NY governor warns coronavirus apex still week to 21 days away

Governor Andrew Cuomo's comments come as US's nationwide death toll eclipses China's official count.

    Workers load the body of a deceased person into a waiting hearse vehicle outside The Brooklyn Hospital Center during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York [Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters]
    Workers load the body of a deceased person into a waiting hearse vehicle outside The Brooklyn Hospital Center during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York [Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters]

    As the United States's death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed China's official count on Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned residents in that state, currently the US epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak, to accept the fact that it could be weeks before life returns to any semblance of normality.

    At his daily briefing in the state capital, Albany, Cuomo said no one knows how far New York is from seeing the number of cases crest, but it could be between seven and 21 days or even longer based on several forecasting models and other variables.

    "That's our apex. You then need to come down the other side of the mountain once you hit the apex," he said. At the moment, he added, "we are still going up the mountain. The main battle is at the top of the mountain. We are planning now for the battle at the top of the mountain."

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    As of Tuesday, Cuomo said, New York state had reported more than 75,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and some 1,550 deaths from the disease associated with it, COVID-19. Nationally, the US has recorded more than 174,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, the most of any single nation in the world, and more than 3,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. US media has put the death toll in the US at more than 3,500. 

    Worldwide, more than 800,000 people have been infected and over 39,000 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins tally. Italy and Spain accounted for half the deaths, while China had about 3,300.

    "Everyone wants to know one thing: 'When is it over?' Nobody knows … but I can say this, it's not going to be soon," Cuomo said. "So calibrate yourself and your expectations so you are not disappointed every morning when you wake up."

    Cuomo said the number of new coronavirus hospitalisations in his state had spiked to its highest level yet in the last 24 hours, but that the number of people being treated and discharged continues to increase. He called on healthcare workers from across the country to come to New York to help and promised that the state would reciprocate when and if the epicentre moves to other areas.

    New York City officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a partnership Tuesday to bring 250 more ambulances and 500 paramedics and emergency medical technicians from around the nation to the city.

    The city's Emergency Medical Service has been responding to record numbers of emergencies since the COVID-19 crisis hit this month. Calls for assistance have been up by 50 percent over normal daily call volume.

    To reduce the impact, New York City's emergency management office is looking to turn venues such as sports stadiums that are currently lying unused into facilities that could help relieve pressure on medical centres. Among the sites being considered is the tennis stadium in the borough of Queens normally used for the US Open tournament, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

    A spokesperson for the agency told the Wall Street Journal that the facility, which is closed until at least May 3, will start housing up to 350 non-COVID patients beginning Tuesday. Another part of the facility, the Louis Armstrong Stadium, will be converted into a makeshift commissary to create 25,000 meal packages a day, a spokesman for the US Tennis Association told the Journal.

    A temporary hospital built inside a New York City convention centre began accepting patients Monday night, according to the governor's office, and a nearby Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, that arrived in port to much fanfare Monday was expected to begin taking in patients soon.

    Cuomo spent a lengthy portion of his briefing on Tuesday describing how he and his family are coping with the fact that his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, has tested positive for the virus. He used the news to warn people that the virus is indiscriminate.

    "I don't care how smart, how rich, how powerful you think you are ... this virus is the great equaliser," he said. "My brother Chris is positive for coronavirus ... he's gonna be fine. He's young, in good shape, strong - not as strong as he thinks - but he's gonna be fine."

    As he has in the past, Cuomo warned against politicising the pandemic.

    "I know this is a political year and everything has a political backdrop," he said. "But not now. There are no red states. There are no blue states. The virus doesn't kill red Americans or blue Americans, it attacks all Americans."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies