New York coronavirus hospitalizations fall, New Jersey launches nursing home probe

(Reuters) – The number of people hospitalized for the novel coronavirus and related deaths in New York fell to their lowest levels in more than a week, adding to evidence the hardest-hit state was controlling its spread, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday.

Cuomo also extended an order closing businesses and schools by two weeks until at least May 15 in coordination with other states in the region, and added details to face-mask requirements, saying New Yorkers should wear them on buses, taxis and trains.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, speaking at a separate news briefing, ordered a review of long-term care facilities across the state after learning that one nursing home had piled up dead bodies in a makeshift morgue.

Cuomo, who has emerged as a leading national voice on the pandemic, said the improvement in key metrics reflected social distancing efforts that had brought the infection rate in his state low enough to control the outbreak.

A total of 17,735 people were hospitalized across New York because of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, down from 18,335 a day earlier and the lowest since April 6, Cuomo said. Intubations and admissions to intensive care units also declined, he said.

“The good news is it means we can control the virus. We can control the spread,” Cuomo told a daily briefing. “And we did not know for sure that we could do that.”

But Cuomo noted that about 2,000 infected people were newly admitted to hospitals on Wednesday, and that while deaths declined to 606, marking the lowest daily count in more than a week, the toll on his state was still significant.

“That is still continuing at a really, really tragic rate,” Cuomo said of the death tally, adding that there were 29 fatalities at nursing homes, which he called “ground zero” in the fight against the virus.

Cuomo said there was room for optimism in how social distancing had lowered the infection rate to 0.9 across New York, meaning one infected person was causing less than one new infection.

Reflecting that confidence, Cuomo said New York would send 100 ventilators to New Jersey, a day after pledging to send 100 to Michigan and 50 to Maryland. Just a few weeks ago, Cuomo had been warning that a shortage of the breathing machines would cause deaths and was scrambling to secure more.

Murphy said he had asked his attorney general to investigate long-term care facilities after being “outraged that bodies of the dead” had been stacked in a provisional morgue at an overwhelmed nursing home in Andover, a northern New Jersey town.

“Last Saturday, we were notified that the facility was in need of body bags for deceased residents. And it was also reported that there were 28 bodies being stored in that facility,” Judy Persichilli, the health commissioner, said.

While New York appears to have passed the worst of the crisis, New Jersey has yet to call a peak.

New Jersey reported an additional 362 deaths for a total of 3,518, now exceeding the number of residents who died in World War 1, Murphy said.

New Jersey has joined New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in a pact to coordinate the reopening of their economies.

Murphy extended the closure of New Jersey public schools until May 15, conforming in part with the plan laid out by Cuomo, who said he would be looking at the infection rate and other metrics to decide when to end the shutdowns in New York.

“One month is a long time,” Cuomo said. “What happens after that, I don’t know – we will see, depending on what the data says.”

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