COVID-19 IN NEW YORK.
Ringing in at the number one spot for number of cases of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is the great state of New York, with 398,770 total confirmed cases and 31,791 COVID-19 deaths as of July 2, 2020. Cases in the United States make up over a quarter of cases worldwide, and infections in New York State alone make up nearly 15% of U.S. cases. Of these cases, over half are in New York City, which in and of itself has only 19,000 fewer cases than the entire state of California, the state ranking second for most infections. The death toll in New York alone is only slightly smaller than that of countries who were heavily impacted by the initial outbreak of COVID-19, such as Italy, Spain, and France. This is because even though New York was hit later than other states, reporting its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 1, while other states reported having cases as early as January 21, it was hit especially hard. The city that never sleeps is called home by nearly 8.4 million people, making up just over 43% of the entire state of New York’s population and also marking the city as the most populous city in the United States, so it comes as no surprise that it’s been a hotspot of viral spread. Thankfully, though, New York is one of the few states in the top 5 that has been experiencing a downward trend in infections, most likely due to their strict and continued adherence to social distancing and imposition of stay-at-home orders and use of n95 masks. So, aside from New York’s dense population contributing heavily to the rate of spread, how did it become a superspreader site?
Let’s explore the timeline of coronavirus in New York, starting with its first case on March 1, 2020, three months after the initial outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan City, China in December of 2019.
This first case was a 39-year-old woman who had recently returned from Iran, which was hit especially hard by the pandemic early on, to her home in Manhattan. Immediately following her positive test results, she and her husband began home isolation in their Manhattan home.
The next positive test result was confirmed two days later on March 3, a lawyer who worked in Manhattan who had traveled to Miami and whose children had recently returned from Israel. He was diagnosed with pneumonia on February 27 after having fallen ill on the 25th, but was not tested for SARS-CoV-2 until later. He was released from isolation after having tested negative for the flu, but upon further testing later, was revealed to have contracted the novel coronavirus. On March 4, nine people who had come in contact with the lawyer tested positive for the virus, pushing the number of confirmed cases to 11. Eleven new cases linked to the first community transmission case of the lawyer were reported on the 6th, and 11 more were confirmed by the end of the day, bringing the total number to 33, less than a week after the first case confirmation.
Despite this steep rise, Mayor Bill DeBlasio of New York City still urged people not to panic, asserting that New Yorkers should continue living their day-to-day lives as normal, using the subway system and continuing business as usual. He rode from Fulton Street to High Street on the subway as a public demonstration of its continued safety on March 5.
On the 6th, the New York Post released an article stating that NYC had not ordered pandemic supplies until that date, and that the onus of providing N95 masks and other PPE fell to the federal government.
On March 7, a state of emergency was declared for the state of New York by Governor Andrew Cuomo. By this date, the state’s confirmed case count was up to 89, with 70 of the confirmed cases hailing from Westchester County, the home of the lawyer who was the 2nd confirmed case, 12 in NYC, and 7 elsewhere in the state.
New York City issued commuter guidelines, asking all sick persons to avoid public transportation and encouraging citizens to avoid all transit that was too crowded, including buses, trains, and subways, on March 8.
Over the next few days, the case count continued to rise state-wide, and on March 10 Governor Cuomo announced a containment zone was to be put in place in New Rochelle from the dates of March 12-25. The next day, Cuomo all State University of New York and City University of New York schools would be closed during the coming week, and must make a move to online-only learning for the rest of the semester by March 19. The first case in Western New York, a man who had flown into JFK from Italy before taking a Greyhound from Manhattan to Rochester, was confirmed on March 11. The bus on which he’d ridden continued onto Toronto. Other cases began to be confirmed in new counties over the next few days.
The first deaths due to the viral disease occurred March 14, and the third on the following day. Two of these fatalities were older women who had underlying health issues, which worsened the effects of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, an infection of the respiratory effect, that is caused by COVID-19, ultimately resulting in the hospitalization and death of the women.
Mayor DeBlasio called to ramp-up safety measures on March 20, insisting upon going to a shelter-in-place model, like that instilled by California. He issued a state-wide order called the NYS on Pause Program, which mandated that no non-essential workers should leave home for anything non-essential (such as medical care, or trips to the grocery store or pharmacy), and that all non-essential businesses would close beginning the evening of March 22.
Cases increased by 4,000 in the 24 hour period between March 22 and 23, bumping the total number of confirmed cases to a staggering nearly 21,000 statewide, over half of which were reported in New York City.
As these figures continued to rise exponentially, Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that the infection rate and severity had taken the state by surprise, and that they were under-equipped and poorly prepared, saying, “The apex is higher than we thought and the apex is sooner than we thought” on March 24. He also asked for an increase in federal aid, which was insufficient to combat the 25,000 cases and 210 deaths in the state already, only three weeks after the initial infection. 7.6% of the workforce was reported as being infected. The U.S. army dispatched
troops to help convert convention centers and other large spaces to medical hospitals, and field hospitals were set up in Central park and Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
New York was experiencing an extreme shortage of PPE, medical equipment, and paramedics. Hospital overcrowding conditions were severe, with some situations being described by medical professionals as “apocalyptic.” On March 26, Cuomo announced that the state would allow 2 patients per ventilator, as the severe shortages meant that life-saving equipment to treat the disease was incredibly and terrifyingly scarce. He also revealed that the state was considering the conversion of anesthesia machines to ventilators, due to the short supply. Between the 25 and 26th of March, the number of hospitalized patients in New York City increased by 40%.
On March 26, Cuomo announced that all schools in the state of New York would remain closed until at least April 15.
On March 28, Cuomo announced that all construction projects that were non-essential would be postponed until further notice.
On April 6, Cuomo ordered that the state’s stay-at-home order and school closures be extended to the end of April. THough the rate of new cases and deaths seemed to be leveling off, Cuomo believed reopening too soon to be rife with deadly consequences, and deemed it unsafe to lessen stay-at-home restrictions.
On April 9, Governor Cuomo asked that flags be flown at half mast, as well as that the Kosciuszko and Tappan Lee bridges, World Trade Center, and parking garages of La Guardia Airport be lit up in blue to commemorate those who had died from the pandemic.
Governor Cuomo also ordered that the State Department of Labor offer an additional $600 of support in unemployment to New Yorkers, and to further extend benefits an additional 13 weeks.
A state-wide mask mandate was issued by Cuomo on April 15, requiring all state residents to wear a face covering in public areas in which six feet of social distance is unable to be maintained. The following day, April 16, the shelter-in-place was further extended to May 15. This order came in spite of the fact that hospitalization rates were beginning to slow. Cuomo asserted that despite these figures, the state must continue exercising its strict measures, as any ease could have serious repercussions and lead to another spike in cases and deaths.
On May 1, Cuomo announced that all schooling would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year, due to the fact that social distancing would not be possible in or conducive to learning environments. In addition, the governor warned that a return in September may not even be possible or responsible in protecting students’ safety.
On May 7, it was announced that when the order lifted on May 15, some approved areas could begin gradual, phased reopening, should they meet pre-approved criteria. In the phased plan, all New Yorkers are required to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines and must wear a mask during each and every phase.
Phase one reopening began in 5 select regions of the state on May 15. New York City’s restrictions were extended to May 28, and New York state’s state of emergency was extended to June 13. Some businesses and activities were allowed to reopen in spite of qualifications, including drive-in theaters, gardening, and low-risk activities in which social distancing could be maintained, such as tennis.
From May 19-26, phase 1 reopening was approved for additional regions of the state.
On May 23, the executive order for social distancing was amended to allow for gatherings of up to 10 people, so long as participants continued to practice social distancing within the group.
On June 8, New York City was allowed to enter Phase 1 of reopening, while other areas of the state were allowed to enter phases 2 and 3. New York City was permitted to begin phase 2 on June 22. Phase 2 allows for outdoor dining, personal care services, small offices and real estate firms, in-store retail, and rental, repair, and cleaning services to resume operations.
New York’s experience in the face of the global pandemic has been harrowing. The deaths alone are a staggering 31,791, and there have been 398,770 confirmed cases. Despite this, New York’s quick and tactical responses have saved many lives, and the paced and structured gradual reopening has been done responsibly enough so as to not trigger an uptick, or “second wave,” of COVID-19 cases.
However, so much of the strife and agony New York has faced could have been prevented had there been preparation for the severity of the pandemic. Though it is impossible to truly know how outcomes would have been swayed with additional preparation, it is incredibly likely that many lives would have been saved had there been available PPE at the onset of the outbreak. The severe shortages in gloves, masks, respirators, and hospital equipment experienced in New York cost millions of dollars, as well as thousands of lives.
Now that states are beginning to reopen, it is perhaps more important than ever to use PPE, and to practice responsible practices as New York has done, so as to avoid the trend some states are experiencing in which phased reopening has progressed far too quickly and caused a resurgence of infections and mass rise in death rates.
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