New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday what he says is the most comprehensive measure in his power to flatten the curve and slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus.
With COVID-19 cases rising at an alarming rate in the state, Cuomo laid out his latest initiative: Policies, Assure, Uniform, Safety for Everyone (PAUSE), which bars 100 percent of non-essential employees from conducting business outside the home.
The virus is spreading in New York at a rate well beyond the capacity of the state's medical infrastructure. If left unchecked, COVID-19 will peak at double the capacity of the hospital system and more the triple the capacity of the ICU system.
"We're going to take it to the ultimate step," the governor said. "We're going to close the [population density] valve because the rate of increase and the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system."
With the PAUSE initiative comes a number of new guidelines for conduct during the pandemic. Residents must:
- Remain indoors, but for essential services like getting food or medicine.
- Not visit households with multiple people.
- Wear masks in the company of vulnerable people.
- Stay at least six feet away from other people.
- Not take mass transit unless it is urgent.
He added that people may go outside for solitary exercise. Hospitals and doctors offices must pre-screen all visitors and aides by taking their temperature.
PAUSE goes into effect Sunday. The governor says the provisions outlined will be enforced with civil fines and mandatory closures for businesses not in compliance.
"When I talk about the most drastic action we can take, this is the most drastic action we can take," he added.
With federal assistance, New York has sharply increased its ability to conduct coronavirus tests over the past week. Cuomo said the state conducted 10,000 tests Thursday night into Friday morning, meaning the state has now done more coronavirus tests per capita than even China or South Korea.
But the increase in testing has brought mostly discouraging news, given the expectation that close to 20 percent of all COVID-19 cases require hospitalization.
On Friday the state reported nearly 3,000 new COVID-19 cases, bringing New York's total number of cases over 7,000 since the outbreak began.
As it has throughout the duration of the pandemic, New York is coordinating its PAUSE initiative with other states in the region, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware. As of early Friday afternoon, the respective governors of those states had yet to announce whether they would participate.
New York is in desperate need of medical supplies, Cuomo added. He said the state will pay "a premium" for medical masks, gloves, gowns and the crucial ventilators. Companies that have the means to produce the necessary items are asked to "get creative" and help wherever possible.
The state will offer funding to get such production operations started, as well as financial incentives for the products. Interested businesses should contact the State Business Development Office.
Non-essential businesses, like dentists offices, are also being asked send surplus medical supplies to state hospitals.
Cuomo acknowledged that there will be severe economic consequences as a result of PAUSE. He announced a 90-day moratorium on evictions and preemptively accepted blame for the "disruption" and the "unhappiness" that will result.
"It's going to hurt the economy," he said. "Just so we're all clear: this is a statewide order...It's not what anyone else but me is doing, and I accept full responsibility. If someone is unhappy, they want to blame someone, blame me. There is no one else who is responsible for this decision."
He continued: "When we look back at this situation 10 years from now, I want to be able to say to the people of the State of New York that I did everything that we could do. This is about saving lives."
Cuomo concluded that beyond the physical complications of PAUSE, there is a mental and emotional cost to the self-isolation policy.
Although New Yorkers should keep physical distance, Cuomo asked residents to reach out to one another via social media and via phone to commiserate and support one another.