By: Jim Mustian & Jeffrey Collins
No more play dates, no more picnics in the park with friends, no more pickup games of basketball. No more commuting or using public transport — unless absolutely essential. New York has implemented dramatic restrictions Sunday in an attempt to slow a pandemic that has swept across the globe and threatened to make the state one of the world’s biggest coronavirus hot spots.
As infections soar — or in anticipation that they will — officials worldwide warned of a critical shortage of medical supplies. Spain was erecting a field hospital in a convention center, British health workers pleaded for more gear, saying they felt like “cannon fodder,” and President Donald Trump ordered mobile hospital centers be sent to Washington, California and New York.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all nonessential businesses in the state to close and nonessential workers to stay home starting Sunday night, tightening even further restrictions put in place earlier.
Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also called for getting everything from masks to ventilators, as well as doctors and other medical workers to New York, warning a mounting death toll might grow more steeply without more federal help.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, promised on CBS’ “Face The Nation” that the medical supplies are about to start pouring in and will be “clearly directed to those hot spots that need it most.”
Hours later, Trump said he had ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ship mobile hospital centers to Washington, California and New York.
“No American is alone as long as we are united,” Trump said.
But efforts for a quick aid package from Congress faltered. The U.S. Senate voted against advancing a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package. Democrats argued it was tilted toward corporations rather than workers and health care providers. But negotiations continued.
The delay shook investors, as futures for U.S. stocks fell sharply at the start of trading Sunday. Futures for the S&P 500 fell by 5%, triggering a halt in trading shortly after opening. Wall Street is coming off its worst week since 2008, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 17%, many restaurants and bars nationwide closed and large swaths of the economy suddenly ground to a halt.
Worldwide, more than 335,000 people have been infected and more than 14,600 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. About 150 countries now have confirmed cases.
There were more than 33,000 cases across the U.S. and more than 400 deaths. New York state accounted for 117 deaths, mostly in New York City.
On Sunday, New York passed Washington state, the initial epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, in the number of fatal cases.
Along with the staggering numbers, there were individual reminders Sunday of the reach of the virus. Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky became the first U.S. senator to announce he was infected. Opera superstar Plácido Domingo announced he has COVID-19, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel put herself into quarantine after a doctor who gave her a vaccine tested positive.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Some 97,800 people have recovered, mostly in China.
In anticipation that the worst is yet to come for New York, Cuomo has told hospitals to increase their current bed numbers by at least 50%. Predictions from health officials are that COVID-19 cases needing advanced medical care will top 100,000 in the state in the next month or so, potentially overwhelming the state’s hospitals that have about 53,000 regular beds and 3,000 intensive care beds.
Hospitals started to feel the crush Sunday, creating emergency room overflows and dedicating COVID-19 wings, with officials in Brooklyn saying a number were becoming overwhelmed.
Health care workers said they were being asked to reuse and ration disposable masks and gloves.
“The building is on fire,” said Dr. David J. Ores, describing the chaotic and ever-changing guidance medical professionals have been given. “It’s a mad scramble.”
But in the face of an invisible threat rather than billowing smoke or blowing snow, New Yorkers were still gathering in large groups in parks, playing basketball or having block parties.
Cuomo expressed exasperation Sunday that people were still ignoring orders to stay away from one another. Under his order, people need to stay at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart when they are outside. Public transit will keep running, but people besides essential workers should only use it when absolutely necessary.
“It’s insensitive. It’s arrogant. It’s self-destructive. It’s disrespectful to other people,” Cuomo said. “It has to stop and it has to stop now.”
Similar scenes played out around the country. Californians headed to beaches and parks on Sunday despite their state’s stay-at-home order, prompting officials to close some strands and trails.
Elsewhere in the world, the coronavirus raged on. Italy and Iran reported soaring new death tolls.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte went on live TV to announce that he was tightening the country’s lockdown. Italy now has more than 59,000 cases and 5,476 deaths.
“We are facing the most serious crisis that the country has experienced since World War II,” Conte told Italians during a broadcast at midnight.
Iran’s supreme leader refused U.S. assistance Sunday to fight the virus, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that the outbreak could be an American plot. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments came as Iran faces crushing U.S. sanctions over its nuclear actions. Iran says it has 1,685 deaths and 21,638 confirmed cases of the virus — a toll that experts from the World Health Organization say is almost certainly under-reported.
In many parts of the United States, officials were sounding the same not that New York leaders were: Stay away from other people. Officials called them different things — social distancing, sheltering in place, or in the case of Nashville, Tennessee, a “safer at home” order.
“We’re all in quarantine now. Think about it,” Cuomo said.