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Schools, non-essential businesses to remain closed in NY until April 29

Dan Clark/New York NOW

Schools and non-essential businesses will remain closed in New York through April 29 at the earliest, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, as officials evaluate whether the state has reached its so-called apex of COVID-19 cases and what that means going forward.

The number of deaths related to COVID-19 New York has appeared to plateau in recent days, Cuomo said, which could mean the state’s efforts to curb the disease have been effective.

“If we are plateauing, it’s because social distancing is working,” Cuomo said. “So we have to make sure the social distancing continues.”

While most residents in New York appear to be following the state’s social distancing rules, some are not, Cuomo said. He showed photos at his briefing Monday of crowds in New York City over the weekend.

As a way to encourage people to stop gathering in public, whether for recreation or religion, Cuomo said New York will now issue a fine of $1,000 to individuals who violate the state’s social distancing rules. That’s double what the state was charging before Monday.

“Now is not the time to be lax,” Cuomo said. “We have to respect the role we play because the role we play is a societal obligation.”

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Cuomo said local governments in New York should be enforcing the state’s social distancing rules, meaning no mass gatherings, no group outings, and no non-essential travel. The state police could also administer sanctions for violations, Cuomo said.

If those rules are ignored, Cuomo said, the state’s bout with COVID-19 will last longer than currently projected.

As of Monday morning, officials in New York said the height of the disease may require fewer hospital beds than previously projected.

Models have previously predicted New York would need 110,000 hospital beds at the apex, but SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras, a top Cuomo aide, said Monday that the number may be lower. The increase in hospitalizations was down again Monday.

"This could suggest we are potentially at the apex or beginning to be at the apex at this moment,” Malatras said.

Cuomo credited the state’s aggressive enforcement of social distancing for the trend, but said New York would continue to keep non-essential businesses and schools closed until April 29 at the earliest as a precaution. It’s still too early to know if the pattern will continue, he said.

“We have to continue the social distancing,” Cuomo said. “I know it’s a negative for many, many reasons. I know what it does to the economy, but as I said from day one, I’m not going to choose between public health and economic activity.”

New York still has a shortage of ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients, but is now using alternative treatments, rather than waiting for the machines to show up. The state is now using BiPAP and anesthesia machines as ventilators, along with other methods, Cuomo said.

Those machines are needed for most patients who land in the intensive care unit from COVID-19. As of Monday, 4,504 patients were in the ICU, according to state data.

The number of deaths related to COVID-19 continued to increase Monday in New York, which now has a total of 4,758 fatalities related to the disease. The silver lining of that number is that the day-to-day increase appears to be on par with the last few days.

The number of people who had tested positive for the disease, as of Monday, reached 130,689 in New York, according to state data. The majority of those cases remain concentrated in New York City and on Long Island, though other areas of the state have seen spikes in recent days.

While the trends, overall, have appeared positive in the last few days, Cuomo said the state still needs to ramp up hospital capacity to meet its current need.

He said he’s planning to call President Donald Trump Monday and ask for the USNS Comfort, a naval medical ship docked in New York City Harbor, to only carry patients diagnosed with COVID-19.