New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo | Governor's Office

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo | Governor's Office

Cuomo gives New York City 24 hours to address lack of social distancing

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ordering New York City to come up with a plan to reduce the number of people gathering in public spaces within 24 hours as he reemphasizes the importance of social distancing to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Cuomo, at his daily coronavirus briefing on Sunday, said he saw people gathered in large groups and playing recreational sports during a tour of public places in the city on Saturday. He and other officials have been instructing people to stay home or, if they do venture outside, to keep at least six feet away from others.

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“It’s insensitive, it’s arrogant, it’s self-destructive, it’s disrespectful to other people and it has to stop and it has to stop now,” he said. “This is not a joke and I am not kidding.”

The governor echoed calls from New York City officials such as Council Speaker Corey Johnson to consider closing streets to vehicles to maximize pedestrian spaces, but said the city, rather than state, should figure out the details.

Cuomo said he spoke with Mayor Bill de Blasio about his concerns, but the mayor didn’t share the same messaging Sunday. Just hours before Cuomo's briefing, de Blasio insisted that everyday New Yorkers are responding to guidance to limit social gatherings.

"People really do get it," de Blasio said on "Meet the Press," when asked how he'll enforce the new shelter-in-place mandate. "I’ve been around my city the last few days — they’re getting the message more and more."

He added that the Police Department and other agencies will also "go out and remind people, educate them, break up groups of people if they’re congregating."

A spokesperson for de Blasio, Jane Meyer, said in a written response to Cuomo's remarks: "The City has already banned team sports and revoked all permits for large gatherings and has increased the presence of NYPD and Parks Enforcement Patrol officers to enforce social distancing. We are evaluating these efforts and considering expanded restrictions. The Mayor and the Governor have already discussed these efforts and we will continue to coordinate with the State. We urge every New Yorker to heed these new restrictions immediately."

On another front, Cuomo announced on Sunday that the state is instructing hospitals to come up with plans to increase capacity by a minimum of 50 percent to prepare for a coming surge of coronavirus-related hospitalizations. Hospitals will also be required to halt all elective noncritical surgeries starting Wednesday.

Cuomo said that during his Saturday outing he approved potential locations for the Army Corps of Engineers to assemble temporary hospitals — SUNY’s Stony Brook and Old Westbury campuses, the Westchester Convention Center and the Javits Center in Manhattan. Those locations, however, do not come with staff or supplies. Under Cuomo's plan, another federal agency, FEMA, would set up four field hospitals in the Javits Center, each with a capacity of 250 medical beds. They would include staff and supplies.

“We’re ready to go as soon as the federal government is ready to go,” he said of those projects.

There are now 15,168 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York state, and there have been 114 deaths. Seventy percent of those deaths have been patients 70 years old or older, Cuomo said.

Cuomo offered some good news, saying Port Authority Director Rick Cotton recovered from coronavirus without hospitalization and tested negative for the virus after two weeks of quarantine.

He also offered what he called “personal advice," saying that New Yorkers should focus on controlling the things they can, such as mentally preparing for the emotional toll of time at home or physical isolation. Everyone’s lives will be very different for four, six or nine months at least, he said, and people should be prepared for adjustments.

“I’m having a very difficult time with Captain,” Cuomo joked about his dog and cohabitant at the executive mansion. “He’s really getting on my nerves.”

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