New York’s early experience is a ready-made blueprint for states now finding themselves swamped by the coronavirus pandemic. It could also come in handy again at home, as the region readies for a potential second wave of infections that experts predict will likely come at some point.
After health workers in New York and elsewhere grappled with shortages of masks, gowns and other protective gear this spring, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would order hospitals to have a 90-day supply on-hand.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would build its own reserve of ventilators, protective equipment and coronavirus test kits, identifying local suppliers and manufacturers rather than looking to federal authorities or global markets.
“We’ve learned a tough lesson that we have to create, and we have to protect ourselves,” said de Blasio, who also said the city would stockpile as many as 18 million shelf-stable meals.
As cases spiked in March and April, New York became the nation’s coronavirus nightmare, with New York City at the crux of it. Statewide, more than 18,000 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals at one point in April. Daily deaths peaked at 799 in April and have totaled over 24,000.
New York City health officials reported zero new coronavirus deaths on Sunday for the first time since the state’s first death was recorded on March 11, according to NBC New York.
New York has taken reopening relatively slowly — and braked, postponing the resumption of indoor restaurant service in New York City, after cases began surging elsewhere across the country.
Thousands of contact tracers have been hired to try to keep the virus in check. And mask-wearing has been widespread in the nation’s biggest city after a city recommendation and subsequent state requirement in April, while some other states have only recently started telling residents to don masks in public.
Still, with more New Yorkers getting out and about and riding mass transit, and police taking a hands-off approach to enforcing mask and distancing rules after several violent clashes caught on video, experts worry it’s inevitable case numbers will spike.
“I’m not sure how long this progress is going to hold,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative at Columbia University.
Rob Griffin, a professor of emergency management at the University of Albany, said the state needs to spell out rules for any future shutdowns, “so you don’t have to make a decision on the fly.”
Some experts have said New York didn’t move quickly enough early on. New York City’s massive public school system closed March 16, and a statewide stay-at-home order took effect on March 22.
If such measures had been implemented by March 8, Columbia University researchers estimate about 17,500 lives could have been saved.
To New York City’s elected public advocate, Jumaane Williams, the city and state responses to the crisis were frustratingly blind to foreseeable inequities.
The city’s Black and Hispanic residents were hospitalized and died of the virus at more than twice the rates of whites and Asians, and people from very poor neighborhoods at twice the rate of residents of wealthy areas.
Williams feels New York’s shutdown was too slow and limited, leaving too many workers — many of them people of color — obliged to commute to jobs that might not have been able to provide protective equipment. That can’t happen again, Williams said.
“The big thing, for me, is to shut down swiftly, open up slowly and make sure there’s an infrastructure for communities we know are going to be impacted the most,” Williams said. “We learned lessons that we didn’t need to learn, and hopefully other people will, too.”
The health care system overall is better prepared now, said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiology professor.
“The difference now is we know the capacity of this virus to rapidly spread to cause disease, its impact on the health care system and our needs in terms of testing, personal protective equipment, ventilators — all the other things we didn’t know six months ago,” said Lipkin, who is working with the city to test hundreds of thousands of people a week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.