NEW YORK -- Even as politicians talk about “reopening” the country, New York is still intensifying restrictions intended to stop the coronavirus from spreading.
Face coverings will be now be required in any place where people can't stay at least six feet away from other people. While other isolation measures seem to have worked in keeping new infections down, New Yorkers continue to die by the hundreds every day. Meanwhile, New York City officials said they would create an emergency food reserve and take other steps to fight hunger in a city where huge numbers of people have been thrown out of work.
Here are the latest coronavirus developments in New York:
New York residents will be required to wear face coverings anytime they come into close contact with other people outside their homes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
The mandate will require a mask or face covering, like a bandanna, on busy streets, public transit, or any situation where people cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing, even if it is passing a person briefly on a wooded trail. The order takes effect Friday.
“Stopping the spread is everything. How can you not wear a mask when you’re going to come close to a person?” Cuomo said at his daily briefing. “On what theory would you not do that?”
The governor, who has himself eschewed masks during his daily news briefings, though he comes within six feet of his staff, said there will initially be no civil penalties for noncompliance, but he’s urging merchants to enforce it among customers.
Though hospitalizations from the outbreak have leveled off, New York officials are still trying to reduce the rising death toll. New York recorded 752 deaths Tuesday, for a total of nearly 11,600 since the outbreak began.
Those figures don’t include roughly 4,000 more deaths in New York City that city officials say were probably caused by the virus, but haven’t been confirmed by a lab test.
Cuomo's announcement came hours after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for stores to make customers wear face coverings in order to protect workers against exposure. De Blasio had previously recommended face coverings in public in the city.
The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
In a city where 1.2 million residents — including one in five children — struggle at times to feed themselves, the number is expected to grow as an estimated half-million New Yorkers have lost or are likely to lose their jobs soon.
“We will make sure everyone gets the food they need,” de Blasio said in unveiling a $170 million plan to help.
The city already is handing out 250,000 free meals a day at schools and delivering 25,000 a day to senior citizens. Officials expect to provide 10 million free meals in April and expect the need to grow to as much as 15 million in May.
Meanwhile, the city has contacted some 11,000 taxi and livery drivers — whose livelihoods have been shattered as people stay home — to hire them to deliver meals to those who can’t leave home.
While officials said the city food supply is stable, they also plan to create a $50 million reserve of as many as 18 million shelf-stable meals.
The virus has been unmerciful on nursing homes, killing 2,500 patients in just a few weeks, but so far New York state has refused to disclose the names of facilities where people have died.
State officials took one step toward transparency Wednesday, saying they will now require facilities to tell residents and their families within 24 hours if another patient at the home has contracted the virus or died. The upcoming executive order also will include adult homes, where more than 580 people have died.
But the state will continue to withhold the names of nursing homes that have experienced severe outbreaks from others, saying patients deserve privacy.
The change was intended to help people like Cindy Coughlin, who told The Associated Press she's struggled to get information about whether there is a COVID-19 outbreak at the nursing home in Johnson City where her 83-year-old father in-law resides.
Coughlin said she’s at a loss to understand how the public release of information would endanger anyone’s privacy.
“I wish they would do that,” Coughlin said. “I don’t’ know if it would make you feel worse or better, but I think I’d feel a lot better knowing there was only 5 cases there instead of 25. I guess that’s one thing I can’t understand."
THE ECONOMIC EQUATION
Cuomo said getting people back to work safely before a vaccine is developed will require not only large-scale testing, but tracing the personal contacts of people who test positive and isolating infected people.
But testing and tracing people in a state of 19 million is not possible without federal help, he said.
“That is a massive undertaking,” he said. “It’s intelligent but it’s massive.”
In the meantime, New York will begin testing 2,000 people a day for virus antibodies this week via a newly developed finger-prick test. Priority will be given to nurses, New York City police and other first responders, so they can know if they’ve been infected.
Both Cuomo and de Blasio said leaders need to be deliberative about trying to rev up the economy without creating an opportunity for the coronavirus to come roaring back.
“I want to restart the economy desperately ... but the best way to do it is to be careful,” de Blasio said.
Cuomo said the state could consider lifting restrictions first for businesses that pose a lesser risk of infection and are considered more “essential.”
OUT OF PRISON
Former New York state Senate leader Dean Skelos was expected to be released soon from prison to home confinement after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Skelos has been serving a four-year and three-month prison term after he was convicted of extortion, wire fraud and bribery.
Villeneuve and Hill reported from Albany, N.Y.