Army Corps to build hospitals as coronavirus cases top 3,200 in Nassau

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ProHealth Urgent Care in Little Neck is one of two local urgent care centers offering coronavirus testing. (Photo courtesy of Christina Levin)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the establishment of four temporary U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hospitals throughout New York, including one at SUNY Old Westbury, in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus.

Cuomo said he expects the coronavirus apex to strike within two to three weeks, as statewide infection rates have doubled every three days, according to statistics provided by The New York Times. 

The number of confirmed cases in New York has reached more than 30,000, with 3,285  in Nassau County, according to officials.

TEMPORARY HOSPITALS

Cuomo announced Tuesday the establishment of the temporary U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hospitals, two of which are on Long Island.  Their locations are SUNY Old Westbury in Nassau, Stony Brook University in Suffolk, the Javits Center in Manhattan and the Westchester County Center in White Plains.

Cuomo mandated all hospitals throughout the state to increase their bed capacity by at least 50 percent.  The temporary hospitals, Cuomo said, will each have 1,000 hospital beds.

“We now have 53,000 beds,” Cuomo said of hospital capacity statewide. “We need 110,000 beds.”

Cuomo said New York also will need 40,000 intensive care unit beds.

According to Cuomo, the Long Island hospitals will be set up outdoors and in field houses, with staff living in campus dorms.

Cuomo said he is also speaking to hotel owners about taking over their hotels for patients  and using the dormitories in city universities throughout New York City.

Staffing, Cuomo said, is something that will need to be provided on a volunteer basis.

We’re calling and contacting all retirees in the healthcare field,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “We’re calling all professionals in the healthcare field whether or not they work in a hospital. They could work at an insurance company, in a clinic, or whatever. But we want to enlist as many staff as we can and as many back-up staff because healthcare workers will get sick.”

As of Wednesday, New York had procured about 11,000 ventilators, according to Cuomo. 

Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox News Tuesday that 2,000 ventilators from the national stockpile were shipped to New York earlier Tuesday, and on Wednesday “there will be another 2,000 ventilators shipped from the national stockpile.”

Cuomo said New York is in need of 30,000 ventilators to combat the growing pandemic, and called upon President Trump and the federal government to aid the state in finding vendors.  He also urged the president to use the Defense Production Act, which would allow the federal government to order private companies to produce medical supplies, including protective equipment to hospitals.

“Every state is trying to get them, other countries are trying to get them,” Cuomo said. “The capacity is limited. They’re technical pieces of equipment. They’re not manufactured in two days or four days, seven days or 10 days.”

Cuomo said the federal government has 20,000 ventilators in the federal stockpile and asked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar why New York has not received more ventilators.

“New York has 25,000 cases,” Cuomo said. “It has 10 times the problem that California has. Ten times the problem that Washington state has. You prioritize resources, and your activity, and your actions to where they are needed.”

Cuomo said that after the apex passes in New York, the ventilators could be deployed in other areas throughout the country where they are needed.

When asked about the supply of ventilators, face masks, and hospital beds in the county, Nassau Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said hospitals have sufficient resources “as of now.”

“Measures may have to be taken…but there is a capacity that we are working on,” Eisenstein said. “We have been keeping in close contact with the state and our hospitals.  Anyone who needs a ventilator right now would be able to get one.”

Eisenstein encouraged residents to monitor their procurement of the N95 masks, noting that first responders and people with the disease should have a priority.

“Wearing a mask if you do not have the virus is not [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] protocol,” he said. “If you buy the masks, please be mindful and only get what you really need.”

TOWN, COUNTY & STATE

Since drive-thru testing began at Jones Beach last Tuesday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Nassau County has increased from 278 a week earlier to 3,285, as of Wednesday according to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

“We’ve been getting ready for this jump,” Curran said. “We knew with the drive-thru testing and the increased testing capacity that this number would increase significantly and that is exactly what is happening.”

A total of 17 Nassau County residents have suffered coronavirus-related deaths since last week.  Each of the deaths, Curran said, were also a result of underlying health issues such as lung and heart disease and diabetes.

Curran said 33 members of the Nassau County Police Department have tested positive for the virus.  Forty police department members are in quarantine awaiting results, and 40 others in quarantine due to someone in their household testing positive, according to Curran.

Four corrections officers and one deputy sheriff have also tested positive for the virus, Curran said.

According to Curran and Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, a growing issue in the county is the heightened number of spam calls relating to the coronavirus.

Curran said residents have reported receiving calls requesting personal financial or healthcare information.

Ryder said there has been a 49 percent increase in spam calls in the past year and advised residents to remain vigilant.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in this world right now and it is unfortunate that people are taking advantage of that uncertainty,” Curran said.

“There’s a bunch of lowlife people that sit and wait and prey in times of crisis,” Ryder said. “Well, they’re coming out in groves right now and making these phone calls. Our seniors are more concerned about fighting and keeping away from catching the virus and now they have to concern themselves about a scam that comes over the phone.”

County officials have spoken about recent cases of price gouging in the county by local businesses that have increased prices on N-95 protective masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other products in high demand since the virus began to spread.

“Along with everything else we are dealing with as a society, it is unforgivable to prey on people in a very vulnerable time,” Curran said.  “We encourage all residents to report any price gouging they see whether online or in a store.”

She said Monday marked the first over-the-phone meeting with the county’s new economic advisory council. Curran said the council includes business leaders throughout Long Island and the members had a “very frank” conversation on the impact the virus has on many aspects of life.

Curran said the effects cover small and large businesses throughout the county, such as hotels, retail, restaurants, construction, mom and pop shops, and more.

Curran encouraged all businesses to participate in a data-gathering survey conducted by Nassau, which can be found online at https://www.hofstra.edu/economicimpact.

The county Legislature also approved a motion to extend the deadline to file a property tax assessment grievance to March 30.

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth issued a statement Sunday saying that all playgrounds, basketball courts, tennis courts, and the town dog run are closed. Parks are open for passive use only.

“I cannot be emphatic enough: The only way to maintain public health right now is by staying apart.  This includes social distancing—even for children,” said Bosworth. “While this may serve as a temporary inconvenience, understand that the decisions we are making can literally save lives.”

North Hempstead town facilities will remain closed until March 30. Essential services, including the clerk’s office, sanitation, and the 311 call center, will continue operating. All meetings, programs, and events have been canceled or postponed.

The town’s Project Independence grocery shopping transportation program for seniors will run on an expanded schedule, operating from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week.

“North Hempstead and our Department of Services for the Aging and Project Independence understand how incredibly difficult these times can be, especially for seniors,” Bosworth said. “We are proud to offer these extended hours to help our residents take advantage of when their grocery stores are less crowded.”

The Town of Hempstead, which declared a state of emergency March 16, has limited its town hall hours to Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Town clerk services will be unavailable until further notice.

The tax office is offering drive-through services at 200 North Franklin Street from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. All taxpayer forums for the month of March have been postponed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo enforced a shutdown of all non-essential places of business in New York, which began Sunday at 8 p.m. Businesses exempt from that regulation include grocery stores, pharmacies, and healthcare facilities.

On Friday New York implemented a 90-day moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants, according to Cuomo.

Cuomo announced on Friday the implementation of Matilda’s Law to protect New York residents aged 70 and over and those with compromised immune systems, whom he called a “vulnerable population.”

TRANSPORTATION

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported Monday that ridership was down 67 percent on the LIRR, 90 percent on Metro-North, 60 percent on the subway and 49 percent on buses.

As of last Thursday, 23 MTA workers, including four Long Island Rail Road workers, had tested positive for coronavirus.

MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye said in a statement that the individuals were “in quarantine or receiving appropriate care.” 

“The MTA is working closely with the state Department of Health to identify any colleagues who came in contact with employees who are confirmed, send them home to self-quarantine, provide access to necessary testing and immediately and aggressively disinfect the workplace,” Foye said. 

MTA workers are demanding better protection from the transportation authority during the ongoing crisis.

The authority now disinfects subway stations twice a day, and its full fleet of trains, cars and buses once every 72 hours. They no longer accept cash fare payments at ticket counters or on trains, in an effort to avoid unnecessary contact.

LIRR and union officials, including LIRR President Phil Eng, explained and demonstrated heightened cleaning procedures to the public at the Hicksville LIRR Station last Thursday at 1 p.m.

NATIONAL

On Wednesday morning, the White House and Senate struck a deal over a $2 trillion stimulus package to jump-start the economy, which has faltered in the face of the pandemic.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) described the deal as “a war-time level of investment for our nation” and announced that the Senate would move to pass it later in the day Wednesday.

The deal is one of the most expensive measures passed in the country’s history. It is the third piece of bipartisan legislation aimed at addressing the coronavirus spread.

The proposed package will provide $250 billion in direct payments to individuals and families, $350 billion in small business loans, $250 billion in unemployment insurance benefits and $500 billion in loans to corporations.

The deal includes $1,200 payments to individuals making $75,000 a year or less, according to Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Families will also receive $500 per child.

A sum of $150 billion is designated for hospitals, research, treatment and the Strategic National Stockpile to boost supplies of ventilators, masks and other medical equipment.

“We’re going to take up and pass this package to care for those who are now caring for us, and help carry millions of Americans through these dark, economic times,” Schumer said.

The deal is an expansion of the CARES act that Republicans proposed last week. Democrats delayed negotiations until they could secure more funding for hospitals, unemployment benefits and workers as part of the package.

The legislation has yet to be released to the public.

New York is the epicenter of the outbreak. In recent days, however, numbers of cases in New Jersey and Louisiana have surged.

Cuomo said Wednesday that there are early signs that the state’s social distancing measures appear to be working.

“We have dramatically slowed what was an exponential rate of increase,” Cuomo said. He said that hospitalizations were doubling every 4.7 days by Tuesday, compared to every two days  Sunday.

Emma Jones contributed reporting.

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