NYC subway halting overnight service for virus cleaning

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York City is shutting down its subway system each day from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to increase cleaning of trains and stations during the coronavirus crisis

NEW YORK -- New York City's subway system, long celebrated for its all-night service, will shut down each day from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. so trains and stations can be disinfected, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, two days after saying the system had gotten “disgusting" during the coronavirus crisis.

Meanwhile, a Navy hospital ship sent a month ago to relieve stress on hospitals has left the city, fatalities inched downward and unemployment claims in the state soared again.

Here are the latest coronavirus-related developments in New York:

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SUBWAY SHUTDOWN

The city's subway system has been partially emptied and financially devastated by stay-at-home orders, and now it is shedding overnight service to make it easier to clean the system and empty it of homeless people who have increasingly taken up residence on vacant trains.

Cuomo said the extra cleaning in the vast system is a “daunting challenge,” but vital to keeping subways safe.

“You have to disinfect every place a hand could touch on a subway car. Every rail, every pole, every door,” Cuomo said. “Or, coughing, sneezing, wherever droplets could land.”

Dozens of transit employees have died of the coronavirus in recent weeks.

Pointing to a front-page report Tuesday in the New York Daily News about problems including indecent exposure, filth, and people stretched out on seats, Cuomo said the situation was “disrespectful” to essential workers who still need the subway to get to work.

Subway ridership has plunged by 92% during the pandemic. The shutdown will happen during hours when the system had, lately, been averaging around 11,000 riders.

Commuter trains serving Long Island and the city’s northern suburbs will also be disinfected every 24 hours, Cuomo said. City buses will continue to run around-the-clock but will be rotated out of service for cleaning.

The subway system has operated continuously, 24 hours a day since October 1904, save for relatively short interruptions caused by weather events such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012, blackouts and labor disputes.

A strike in 1966 knocked out service for 12 days, the longest stoppage in the system's history, according to the agency that runs it, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman called the subway the “lifeblood of our city” and said he would push to ensure 24/7 service returns as soon as the pandemic is over.

The homeless have long taken refuge on the city’s subways, but the problems that their plight poses — for them and other riders — has become more visible during the pandemic.

Advocates for the homeless say some are taking to trains because they worry about contracting the virus in shelters. The city has put some homeless people in hotel rooms during the crisis.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would send more outreach workers to end-of-the-line stations to try to persuade homeless people to go to shelters. Police have increased enforcement, removing more than 100 homeless people from trains on Monday alone.

“Punitively closing the subways and sending in more police will only make things worse,” said Giselle Routhier, the policy director of advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless. “What is actually needed are safe, private spaces where maintaining social distancing is possible.”

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NAVY SHIP SAILS OFF

The 1,000-bed USNS Comfort hospital ship left New York City for its Norfolk, Virginia home Thursday having treated just 182 coronavirus patients after a the city's caseload fell short of worst-case projections.

Eleven people died while being treated on the ship and several ship personnel came down with the disease, the Defense Department said.

“The situation has changed but we’re not done," Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command, said as he saw the ship off.

When the ship arrived last month, officials were warning the state might need to double hospital capacity to 110,000 beds by the end of April.

Hospitalizations peaked well below that, at 18,825 on April 12, and have fallen considerably since, but people continue to get seriously ill in large numbers.

On Wednesday, 306 people died from the disease and another 933 were newly admitted to hospitals, state officials said. The fatality count was lowest daily total since March 29, when there were 253 fatalities. The state peaked with 799 deaths in one day on April 9.

More than 18,300 people in the state have died from coronavirus, though the total doesn't include more than 5,300 deaths in the city that were attributed to the virus on death certificates but not confirmed by a lab test.

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UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

Over 1.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits in New York from March and April, according to state data released Thursday. That’s up from roughly 96,000 claims in March and April 2019.

New York has paid out over $3 billion in benefits so far to more than 1 million individuals, Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said Wednesday.

So many New Yorkers have lost their jobs amid the health crisis that it has led to breakdowns in the state's decades-old unemployment benefits application system.

New York has been revamping its application website, hiring new staffers and recruiting other state workers to help process claims. Around 3,000 workers are now working on the system, up from around 400 before the pandemic, according to the labor department

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CITY TO GIVE OUT MASKS

New York City is assigning more than 1,000 employees to enforce social distancing and distribute 275,000 face coverings at parks and other public spaces as the pandemic stretches toward summer, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The city is also ramping up testing and production of surgical gowns for health care workers. De Blasio said 11 testing sites will perform 14,000 tests this week, increasing to 43,000 tests at 30 sites by the week of May 18.

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Associated Press writers Karen Matthews and David Porter in New York and Marina Villeneuve in Albany contributed to this report.