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Cuomo reports New York's first confirmed COVID-19 death

New York has seen its first death related to COVID-19, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Saturday.

An 82-year-old victim died Friday in a New York City hospital, Cuomo said on a morning conference call with reporters.

She was admitted to the Brooklyn hospital on March 3. The woman had emphysema, for which she had previously been hospitalized.

"Again, the context is important here," Cuomo said, noting her age and pre-existing respiratory illness made her more vulnerable to COVID-19 as well as something like the flu.

Cuomo announced there are now 524 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the state, an increase of about 100 from the day before. He said 117 of the 524 are hospitalized now.

There still are no confirmed cases in the eight counties of Western New York, although Monroe County late Friday announced it has a second case of COVID-19.

The governor said the number of new reported cases is likely to rise as the state ramps up its testing capacity. That doesn't mean the virus is spreading faster, he said, just that the state soon will have an accurate picture of its reach.

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"The more tests we take, the more that number will go up," Cuomo told reporters. "Nobody believes there’s only 500 cases of coronavirus in New York. We believe there are thousands of people who have coronavirus, maybe tens of thousands."

Presumably there are other people who had COVID-19 but recovered without being aware they had it, he added.

New York, as with the rest of the world, is bracing for a lengthy, unprecedented fight to rein in the coronavirus.

"At the end of the day, which is in three months, six months, nine months, the infection rate will be massive. We know that," Cuomo said.

However, the governor said, it's important not to let false rumors or understandable public worry run unchecked.

"Information and facts defeat fear, and the anxiety in society is obviously an issue we have to address as much as we have to deal with the virus at this point," Cuomo said.

Other highlights from the governor's conference call:

  • Telemedicine: Health insurers will waive required co-payments for telemedicine services as officials encourage people to seek answers from health-care providers over the phone or online instead of in person. Cuomo said officials don't want people who have COVID-19 walking unannounced into emergency rooms and they don't want people who think they might be sick going into an ER and catching the coronavirus from someone else there. Making the initial contact with a doctor by phone or over the computer is the safest approach for the patient and for the general community, he said.
  • Schools: Cuomo said he will sign an executive order Saturday waiving the requirement that school districts complete 180 days of instruction in order to be eligible for state aid. However, he said the state still is leaving it up to individual districts to decide whether to close in response to the novel coronavirus. The only difference is schools are required to close for one day if a student tests positive for COVID-19 to allow for intensive cleaning and a discussion with health officials as to how to move forward.
  • Unemployment insurance: The state is waiving the seven-day period that someone is required to wait after losing a job before applying for unemployment insurance.
  • Political petitions: Cuomo said he doesn't want candidates and campaign workers going door to door to collect signatures on petitions required to get their names on the ballot. Later in the day, he signed an executive order suspending the petitioning process for the June primaries as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. The order also says that candidates will need to collect only 30% of the statutory threshold. For Congress, only 375 signatures will be needed, rather than 1,250. For State Senate, only 300 instead of 1,000. For Assembly, 150 rather than 500.
  • Drive-thru COVID-19 testing: Cuomo said the drive-thru testing area opened Friday in New Rochelle, Westchester County, a hotbed of confirmed coronavirus cases, was successful. He said 150 vehicles were processed Friday, in less time than officials had anticipated. He said the state plans to open a similar drive-thru location on Long Island this coming week.
  • Hospital capacity: In New York, there are about 50,000 hospital beds and about 3,000 intensive care unit beds, though about 80% of the ICU beds are filled now, Cuomo said. "Right now, I do worry about the hospital capacity," he said. That's another reason he said he doesn't want to close schools statewide, because he doesn't want health-care workers to have to leave their posts to stay home with their young children.
  • Quarantine: As many as 7,000 New Yorkers have been under mandatory or precautionary quarantine at any one time, Cuomo said, a number that stands at 2,000 now as people cycle in and out for the 14-day quarantine period. Asked about reports of people leaving their homes in violation of a quarantine, Cuomo said the state hasn't confirmed any such claim. He said the state each day sends workers at random times to sites where people are in mandatory quarantine to confirm they haven't left. In cases of precautionary quarantine, this check-in is conducted electronically but in a way that allows for confirmation someone is at home, such as a video phone call. Civil and criminal penalties could be brought against someone in violation of a mandatory quarantine, Cuomo said.

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