New York state is extending its PAUSE Initiative to April 29 to continue to encourage social distancing and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
At the beginning of a pivotal week in New York's battle against COVID-19, state officials say there is more encouraging data that the executive measures have gotten results.
COVID-19 deaths in New York — the U.S. state most hard-hit so far by the pandemic — are effectively flat for the past two days. But hospitals remain at maximum capacity and Governor Andrew Cuomo is concerned about a spike in cases if New Yorkers take the positive news as total victory.
Officials won't know for some time whether they have reached the peak of the pandemic's grip on the state or merely a plateau, Gov. Cuomo said Monday at a noontime press conference.
New York hospitals are too strained to risk a spike in new COVID-19 cases and an extended period at the current hospitalization rate is "unsustainable."
"This is a hospital system where we have our foot to the floor and the engine is at redline and we can't go any faster," Cuomo said. "And by the way, you can't stand at redline because the system will blow. ... Staying at this level is problematic."
Pleasant spring weather prompted many New Yorkers to go outside, especially in New York City. Cuomo said this cannot continue.
Cuomo announced an increase in maximum fines from $500 to $1,000 for private citizens violating conditions of the stay-home order. He demanded local governments make enforcement of PAUSE a top priority, and repeatedly cautioned people against making too much of the state being "potentially at the apex" of its battle with the pandemic.
He added that the looming public health risks of the virus outweigh the economic implications of the extended closure of non-essential businesses and schools in the state.
"There's also a real danger in getting overconfident too quickly," Cuomo said. "This is an enemy that we have underestimated from day one, and we have paid the price dearly. ... Other places have made that mistake [of relaxing social distancing too early]. Hong Kong has made that mistake. South Korea has made that mistake. We're not going to make that mistake."
Flouting rules for social distancing amounts to disrespect of people fighting the disease on the front lines, Cuomo said.
"People in the healthcare system are exposing themselves every day to tremendous risk, walking into [work in] those emergency rooms," he said. "And then they have to go home to their family and wonder if they caught the virus and they're bringing it home to their family. If I can't convince you to show discipline for yourself, then show discipline for other people."
The Javits convention center in NYC is being converted to a COVID-19 treatment facility.
The governor was again complimentary of President Trump's responsiveness to the state's requests for aid. He said he planned to request Trump to order the USNS Comfort converted into a COVID-19 facility.
With both sites fully operational, they add a combined 3,500 hospital beds to the coronavirus fight. That will provide valuable relief to city-area hospitals that can't do much more.
As of Monday morning New York State reported 130,000 positive coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) tests, 16,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 4,758 COVID-19 deaths.
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