N.Y. Reports Record 779 Daily Deaths; Hospitalizations Drop

(Bloomberg) --

New York suffered another day of record fatalities from the coronavirus outbreak and may be poised to endure many more, as a wave of patients who hit the hospital system two weeks ago begin to succumb to its effects.

Governor Andrew Cuomo reported 779 additional deaths in his daily briefing on Wednesday, the second consecutive day of record fatalities. The state has lost more than 1,500 people to the virus in the last two days, for a total of almost 6,300 -- more than double the number of lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he pointed out.

Cuomo said he would direct the state to fly flags at half-mast in remembrance of the victims.

“The bad news isn’t just bad, the bad news is terrible,” Cuomo told reporters in Albany. “The number of deaths will continue to rise as those hospitalized for a period of time pass away.”

More than half of the deaths were in New York City, where officials have been discussing plans to temporarily bury the dead in a potter’s field on Hart Island in the Bronx, which has served as a mass grave for New York’s unknown, poor and homeless dead for more than a century.

The trend in New York was echoed in neighboring New Jersey, home to a sizable share of New York’s workforce, which also reported a second consecutive record day of fatalities. The state has lost more than 1,500 people to the outbreak, including 275 in the last day, Governor Phil Murphy said.

The grim prospect of a week or more of surging virus fatalities contrasted with other data showing that New York is beginning to turn a corner in combating the virus. Net new hospitalizations have dropped to an average of about 550 a day for the last four days, after peaking at roughly 1,400 on April 2.

Cuomo said those figures are evidence that the state’s near-total lockdown and social-distancing rules are working.

“It is flattening the curve, and we see that again today so far,” he said, adding that “we have to remain diligent, we have to remain disciplined going forward.”

Still, the state’s number of new infections ticked up above 10,000 again, after three days of fewer than 9,000. Almost 150,000 New Yorkers have tested positive, with more than 80,000 of them in New York City.

New York’s high death rate -- the highest in the country -- is a result of the elevated hospitalization rate that began to soar two weeks ago, Cuomo said. State data shows that rates for hospital and intensive-care admissions began surging around March 25 and 26. Hospitals took in more than a thousand patients a day in nine out of the 10 days that followed, with hundreds of those requiring intensive care and intubation.

With ventilator support as a last-ditch attempt to save lives, a large percentage of those patients are dying, Cuomo said.

“That death rate is going up because it’s the people who have been on a ventilator for 7, 10, 15 days and they’re passing away,” Cuomo said. “That’s what’s driving this death toll. That number, what’s making it even more depressing and distressing, that death toll will probably remain that high, this high, or even higher for the next several days.”

The state released statistics Wednesday showing that blacks and Hispanics were affected by the virus at rates disproportionate to their populations. The state will increase testing and research in minority communities, with the state Health Department, Northwell Health and the State University of New York at Albany conducting the research.

“It always seems that the poorest people pay the highest price. Why is that?” Cuomo said.

With a presidential primary scheduled for June 23, Cuomo also said he would allow all voters in the state to vote using absentee ballots. State officials will continue to monitor the situation and decide whether polling sites should stay open in June for those wanting to vote in person, said Melissa DeRosa, an adviser to the governor.

Cuomo said that despite several days of flattening statistics, “We are by no means out of the woods.”

“You could have tomorrow morning we wake up and the number is back up,” he said, adding, “This just a small snapshot in time where we are. At this rate we are below projected numbers.”

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