2  

"We are working to do more testing as quickly as possible to find the people who are infected and help contain the spread of the virus," Cuomo said. "There are going to be more cases because we are testing more people - that's a good thing because then we can deal with the situation based on more facts. We know about 80 percent of those infected will self-resolve. The best way to calm anxieties is to demonstrate absolute government competence, and that's exactly what we're doing."

During a briefing Saturday on the novel coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency to help New York more quickly and effectively contain the spread of the virus.

The largest concentration of cases is in Westchester County. The outbreak there has been traced to a synagogue in New Rochelle where the congregation was asked to self-quarantine earlier in the week after a person in the community was hospitalized with the disease. Since then, a growing number of friends and relatives of the patient, a 50-year-old lawyer who works in Manhattan, have tested positive.

"As we continue to provide essential updates and encourage people to act upon the facts on coronavirus instead of the hype, I have officially done a declaration of emergency which gives us certain powers to help local health departments that are very stressed," Cuomo said. "As the local health departments continue to monitor and quarantine people, we have a more expedited purchasing protocol to get them all the tools they need to contain the virus spread. In the meantime we are cracking down on price gouging which continues to be a problem, and I want businesses to be aware that you could lose your license because we are very serious about this."
This state of emergency declaration allows, among other things:

Expedited procurement of cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and other essential resources

Allowing qualified professionals other than doctors and nurses to conduct testing

Expedited procurement of testing supplies and equipment

Expedited personnel onboarding

Expedited leasing of lab space

Allowing EMS personnel to transport patients to quarantine locations other than just hospitals.

Providing clear basis for price gouging and enforcement investigation.   

Cuomo also said the state will be contracting with several facilities to help with the testing for the coronavirus, including the University of Rochester Medical Center.  The governor says the state is trying to get approval from the CDC to allow for automated testing, to help speed up the process.

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello released a statement on Saturday thanking Cuomo for taking the preparatory action of declaring a 'state of emergency,' but Bello said he wants to stress that the risk of infection remains low in Monroe County.

Bello said that on Saturday morning, he and Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza held meetings with local municipal officials and school leaders to offer guidance and answer questions.

Bello said that there are additional meetings scheduled this week and noted that the county has a list of resources on its website which will be regularly updated.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.