As coronavirus cases rose in the national epicenter of New York, President Donald Trump surprised governors of the state and neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut by saying Saturday that he might impose a quarantine on their residents before tweeting later in the day that a travel advisory was the way to go.
Trump’s comments about a quarantine led New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call it illegal and “a federal declaration of war.” Meanwhile, Cuomo postponed New York’s presidential primary from April to June, and nurses made anguished pleas for more protective equipment.
Here are the latest coronavirus developments in New York:
Trump told reporters at the White House he was weighing the idea of a quarantine to prevent people in the tri-state area from traveling for a short time. Late Saturday, though, he tweeted that he’d decided to go with a travel advisory.
The travel advisory urges residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to immediately avoid any nonessential travel for two weeks.
Trump’s announcement came as the U.S. death count crossed 2,100, more than double the level from two days ago. The United States has now recorded more than 122,000 cases of the respiratory virus, the most of any country in the world.
All 50 U.S. states have reported some cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, but New York has the most, with over 52,000 positive tests for the illness and more than 700 deaths. About 7,300 people were in New York hospitals Saturday, including about 1,800 in intensive care.
The federal government has the power to take measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases among states, but it’s not clear whether that means Trump can order people not to leave their states.
Trump cited requests from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a fellow Republican and outspoken Trump supporter who has complained about New Yorkers coming to his state amid the outbreak and ordered them to isolate themselves on arrival for 14 days.
Trump said he had spoken with Cuomo, but the Democratic governor said there had been no talk of a quarantine when the two spoke Saturday morning.
The governor said roping off states would amount to “a federal declaration of war,” arguing it would be illegal, economically catastrophic, “preposterous,” and shortsighted when other parts of the U.S. are seeing cases rise, too.
“If you start walling off areas all across the country, it would be totally bizarre, counterproductive, anti-American, anti-social,” Cuomo told CNN.
Locking down the nation’s financial capital would shock the stock market and “paralyze the economy” at a time when Trump has indicated he’s itching to get it on track, the governor added.
“Why you would just create total pandemonium on top of a pandemic, I have no idea,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said he was delaying the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 23, when the state plans to hold legislative congressional and local party primaries.
“I don’t think it’s wise to be bringing people to one location to vote” on the April date, he said.
New York joins over a dozen states that have delayed some elections. A smaller group including Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Indiana and Kentucky have also postponed their presidential primaries.
The governor’s decision came as election commissioners across New York warned they were “risking” their health and safety to meet impending deadlines for testing machines and preparing ballots ahead of the April 28 date.
Cuomo also says he’s signing an executive order instructing hospitals to allow at least one partner into delivery rooms.
The governor took the action Saturday after some hospitals had barred patients from having any visitors, including expectant fathers, because of the risk those people could pose to health care workers if they are infected.
At a news conference outside city-run Jacobi Hospital, nurses called for more masks and other gear to safeguard themselves against the virus that has so far sickened more than 29,000 people and killed over 500 in the city.
At least one health care worker, Mount Sinai West assistant nursing manager Kious Kelly, 36, has died of the virus. Others also have fallen ill around the metropolitan region.
Jacobi nurses said managers at the Bronx hospital have been rationing protective equipment, making them unable to change out the high-end particle-filtering masks known as N95s as often as they should. Two Jacobi nurses are “fighting for their lives in the ICUs right now,” pediatric nurse Sean Petty said, blaming a scarcity of equipment.
City officials have insisted there’s enough protective equipment for roughly the next week, though they’re worried for the weeks after.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city delivered 200,000 N95 masks to hospitals Friday, with 800,000 more to come Saturday, along with loads of less-protective surgical masks and other gear. The United Nations mission on Saturday donated 250,000 face masks to the city, with the U.S. mission to the U.N. helping to facilitate the gift.
The city hospital system’s president, Dr. Mitchell Katz, said at a news conference Friday that staffers working with coronavirus patients could conserve supplies of N95 masks by wearing one throughout their shifts, overlaid with surgical masks changed more frequently.
Petty said policies on protective equipment were being driven by shortages, not science.
“We will not let any health official or government official say that we have enough” protective equipment, he said, “until every health care worker has an N95 for every time they interact with a COVID-19 patient.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
As the state continues scrambling to try to amass 30,000 ventilators ahead of a projected mid-to-late-April peak in coronavirus cases, Cuomo bluntly illustrated the alternative: masks with manually operated air bags.
He said the state has bought 3,000 of them, has ordered 4,000 more and is considering training National Guard personnel to operate them. It entails pumping the bulb-like bag by hand — 24 hours a day for every patient in need.
“If we have to turn to this device on any large-scale basis, that is not an acceptable situation,” Cuomo said, “so we go back to finding the ventilators.”
The federal government has sent over 4,000 ventilators to the state and New York City this week.
— A Navy hospital ship is due to arrive Monday in New York City as part of efforts to increase the number of hospital beds available.
— Health officials warned of the potential spread of the virus in prisons and jails.
— Retirement communities also continued to cause concern, with one Long Island complex reporting seven deaths from the coronavirus in less than two weeks.
— Drivers with New York license plates are being pulled over by Rhode Island State Police so that National Guard officials can collect contact information and inform them of a mandatory, 14-day quarantine.