ALBANY – New York State is being put on "pause" to contain the novel coronavirus spread, with new mandates on nonessential workers and restricting the movements and behavior by the most vulnerable population to the virus.
Nonessential gatherings of people – at private parties, at outdoor basketball games, kids playing in groups and an array of settings – will be banned. "These are legal provisions. They will be enforced,'' Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday morning.
The rules kick in Sunday evening, and will be enforced by local and state officials.
"We need everybody to be safe, otherwise no one can be safe,'' he added.
"Stay home,'' Cuomo said, except to take a solo walk at a park or to buy groceries.
An order that first began to require nonessential employers to keep half their workforce at home was raised to 100% on Friday by Cuomo.
People considered most vulnerable – older people, those with underlying illnesses – are to remain indoors, go outside only for solo walks and not take public transportation.
Concerns that people were not taking recommendations to avoid larger gatherings, whether in public or private settings, is now leading New York to order that things like parties be halted.
There are now 7,102 confirmed cases; 2,950 are new since Thursday.
Cuomo also said New York State will pay companies a premium for supplies of masks, gowns and, most importantly, ventilators. Also, next week noncritical, elective surgeries will be canceled.
There are different rules for the vulnerable – those over age 70 or who have underlying illnesses or are immune-compromised – and the less vulnerable.
For those considered vulnerable, they must:
• Remain indoors, except for solo walks or to receive essential services.
• Pre-screen visitors by taking their temperature.
• Wear masks, which are in short supply everywhere.
• Avoid public transportation unless for essential reasons like getting to a hospital.
There have been widespread reports of people, especially young individuals who are out of school systems shut down or in their 20s and 30s still gathering in groups to play at people's houses or go to parties or play a pick-up game of basketball in a park. "It's lunacy,'' Cuomo said of young people who do not think they can get the virus or spread it.
People who have ignored previous recommendations about limiting public density are not just endangering the rest of the public, they are being "rude ... and disrespectful.''
"Social distancing means social distancing,'' he said of remaining at least 6 feet away from others. "You can't play basketball and stay six feet from one another.''
While there will be additional enforcement of the new edict, the state has no plans to issue civil financial penalties against violators.
Come Sunday evening, there can be no "nonessential" gathering of individuals in groups of any size, like at parks. Any concentration of people for any reason must be considered "essential," and limits of keeping 6 feet distance from others will be prohibited. People who are sick must remain home except for a medical visit and only if they first have a "tele-health" appointment with a medical professional.
The state health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said New York has now dipped into its emergency stockpiles to help supply things like masks and gloves to providers.
Robert Mujica, the state budget director, said the state – as it must do by law – will also be changing its income tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15.
Significantly for many businesses, those companies that fail to meet today's periodic deadline for the submission to the state of sales tax receipts will not face penalties or interest payments, Mujica said at the State Capitol Friday morning.
The state is also asking internet service providers to increase capacity – as well as data usage limits for consumers who have such plans – at no charge. Cuomo said the internet capacity is needed to help people who are now working from home.
Also on hold for 90 days: evictions of residential and commercial tenants who might be, for instance, behind on their rent.
"This is not a shelter in place,'' Cuomo said of his new order that New Yorkers take a "pause" from encountering with others in any size group. There are still exceptions, he noted, for people to go to a grocery store or pharmacy, and that shipments of goods and other key services will remain in place.
But he warned that the curve of the number of cases is not flattening. "It's not helpful hints ... I am not kidding about this,'' Cuomo said of the new orders.
The health commissioner said patients in the hard-hit New York City area could have to be moved to upstate facilities if the virus' spread is not contained. The state has estimated it now has only half the hospital bed capacity that it will need; hospitals and others are scrambling to add space, including setting aside specific facilities to care for COVID-19 patients, such as the move Thursday by Catholic Health in Buffalo to turn one of its hospitals into a facility for virus-only patients.
Cuomo again cautioned that while the state has had far more confirmed cases, it is largely because New York has sharply increased testing. It's not been enough in many areas, however, from Buffalo to Albany as test kit shortages grow.
The governor also acknowledged another growing problem: mental health challenges of those stuck in homes or tiny apartments because of isolation or quarantines. "We're all in various levels of quarantine. It's hard,'' he said. (Cuomo's own press office was placed on precautionary quarantine Friday after one staffer exhibited symptoms of the virus.)
State education officials, meanwhile, on Friday afternoon said that all state-required assessment tests for elementary and middle school students are being canceled for the rest of the school year so that districts "can focus their efforts toward local school and community needs,'' according to the state Education Department. The suspension of the tests, such as those assessments of English, math and science, will require Albany to request a waiver from the federal government and its testing and reporting requirements.
The federal government later Friday suspended all standardized test requirements for states.