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Cuomo tightens N.Y. work-from-home rules, says no to martial law

People in McCarren Park in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood on Wednesday as state and city officials called on residents to practice social distancing amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
People in McCarren Park in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood on Wednesday as state and city officials called on residents to practice social distancing amid the COVID-19 outbreak.Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo tightened work-from-home rules Thursday as confirmed cases continued to climb in New York, an expected jump as testing becomes more widespread. But he stressed that roadblocks and martial law for New York City were merely rumors.

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MORE TESTING

New York has confirmed more than 4,000 cases statewide, a number that Cuomo said was driven by a dramatic increase in testing. New York has cumulatively tested 22,000 people, including more than 7,500 in the past day.

“Why are you seeing the numbers go up?” Cuomo asked at a news conference. “Because you are taking more tests.”

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New York City is expanding appointment-only testing to 10 acute-care hospitals, seven community-based health centers and four drive-through sites, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

At a drive-through on Staten Island, a trickle of motorists Thursday were directed to one of four large tents by state troopers wearing face masks. Workers at the tents wore full protective gear. One trooper told drivers through a speaker to keep their car windows up and a photo ID on their dashboards until they drove inside.

State officials said the testing site in the parking lot of a psychiatric facility will eventually expand to six lanes and test hundreds of people a day.

Drive-through testing sites were set up this week in at least five locations in upstate New York, but officials say testing supplies are very limited and only those at highest risk should be getting tested.

In Erie County, the health commissioner said they had enough tests for people who already have appointments to get tested through Thursday, but then they'll be out and were uncertain when they will get more tests.

COVID-19 causes mild symptoms in most people but can cause serious illness for some, including older adults and those with certain conditions such as respiratory illness. Most people recover.

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Twenty-six people have died in New York.

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NEW WORK RESTRICTIONS

Cuomo is requiring businesses in New York to decrease their in-office workforce by 75%, tightening a 50% restriction he announced Wednesday.

“That means 75% of the workforce must stay at home, and work from home,” he said.

He said Wednesday that an executive order will exempt businesses providing essential services, including media, warehouses, grocery and food production facilities, pharmacies, health care providers, utilities and banks, and other industries critical to the supply chain.

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NO MARTIAL LAW

Cuomo said Thursday that he is not going to impose martial law as he sought to quell what he said was panic over the possibility that New York City would be locked down.

“Somehow, people have the idea that New York City may be quarantined, may be locked off, that they may be imprisoned in their own home. I don't know where they get it,” Cuomo said. “None of that is going to happen. There is no quarantine plan in New York City.”

Shelter-in-place rules in effect in the San Francisco Bay area since Tuesday allow people to leave their homes for essential tasks like picking up groceries or medicine. De Blasio said Tuesday he was considering imposing such rules in the city, which has recorded at least 11 deaths from COVID-19.

Cuomo said the current restrictions in New York — which include targeted business shutdowns and work-from-home rules — are “virtually identical” to San Francisco. But without the ominous language.

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“'Shelter in place' is a scary term for people, especially when they don't know what it means, and especially when you're not doing what it means,” he said.

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VENTILATORS

Cuomo reiterated his warning that the state doesn't have enough ventilators for an expected surge in patients. The Democrat has been saying that the state needs to acquire thousands before the outbreak peaks and overwhelms the state’s hospital system.

“Every state is shopping for ventilators. We're shopping for ventilators. We literally have people in China shopping for ventilators which is one of the largest manufacturers. So this is a major problem,” he said at a news briefing.

Cuomo also called on the federal government to use its powers under the Federal Defense Procurement Act to order manufacturers to speed up production of both ventilators and protective equipment.

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MORTGAGE RELIEF

Cuomo said his administration has directed mortgage lenders to offer payment waivers for 90 days for borrowers facing financial hardship from the outbreak. Individuals won't face late fees or a hit to their credit score. Foreclosures also will be postponed or suspended.

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FINANCIAL RECOVERY PLAN

Saying New York City faces an unprecedented crisis, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson proposed a $12 billion coronavirus relief plan. The money would cover a temporary universal basic income for all city residents, unemployment benefits for gig economy and freelance workers and small business relief. The Democrat wants the federal government to pick up the tab, but said it could be funded locally by bonds. He said the bonds could be backed by a temporary payroll tax, a surcharge on high-end commercial property or a small tax increase on personal income over $500,000 a year.

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Associated Press writer Mary Esch contributed. Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed from New York. The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.