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The Editorial Board

Coronavirus deaths slow, but it's no time to relax

The bad news overwhelms the good as the coronavirus pandemic worms its way through New York. That’s for a reason: The bad is about as terrible as anyone would want to conceive: Daily deaths from Covid-19 are, themselves, at epidemic heights, reaching a high of 799 statewide on Wednesday before falling to 671 on Easter Sunday – the first significant decline.

On Sunday the state crossed a grim threshold, when the total number of deaths reached 10,056 – more than three and a half times the number of lives lost in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Worldwide, the official death toll passed 116,000 on Monday, but experts believe it is much higher. And the counting isn’t through.

It’s a terrible time here and around the world, but there are faint, blinking signs of improvement, despite the rising number of deaths. In New York City, fewer residents are having to enter the hospital and fewer of those who do are being moved into intensive care. That’s because people are doing what the experts are recommending: staying home as much as possible; keeping at least 6 feet distant when they must go out; washing their hands over and over and over.

Because of that, fewer people are becoming sick. If it continues, it could allow the hospitals, especially those in the five boroughs of New York, to catch their breath as patient counts stabilize or, if things go well, even begin to decline.

But there is no guarantee that they will go well and, even then, such a change is likely to be weeks down the road, just as today’s heartrending death rates are the consequence of admissions from weeks before. And follow it back: Those admissions were necessary because, weeks before, too few people were taking the care that is needed to bring this crisis to a close.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Saturday, “We believe we have stabilized upstate.” There have been some hopeful signs, but Western New York’s peak of Covid-19 cases remains a few weeks away.

A declining rate of infection is something we all wish for, but government and health leaders are concerned that the falls in hospitalizations will lead some people to conclude that the crisis is already past. It’s not, and failure to continue distancing, they say, will lead to a new spike in illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths. Our progress, leading to the day when life returns to some version of normal, would be set back by weeks or months.

So while some may conclude that declining hospital admissions downstate are the sign to relax, they are, in fact, just the opposite: Not only do Western New Yorkers need to keep doing the things that medical professionals ask, but those who are still ignoring the need for distancing must start complying. Their failure is costing lives.

This isn’t the flu. There is reason to doubt that it will go away as temperatures warm and summer approaches. We must continue to act as though we are in for a long, long haul.

That means the Trump administration, understandably in a hurry to reopen the broken economy, must heed the advice of the medical professionals on when and how to do that. Business people have a legitimate place on that task force, but this is, first and foremost, a matter for medical professionals. Their opinion must carry the day or we will pay the price in lives and lost opportunities.

In the meantime, the rest of us can hurry things along by staying at home, keeping social distance and washing our hands – over and over and over.

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