This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Sunday, March 29th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here. Read our guide to understanding New York on PAUSE, NY’s stay-at-home order; a look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

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5:45 p.m.: The past five days have been the busiest for EMS in the history of New York City, as first responders receive historic levels of 911 calls during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It is putting a huge, huge demand on EMS,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press briefing on Sunday. “We’ve never seen our EMS system get this many calls ever.”

“We’re in an unprecedented time, of course,” added FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “Today, no doubt, we will be over 6,000 calls for the day, which is more than 50 percent higher than the average day.”

The impact has slowed response, particularly for less urgent calls, according to Nigro. De Blasio said the city is making “fast, intense moves” to increase EMS capacity.

“What we have to do first and foremost is put on more personnel, more ambulances, more shifts, and we are doing that immediately,” de Blasio said.

Shortly after the press briefing, a COVID-19 text alert reminded New New Yorkers, “Help first responders assist those most in need: Only call 911 during a real emergency. Call 311 if you need a healthcare provider.”

The number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in New York City rose to 32,308, the mayor said Sunday evening. 161 people died in the past 24 hours, totaling 678 deaths in New York City attributed to the virus.

When asked about projections of the number of cases or deaths in New York City, de Blasio said, “The worst is definitely ahead of us.”

“When exactly it peaks and statistics start to go back down—different projections say different things,” he said. The city’s top doctor Oxiris Barbot added, “it’s challenging to give an accurate number in terms of projection” because every day of practicing “social distancing” buys the healthcare system time to keep up with the increase in cases.

Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which has seen a flood of patients in recent days, will also get a boost of personnel and equipment. 169 clinicians—such as physicians’ assistants or nurse practitioners—were sent to the hospital. Another 100 nurses were transferred to the hospital this weekend alone. 55 ventilators were moved there as well.

Across the city’s hospital system, Health + Hospitals, a total of 1,000 contracted nurses will be added. Half have already started work.

“This is going to be an extraordinarily tough few weeks,” de Blasio said.

As the mayor spoke to reporters, volunteers worked in the cold rain assembling an emergency field hospital in tents in Central Park.

Hoboken Mayor Closes All Parks For Two Weeks

4 p.m.: The mayor of Hoboken has announced he will close all parks for two weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, starting Monday morning.

“As COVID-19 cases in Hoboken and across the region increase, and as we anticipate to reach our apex in the next several weeks, we need to ask again the following question—have we done everything we can to prevent the further spread of COVID-19?” Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla said in a statement on Sunday.

“While it may not be popular and will cause further disruptions to our daily lives, closing our parks is necessary to contain the spread of this deadly virus and can literally save the lives of Hoboken residents,” Bhalla said. “Ultimately this is a sacrifice we need to make as a community now, in order to protect our residents and most vulnerable populations.”

Bhalla said he had consulted with the director of Harvard Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, who “strongly believed closing parks would help contain the spread of the virus in Hoboken and help save lives,” his statement continued. The two-week closure includes city and county parks as well as dog parks. Playground and recreational fields in Hoboken were closed March 13th.

As of Saturday, Hoboken had 85 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up by 24 from the day prior. The state of New Jersey has been under a stay-at-home order with non-essential businesses required to close since March 21st.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has adamantly demanded New Yorkers stop packing parks and playgrounds during the pandemic. Mayor Bill de Blasio has thus far resisted closing parks or playgrounds, despite evidence that New Yorkers are still congregating closely in parks, often with less than the required six feet of distance between individuals.

The city Parks Department has closed community gardens to the public. And in an attempt to create more room for New Yorkers to spread out, de Blasio has closed a handful of blocks in each borough. The mayor has also encouraged parents to be responsible when supervising children in playgrounds.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams supports a stricter lockdown, including closing city parks and playgrounds.

“There’s just been failures of inaction,” said Williams, who can raise awareness and introduce legislation, but has little power to implement his proposal as the city’s public advocate. “It’s been hard to watch every step of the way. Waiting, waiting, waiting to close schools. Waiting to close construction sites. Waiting to close playgrounds. The governor went from 25% to 50% to 75% [of nonessential workforce being told to stay at home]. Then we debated whether it should be called a shelter-in-place, waited to call it PAUSE. All of this waiting has a human cost. And we sadly may pay that cost in the back end. We just have to have much more decisive decision-making at a faster rate, particularly when it comes to restricting movement.”

A screenshot of Governor Andrew Cuomo at a March 29th press briefing.
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A screenshot of Governor Andrew Cuomo at a March 29th press briefing. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Cuomo Extends PAUSE Order Through April 15th As NY Nears 1,000 Deaths

1:35 p.m.: Speaking to reporters at a Sunday press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo defended the timing of when he implemented a stay-at-home policy for New York—which he announced after the Bay Area and the state of California implemented similar policies.

“I think we’re one of the first to shut it down. Shutting it down is not without criticism either,” Cuomo said when asked about the timing of when New York’s PAUSE order was implemented. “Shutting it down is a very drastic measure but I think we were one of the first, and also, you want to do it in a way that doesn’t create more fear and more panic.”

The PAUSE (“Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone”) order began one week ago—shutting down all non-essential work statewide, such as gyms, theaters, and event spaces. Hair salons and tattoo or piercing parlors are also closed. The governor said on Sunday the order would be extended through April 15th, noting extensions would be determined in two-week increments. (The original executive order allowed the measures through April 19th.)

The Bay Area implemented a “shelter in place” order on March 17th, after officials announced it on March 15th. The state of California put forward a similar statewide measure encouraging residents to stay at home, Governor Gavin Newsom said on March 19th.

But it wasn’t until March 20th when Cuomo announced his own version of the policy, which went into effect March 22nd, after adamantly opposing the phrasing “shelter in place,” which Cuomo said evokes protocols during nuclear war or active shooters in schools. (On Sunday, he again called the phrasing “shelter in place” “inflammatory” and “incorrect.”)

Mayor Bill de Blasio also suggested that a statewide “shelter in place” should be implemented days before the governor formally announced one, though he was questioned on CNN about his own remarks early on in the crisis, in which he had encouraged “go on about your daily lives” (see below).

The novel coronavirus has now killed 965 people, up by 237 people, in New York State, Cuomo said. New York has had the most deaths of all states in the country, ahead of New Jersey with 140 deaths and California with 121 deaths, according to the governor’s office.

There are 59,513 positive cases of the virus—which include 7,195 new ones.

8,503 people have been hospitalized and 2,037 are intensive care unit patients. 3,572 people have been discharged.

Hospitalizations for the virus appear to be slowing. In mid-March, hospitalizations were doubling every two days. Since then, they have progressively slowed to doubling every three and four days. The past three days of data show hospitalizations doubling every six days.

De Blasio Doesn’t Want To Look Back At His Previous Comments Telling People To “Go On About Your Lives” Right Now

Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday morning, where Jake Tapper questioned him point-blank about his earlier remarks, from January through March 13th, in which the mayor urged New Yorkers to “go on about your lives.” Tapper asked if his messaging was partly “to blame” for the rapid spread of coronavirus in the city.

“This is just about how we save lives going forward. Everybody was working with the information we had [at the time]… and trying of course to avoid panic,” de Blasio said, explaining he was concerned about the economy and people’s livelihoods. He added, “We should not be focusing, in my view, on anything looking back on any level of government right now.”

However, Tapper noted that the mayor has criticized President Donald Trump for being “far, far behind the curve,” so wouldn’t de Blasio’s actions be “far, far behind the curve” as well? De Blasio responded, “If this country had had the testing when we needed, it this could have been a very different reality… There’s no time to go back over that. There’s only time to get through this week.”

The mayor called the questions “fair,” but said a more appropriate time to litigate his actions would be “after this war is over. It feels like war time environment. [Hospitals] are literally trying to figure out what happens days from now.”

New York City Cases Now At 30,765, Deaths At 672

Between Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m., 222 people died in NYC from the novel coronavirus, according to statistics released by the NYC Department of Health, for a total of 672 fatalities. That’s nearly triple the number of deaths from COVID-19 documented during the previous 24-hour period, when 84 coronavirus deaths were counted in NYC.

There are now 30,765 cases (as of Saturday afternoon)—5,752 in the Bronx; 8,129 in Brooklyn; 5,237 in Manhattan; 9,831 in Queens; and 1,781 in Staten Island.

A bar graph showing the number of deaths in NYC from COVID-19
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Data from the NYC Department of Health, as of 4 p.m. March 28, 2020 Jake Dobkin and Clarisa Diaz, Gothamist

NYC’s cases are about of a quarter of the total cases in the United States. The first case of coronavirus in New York State—a health care worker in Manhattan—was announced on March 1st.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday that the “crucial date to think about is Sunday, April 5th,” in terms of equipment needed to respond to COVID-19 cases, whether for patients or health care workers. He said, “We have what we need for next week, but it will definitely be a very hard week. But after next Sunday, April 5th, this when I get very, very worried about everything we’re going to need. The people power we’re going to need, the equipment, the supplies, obviously the ventilators.”

A bar graph showing Covid-19 cases through March 28, 2020 at 4pm for NYC and downstate NY counties
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Data from NY State and NYC Departments of Health, as of 4 p.m. March 28, 2020 Jake Dobkin and Clarisa Diaz, Gothamist

As hospitals get overwhelmed in certain parts of the state, Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested that patients could be shifted geographically. “There may come a point where the state steps in and actually allocates among local health systems,” he said on Saturday. He also noted that de Blasio operates a large public health system, while there are other big private hospitals in the city as well, “All those hospitals have to be planned and operating as one system. One hospital gets overwhelmed, you have to immediately, from a management point-of-view, be able to use the surrounding hospitals for support,” and shift the load as needed.

Cuomo acknowledged that hospitals don’t currently think this way, and said that if the entire NYC hospital system is still over capacity, the state can step in and move patients upstate or to new temporary new hospitals, which are currently being built.

On Saturday afternoon, de Blasio accepted the donation of 250,000 face masks from the United Nations.

MTA Chairman Pat Foye Has Coronavirus

The MTA announced on Saturday evening that chairman and CEO Pat Foye “tested positive for COVID-19.” According to a statement from MTA Chief of Communication Abbey Collins, “Pat is currently isolating at home, feeling good and maintaining his full schedule. Pat was last in the office on Wednesday, maintained a safe social distance and was asymptomatic at that time. He worked remotely Thursday and Friday, following a previously arranged schedule. All MTA staff have been observing recommended guidelines put in place by the New York State Department of Health, including social distancing.”

“Pat’s top priority remains the health and safety of our customers and employees and ensuring New York’s healthcare workers, first responders and other essential personnel can get to and from work during this public health crisis,” Collins said.

Transit workers are considered essential employees during New York State’s PAUSE program to slow the spread of coronavirus. Two MTA employees have died from coronavirus — a subway conductor and a bus driver — last week, prompting the transit workers union, TWU Local 100, to declare, “The MTA must NOW provide masks to frontline transit workers. Otherwise, the moment is rapidly approaching where bus and subway workers will do what is necessary to protect themselves and their families. Dedication and duty does not mean using transit workers as cannon fodder.”

On Friday, the agency said they had “secured 75,000 masks to be distributed to its workforce,” across New York City Transit, MTA Bus, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North Railroad. The agency said in a press release, “Medical guidance continues to be that masks are not recommended as protection against COVID-19, however, masks will be made available to employees who choose to wear them. Personal protective equipment, including masks, continues to be mandatory for certain positions and duties across the agency and will continue to be provided in these instances. For other employees, this equipment will be distributed to employees as it is made available at this time and in accordance with the plans to developed by the agencies, as there is a nationwide shortage of masks.”

While public health officials have recommended that only health care workers or people who are ill wear masks, there is growing belief that masks can be useful to protect people from coronavirus, especially the essential, front-line workers like transit workers, pharmacy employees, and grocery store workers. However, as Dr. Neil Fishman, chief medical officer of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania,told the NY Times, “If everyone in the community wears a mask, it could decrease transmission. But unfortunately I think that we don’t have enough masks to make that effective policy in the U.S.”

CDC Suggests NY, NJ, And CT Residents Not To Go Anywhere

After the back-and-forth via press appearances between President Donald Trump and Cuomo over the possibility of a quarantine on New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut—or, as Cuomo put it, a “lockdown” that would be akin to an “anti-America… federal declaration of war on states”—the president has settled for a suggestion from the CDC.