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The city has 24 hours to come up with a pedestrian streets plan to fight coronavirus

Cuomo derides ‘insensitive, arrogant and disrespectful’ crowds in Prospect Park on Saturday

March 22, 2020 Mary Frost
In his coronavirus update on Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was dismayed to see the crowds in Prospect Park near Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, where the Saturday farmers market was in full swing. Slide courtesy NYS Office of the Governor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday gave New York City 24 hours to come up with a plan to open some streets to pedestrians in order to alleviate the spread of the novel coronavirus in packed city parks.

Cuomo said he was shocked to see the number of people crowding into parks and outdoor markets during a visit to the city on Saturday. The current social distancing guidelines call for people to stay at least six feet from each other.

“There is a density level in New York City that is wholly inappropriate. I don’t know what it is I’m saying they don’t get,” he said during a livestreamed press conference.

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Cuomo displayed a photo taken of the north end of Prospect Park near Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, where the Saturday farmers market was in full swing and the walkways were thronged by park-goers.

“It’s insensitive, arrogant, disrespectful and it has to stop now. This is not a joke and I’m not kidding,” Cuomo said. “I want a plan to review in 24 hours.”

Besides pedestrians, “There were all sorts of kids playing basketball … You can’t stay six feet away while playing basketball,” Cuomo said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday that the NYPD would begin to disperse crowds and enforce social distancing in parks.

“If you can’t keep six feet away from other people on the playground, don’t go on the playground,” the mayor said in a broadcast statement.

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While most fatalities (70 percent) are among older people and those with pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems, more than a quarter of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York are under 50. People in the 18- to 49-year-old age group comprise 53 percent of the state’s overall confirmed coronavirus cases and are responsible for much of the spread.

“You can get it and get sick, and it’s a nasty illness, and you can transfer it to someone who very well might die,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo said he spoke to de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and informed them that they would have one day to come up with a plan. “There’s less traffic now. Open the streets to the pedestrians.”

He also wants to direct people to head for the city’s larger parks when getting fresh air. “We have bigger parks. Shirley Chisholm Park [in East New York, Brooklyn] is 400 acres. We have Van Cortland Park,” he said.

As of Sunday afternoon, Brooklyn had more than 2,800 confirmed coronavirus cases, the highest number in the city, followed by Queens and Manhattan.

New York state has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation, and has only half the hospital beds its projected to need, Cuomo warned. Social distancing is necessary to slow the influx of new cases so hospitals aren’t hit with unmanageable numbers all at once.

Across the state, 53,000 hospital beds are available, but the disease’s growth curve suggests the state will need 110,000 beds.

The state has 3,157 ICU beds, and is projected to need between 18,600 and 37,200, along with thousands of additional ventilators, masks, gowns and other medical supplies, Cuomo said. There are 301 ICU beds in Brooklyn, according to the New York State Department of Health.

Cuomo urged President Trump to nationalize the acquisition of medical supplies through the Defense Production Act as the states are currently forced to outbid each other for the scarce equipment. Even hospitals in New York must compete against each other for supplies, and price gouging is rampant.

“For masks we were paying 85 cents. Those same masks have gone up to $7. Ventilators have gone from $16,000 to $40,000 each and New York needs 30,000 ventilators. This is impossible,” he said. “If we don’t get ventilators we will lose lives.”

Cuomo said he was speaking bluntly because people need to hear the truth in order to make plans and feel secure.

“Plan for a longterm situation. Think it through. This is not a long weekend. From 40 to 80 percent will get it, all we’re trying to do is slow the speed. It’s going to be four, six, nine months, we’re in that range.”

There’s not going to be “chaos or anarchy,” Cuomo said, and, “There’s no need to hoard. The toilet paper is going to be there tomorrow.”

As of Sunday, 15,168 New Yorkers had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 114 deaths, 63 in New York City. Across the country, 29,192 people have tested positive, and 374 have died. Worldwide, 312,000 confirmed cases have been reported, a figure that increases hourly. Worldwide, more than 13,400 have died.


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