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New York quiets as it becomes next virus hot spot

A police officer walked through a sparsely populated Times Square in New York City on Friday.
A police officer walked through a sparsely populated Times Square in New York City on Friday.John Minchillo/Associated Press/Associated Press

NEW YORK — An order barring most New Yorkers from congregating in groups or going to work was set to go into effect Sunday in an attempt to slow a pandemic that has swept across the globe and threatened to make the state one of the world’s biggest coronavirus hot spots. Officials worldwide warned of a critical shortage of medical supplies.

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday ordered all nonessential businesses in the state to close and nonessential workers to stay home, but delayed formal implementation until 8 p.m. Sunday.

He and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also called for getting everything from masks to gowns, as well as doctors and other medical workers to New York City, and asked President Trump to have the US military take over the logistics of making and distributing medical supplies.

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“I can’t be blunt enough. If the president doesn’t act, people will die who could have lived otherwise,” de Blasio told NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

The top infectious disease specialist in the United States promised New York City and the other hardest-hit places that critical supplies will not run out.

The medical supplies are about to start pouring in and will be “clearly directed to those hot spots that need it most,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

But Fauci and other emergency officials did not give hard figures on the number of masks or anything else on their way. Cuomo urged federal officials to step in quickly as hard-hit states outbid each other for ever scarcer supplies, sometimes doubling or tripling prices.

In Washington, negotiators from Congress and the White House resumed top-level talks on a $1.4 trillion economic rescue package, urged by President Trump to strike a deal to steady a nation upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Trump appeared confident about the nation’s ability to defeat the pandemic soon even as health leaders acknowledged that the United States was nowhere near the peak of the outbreak.

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Worldwide, more than 316,000 people have been infected and nearly 13,600 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. About 150 countries now have confirmed cases, and deaths have been reported in more than 30 American states.

There were more than 27,000 cases across the United States and 375 deaths. New York State accounted for 114 deaths, mostly in New York City, where there were more than 4,400 infections, but officials warned the concentration may be more because of increased testing.

On Sunday, New York passed Washington state, the initial epicenter of the US outbreak, in the number of fatal cases. Only China, Italy, and Spain have reported more COVID-19 cases than the United States.

Cuomo spent Saturday scouting places to build makeshift hospitals and told existing hospitals to figure out ways to increase their current beds by at least 50 percent because predictions from health officials are COVID-19 cases needing advanced medical care will top 100,000 in New York State in the next month or so, which is more than double the current number.

Despite the danger, New Yorkers were still gathering in large groups in parks, playing basketball, or having block parties. Similar scenes played out around the country.

Cuomo said he was stunned and offended as he toured the city Saturday and gave local officials a day to figure out a plan whether it be closing parks, closing playgrounds, or opening streets, typically teeming with traffic but now quiet, only to pedestrians.

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“It’s insensitive. It’s arrogant. It’s self-destructive. It’s disrespectful to other people,’’ Cuomo said. “It has to stop and it has to stop now.”

Along with the staggering numbers, there were individual reminders Sunday of the reach of the virus. Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky became the first US senator to announce he was infected. Opera superstar Plácido Domingo announced he has COVID-19 and German Chancellor Angela Merkel put herself into quarantine after a doctor who gave her a vaccine tested positive.

In the rest of the United States, parts of the country found themselves moving toward the kind of problems seen in New York.

There was a unified message to stay away from large gatherings. Officials called them different things — social distancing, sheltering in place, or in the case of Nashville, a “safer at home” order.

“We’re all in quarantine now. Think about it,’’ Cuomo said.

Enforcement of any of these orders is still up in the air. Most locations simply broke up large gatherings and sent people home because one of the last things health officials wanted was putting people in confined spaces like jails. Many governments were releasing nonviolent inmates.

Nearly 40 inmates had been diagnosed as of Saturday with COVID-19 in the New York prison system including the notorious Rikers Island complex and officials warned a huge jump in cases was likely coming.

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