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‘They Are the Soldiers,’ Cuomo Says of Health Care Workers

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivered a news briefing on the coronavirus after a military hospital ship, the U.S.N.S. Comfort, arrived in New York.

It is a mandate: Stay at home. If you’re a nonessential worker, stay at home. If you leave the house, you’re exposing yourself to danger. If you leave the house, you’re exposing others to danger. You can get infected, go home and infect whoever is at home, so stay at home. I know the isolation can be boring and oppressive — it is better than the alternative. Life has options, right? Stay at home. That is the best option. If you are out, no proximity, six feet distancing. You don’t want proximity to other people, and you want to stay away from places that are dense. Still, in New York City, you have too many places with too much density. I mean, I don’t know how many different ways to make the same point. New York City parks, we made the point, there’s too much density. You want to go to the park, go to the park, but not in a dense area. The soldiers in this fight are our health care professionals. It’s the doctors. It’s the nurses. It’s the people who are working in the hospitals. It’s the aides. They are the soldiers who are fighting this battle for us. You know the expression save our troops, troops quote unquote? In this battle, the troops are health care professionals.

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivered a news briefing on the coronavirus after a military hospital ship, the U.S.N.S. Comfort, arrived in New York.CreditCredit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, briefing reporters on Monday, said that the worst of the coronavirus outbreak was yet to come, even as another 253 people died in the state in a 24-hour period.

“If you wait to prepare for a storm to hit, it is too late,” the governor said. “You have to prepare before the storm hits. And in this case the storm is when you hit that high point, when you hit that apex. How do you know when you’re going to get there? You don’t.”

The governor spoke at the Javits Center, a convention hall in Manhattan that was quickly turned into a 1,000-bed emergency hospital. His remarks came shortly after a Navy hospital ship arrived in the city.

The setting for Mr. Cuomo’s briefing underscored New York’s urgent efforts to prepare its health care system for the wave of sick people that is expected to further overwhelm hospitals in just a few weeks.

Here are other developments from Monday:

  • New York reported almost 7,000 new cases of the virus, bringing the total to nearly 66,500. Most of the cases were in New York City, where, officials reported later on Monday, 38,087 people been infected.

  • The number of virus-related deaths in New York City rose to 914 Monday afternoon, up 138 from around the same time Sunday, officials said.

  • Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey announced 3,347 new positive coronavirus cases in the state, bringing the total to 16,636. There were 37 new deaths, for a total of 198.

  • Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut announced 578 new coronavirus cases in the state, bringing the total to 2,571. There were two new deaths, for a total of 36 in the state.

  • In New York, the number of people hospitalized was 9,517, up 12 percent from yesterday. Of those, 2,352 are in ventilator-equipped intensive care rooms.

  • In a hopeful note, Mr. Cuomo said that while the number of hospitalizations continues to grow, the rate which it is growing was tapering off. “We had a doubling of cases every two days, then a doubling every three days and a doubling every four days, then every five,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We now have a doubling of cases every six days. So while the overall number is going up, the rate of doubling is actually down.”

  • More than 4,200 people have been discharged from hospitals.

  • New York has tested more than 186,000 people in March, about one percent of the state’s population. But while New York’s testing capacity far outpaces that of other states, it has not reached the critical-mass level public health experts say is necessary to more precisely identify the spread of the virus.

A Brooklyn man was charged on Monday with lying to the federal authorities about selling N95 masks and other medical supplies to doctors at exorbitant prices and with assaulting a federal officer after he coughed on F.B.I. agents and then told them he had the coronavirus, prosecutors said.

The man, Baruch Feldheim, 43, was charged with making false statements to law enforcement officers after he lied about stockpiling and selling equipment that is desperately needed by hospitals as they confront a surge in virus patients, the authorities said.

Mr. Feldheim repeatedly sold the equipment at a markup, according to a criminal complaint filed against him in Federal District Court in Newark.

On one occasion, in a transaction arranged via a WhatsApp group named “Virus2020!,” Mr. Feldheim agreed to sell a doctor about 1,000 N95 masks and other gear for $12,000, according to the complaint. That was about 700 percent above what the doctor, who was not identified, would typically pay, the complaint says.

When he met with Mr. Feldheim at an auto repair shop in Irvington, N.J., on March 18, the doctor saw enough including hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes and medical supplies to “outfit an entire hospital,” the complaint says.

F.B.I. agents went to Mr. Feldheim’s home on Sunday to get more information, the complaint says. At that point, the complaint says, he “intentionally coughed in their direction without covering his mouth,” even though the agents had said they were keeping their distance out of concern over the virus. He told the agents that he had tested positive for the virus two weeks earlier, the complaint says.

Last week, a top Justice Department official warned federal prosecutors to be on the lookout for threats to spread the virus, and said that such acts could potentially be prosecuted under federal terrorism laws because the virus was considered a “biological agent.”

Mr. Feldheim was not charged under federal terrorism laws. A spokesman for the United States Attorney’s office in Newark declined to comment on whether he might be.

It was unclear whether Mr. Feldheim had a lawyer.

At least two other people in New Jersey have been charged in state cases for threatening to spread the virus, state officials said. One of them, a man who intentionally coughed near a supermarket employee and told her he was infected, was charged with making a terroristic threat.

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Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

A Navy hospital ship that docked in Manhattan this morning is expected to provide relief to the city’s overwhelmed hospitals by freeing up beds to be used for coronavirus patients.

The 1,000-bed ship, the Comfort, with 12 operating rooms, a medical laboratory and more than 1,000 Navy officers, arrived at Pier 90 off West 50th Street in Manhattan just before 11 a.m., and Mayor Bill de Blasio said that 750 of its beds will be put to use “immediately.”

The Comfort will treat patients who do not have the virus. The city’s hospitals are now so full that paramedics in the field are being forced to make on-the-spot judgments about who gets to go to the hospital and who is left behind, perhaps to die.

Along the Hudson River, people gathered in bunches to watch the ship arrive — in apparent violation of social distancing rules.

The Comfort, a converted supertanker, was used as a floating base for rescue workers in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

In sending the ship, Navy officials acknowledged that they had taken a risk. They insist that they are doing everything short of Saran-wrapping the vessel to try to keep it virus-free,

“We will establish a bubble around this ship to make sure we’re doing everything to keep it out,” said Capt. Joseph O’Brien, commodore of the military’s Task Force New York City.

One inmate used an alcohol pad that a barber had given him after a haircut to sanitize a frequently used Rikers Island jailhouse phone. Another used a sock to hold a phone. A third said he and others have used diluted shampoo to disinfect cell bars and table tops.

In the nearly two weeks since the coronavirus seeped into New York City’s jail system, fears have grown of the potential of a public health catastrophe in the cellblocks where thousands are being held in close quarters.

Public officials have been working to release hundreds of people in jail, but while that effort is moving forward, law enforcement officials concerned about public safety have urged caution.

As public officials across the country scramble to release their own vulnerable populations in jails and prisons as a result of the coronavirus, New York’s complex on Rikers Island has provided a case study in the difficulty of balancing public safety and public health concerns.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday that about 650 people had been released. Still, the rate of infection has continued to climb, and by Monday, 167 inmates, 114 correction staff and 20 health workers had tested positive and two correction staff members had died.

A member of the New Jersey National Guard died on Saturday of complications related to the coronavirus, the first virus-related death of a U.S. service member, officials said on Monday.

The National Guard member, Capt. Douglas Linn Hickock, was a drilling guardsman and a physician’s assistant who lived in Pennsylvania but was originally from Jackson, N.J., Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said.

Mark T. Esper, the defense secretary, described Captain Hickock’s death as “a stinging loss for our military community.”

“Today is a sad day for the Department of Defense, as we have lost our first American service member, active, reserve or Guard,” Mr. Esper said in a statement.

Captain Hickock had been hospitalized for one week- before dying at a hospital in Pennsylvania, officials said.

For the past few weeks, Dr. David Perlstein has been scrambling to find more beds and ventilators, knowing that the coronavirus outbreak, which has filled his Bronx hospital with more than 100 patients, will undoubtedly get much worse.

Then a week ago, Dr. Perlstein, the chief executive officer of St. Barnabas Hospital, was given some disturbing news by a state senator: His hospital could soon lose millions of dollars in government funding.

The funding cut was proposed by a panel that Mr. Cuomo convened this year, before the virus had reached the United States, to rein in the state’s growing Medicaid program by identifying $2.5 billion in savings.

But the timing of the proposals, which were released in mid-March and include about $400 million in cuts to hospitals, was a blow to the morale of many hospitals and medical workers on the front lines of the fight against a ruthless virus that has infected tens of thousands in New York.

“It’s a shot in the gut,” Dr. Perlstein said. “During a time I need to commit all the energy I have to really save lives and expand access and not skimp on resources, now I have to worry about how we’re going to continue to pay our bills.”

Last week, a large order from a Twitter follower in Maryland gave the Harlem restaurant FieldTrip a crucial shot of revenue and, perhaps, a glimpse of a way to stay in business during the coronavirus pandemic.

FieldTrip’s chef and owner, JJ Johnson, had taken to Twitter on Wednesday to say he had just packed and sent 40 rice bowls, his restaurant’s specialty, to the staff at Harlem Hospital Center. One of New York City’s official coronavirus testing sites, the hospital has been flooded, like so many others in the area, by new and suspected cases.

A few minutes later, the fan in Maryland bought 170 more bowls; Mr. Johnson sent half to Harlem the next day and half to Mount Sinai Hospital on Friday. The order kept FieldTrip busy enough that Mr. Johnson called two of his employees back to join the three others he had brought in earlier in the week as takeout and delivery business began to pick up.

What has happened at Fieldtrip is playing out at restaurants and hospitals around the country. Delivery orders for health care workers have begun coming in, ranging in ambition from bags of sandwiches paid for by small pledges on GoFundMe pages to multicourse meals subsidized by the philanthropic arms of major companies.

Credit…Montefiore Health System

Dr. James T. Goodrich, a pediatric neurosurgeon known for successfully separating conjoined twins in a complicated and rare procedure, died on Monday from complications related to the coronavirus, according to the hospital where he worked.

Dr. Goodrich spent more than 30 years working at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center. He was the director of Montefiore’s pediatric neurosurgery division.

“Jim was in many ways the heart and soul of our department — a master surgeon, a world-class educator and a beloved colleague for all,” Emad N. Eskandar, the chair of the neurosurgery department at Einstein and Montefiore, said in a statement.

Dr. Goodrich, an Oregon native, served in the Marines during the Vietnam War before starting his career in medicine, hospital officials said in their statement.

In 2004, he was thrust into public view after he operated on Clarence and Carl Aguirre, twins from the Philippines who were joined at the tops of their heads and shared a major vein in the brain.

Dr. Goodrich led a team of surgeons through a series of high-risk operations that successfully separated the boys. The children’s story generated headlines, including in The New York Times, and TV specials

In 2016, he received attention when he led a team of 40 surgeons in a 27-hour procedure to separate another set of twin boys.

Dr. Goodrich is survived by his wife and three sisters.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said on Monday that five transit workers, including a bus operator based in Brooklyn and a station cleaner based in the Bronx, had died of the virus.

That brought to seven the death toll for the authority, which oversees New York City’s subway and buses and two commuter railroads.

The dead included Scott Elijah, a track worker based in Queens; Caridad Santiago, the cleaner in the Bronx; Ernesto Hernandez, a bus operator who worked out of the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot in Sunset Park; Victor Zapana, a supervisor at the agency’s stations department; and Warren Tucker, a bus mechanic assigned to Brooklyn.

“Scott, Caridad, Ernesto, Victor and Warren were all inspiring and valued colleagues, well-loved and well-respected by their co-workers,” the authority said in a statement. “They dedicated their lives to serving the public and keeping New Yorkers moving.”

The M.T.A. said last week that a subway conductor and a bus operator had died of the virus. At least another 152 employees had tested positive and 1,181 were quarantined, officials said. The authority’s chairman, Patrick J. Foye, tested positive for the virus on Saturday.

Tony Utano, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents transit workers, called the deaths “another gut punch to our union.”

A New York Fire Department auto mechanic died on Sunday after becoming infected with the virus, a spokesman said. It was the department’s first virus-related death.

The mechanic, James Villecco, 55, of Staten Island, joined the department’s Bureau of Fleet Services in 2014 and went on to work in the ambulance repair shop at a different shop.⁣⁣

“James Villecco was one of those truly unsung heroes in our department whose outstanding work provided medical care for the people of our city,” Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a statement.

The Police Department reported the deaths of two staff members: Sabrina Jefferson, a school safety agent assigned to Queens, and Gwendolyn King, a senior administrative aide. Ms. Jefferson died on Sunday of complications from the virus, and Ms. King died on Monday after showing signs of infection and with test results pending, the police said. Both joined the department in 1994.

Mr. Cuomo’s approval rating surged over the past month, fueled by overwhelming support for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, according to a Siena College poll released on Monday.

The governor was viewed favorably by 71 percent of voters, up from 44 percent in February. Just 23 percent saw him unfavorably, his best showing on that front since 2012.

By comparison, President Trump, a Queens native, was seen favorably by 35 percent of New Yorkers.

The governor’s popularity seems directly related his handling of the outbreak: 87 percent of those polled approved of his performance as the virus has spread.

The telephone poll of 566 New York State registered voters was conducted between March 22 and 26, with an error margin of 4.5 percentage points.

Private jets donated by Warren Buffett’s company. Special approvals from two governments. And a frenzied trip to China.

That’s how far the Mount Sinai Health System went last week to obtain N95 respirators, the heavy-duty face masks that are most effective at blocking the particles that carry the coronavirus.

The effort, which was not publicly disclosed, illustrates the scarcity of protective equipment for health care workers in New York, the U.S. outbreak’s epicenter.

It began last Monday, when Mount Sinai got a call from Taikang Nanjing International Medical Center saying that the hospital had hundreds of thousands of extra masks and other supplies because the outbreak in China had peaked. Mount Sinai could have them if it picked them up.

After China said it did not have room for the cargo plane Mount Sinai wanted to send, the health system got a Goldman Sachs executive to convince NetJets, which Mr. Buffet owns, to send two small 13-seat jets.

At a landing strip in Nanjing, a city of eight million northwest of Shanghai, the pilots squeezed 5.5 tons of N95 masks, about 130,000 of the devices, into the jets.

The gambit required special approval from Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration and the Chinese government. But it worked. At 3 a.m. Friday, the jets landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and workers began taking masks to Mount Sinai’s eight hospitals.

The supplies will alleviate shortages for now, and more masks will be coming next week, the hospital said. But to some people, that a wealthy private institution like Mount Sinai had to go to such lengths showed how unprepared the U.S. was for the pandemic.

“The masks coming in from China is welcome but is not nearly enough,” said Pat Kane of the New York State Nurses Association.

Day after day, doctors and nurses keep going to work, earning cheers on the streets for fighting on the front lines.

But inside New York’s hospitals, medical workers face scenes that are incredibly grim. Their colleagues are falling sick.

Two nurses in city hospitals have died. Protective gear for those who are relatively healthy remains scarce.

Across New York, anxiety is growing among even the most even-keeled health care workers. “I feel like we’re all just being sent to slaughter,” said Thomas Riley, a nurse at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, who has contracted the virus, along with his husband.

Almost 100 people living in New York City’s main homeless shelter system have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said on Monday.

As of Sunday, 99 people staying in 59 shelters were infected, according to the city’s Department of Social Services. Two of them, a man in his 60s and a man in his 70s, died last week. Twenty-seven homeless people remained hospitalized on Sunday, officials said.

The city’s main shelter system for homeless people is made up of about 450 traditional shelters, hotels and private apartment buildings. There are an estimated 79,000 homeless people in the city; about 5 percent live unsheltered on the city’s streets.

Seven people living on the streets and three people who were staying in what is considered unstable housing have tested positive for the virus, officials said.

As of Sunday, there were 140 people staying in special isolation units operated by the social services agency at four locations.

Subway ridership in New York City has plummeted in recent weeks. But in poorer areas, many people have jobs that do not allow them the luxury of working from home. So they keep riding.

In the Bronx, two stations that have had relatively low drops in ridership serve neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates in the city, an analysis by The New York Times found.

The 170th Street station in the University Heights neighborhood and Burnside station in Mount Eden are surrounded by large Latin American and African immigrant communities where the median household income is about $22,000, one-third the median household income in New York State, according to census data.

It is a striking change on a system that has long been the great equalizer among New Yorkers, where hourly workers crowded in with financial executives. Now the subway is more like a symbol of the city’s inequality.

Many residents say they have no choice but to pile onto trains with strangers, potentially exposing themselves to the virus. Even worse, a reduction in service in response to plunging ridership has sometimes caused crowding and has made it impossible to maintain the social distancing public health experts recommend.

“This virus is very dangerous,” said Yolanda Encanción, a home health aide who works in Lower Manhattan. “I don’t want to get sick, I don’t want my family to get sick, but I still need to get to my job.”

Reporting was contributed by Jonah Engel Bromwich, Helene Cooper, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Michael Gold, Christina Goldbaum, Jesse McKinley, Andy Newman, Sam Roberts, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Brian M. Rosenthal, Michael Schwirtz, Nikita Stewart, Matt Stevens, Tracey Tully, Ali Watkins and Pete Wells.

Source: NY TIMES RSS FEED