Mar 25, 2020 - Health

The fight for New York

Illustration of Statue of Liberty holding a shield.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

New York's fight against the novel coronavirus is also the nation's fight, as the state — and the city in particular — emerges with "astronomical numbers" of cases, to quote Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Why it matters: The Empire State has 5% of the world's COVID-19 cases and about 50% of the nation's. Its success — or failure — in fighting the virus, safeguarding citizens and treating the afflicted will tell us a lot about what can succeed in the rest of the U.S.

It's a national travel hub, so it could be the catalyst for outbreaks elsewhere.

Cuomo is trying to shut the state down and stop the spread.

  • He is using his public mic as a blunt instrument to crush happy talk about quick ends or easy fixes.

A pivotal moment: Cuomo spoke passionately at a press conference Tuesday about the importance of devoting all resources to New York's rapidly escalating caseload.

  • "We are the canary in the coal mine," he said. "New York is going first. We have the highest and the fastest rate of infection."

Later in the day, at a media briefing by the White House coronavirus task force, the White House advised people who had recently left New York City to self-quarantine for 14 days.

  • Asked if he had given Cuomo a "heads up" about this advice, Trump said, "We're talking to them about it."

By the numbers: New York has 25,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, vs. 2,800 in California, 2,200 in Washington state and 1,200 in Florida, Cuomo said.

  • The apex of the epidemic in New York isn't expected for 14 to 21 days.
  • The state had 53,000 hospital beds pre-crisis and now expects to need 140,000.
  • New York City accounts for more than half the state's cases: Nearly 16,000 people have been diagnosed and at least 125 people have died.
  • The first COVID-19 death in the state happened just under two weeks ago, in Brooklyn.

New York is throwing everything against the wall. Not only have residents been told to stay home whenever possible — and schools and most retail stores are closed — but the state is also trying experimental treatments and testing far more people for the virus than other places in the U.S.

  • Ventilator tubes are being split in half to accommodate two patients at once.
  • "We're also trying all the new drug therapies — the hydroxychloroquine ... we're actually starting that today," Cuomo said Tuesday.
  • In terms of protective gear and other relevant equipment, "We have acquired everything on the market that there is to acquire."
  • The National Guard has been called in, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is turning empty hotels and dormitories — and other huge facilities — into hospital rooms.

"What happens in New York, we can expect to see in other cities around the world, but maybe not at the same scale," Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at City University of New York's school of public health, told Axios.

Be smart: Population density, which a New York Times headline called a “trait defining New York life,” is the reason the Big Apple has become the U.S. focal point.

  • On the NYC subway — where 23 employees have tested positive — reduced service (due to budget constraints and workers calling in sick) has straphangers riding cheek-by-jowl.
  • Of the 5 boroughs, Queens — a magnet for immigrants, with lots of packed apartment buildings — has the highest number of cases.

As the densest city in the country, "New York is really a testing ground" for ways to fight the coronavirus, Tomas Hoyos, co-founder of Voro, an online social network where people share recommendations for doctors, told Axios.

  • "To the extent that you can apply elsewhere the lessons you learn from the most difficult place to contain COVID-19, you're going to be in a good spot," he said.
  • The flip side? New York also has more resources and commands more attention than other places that haven't (yet) been hit as hard.

My thought bubble: As a born-and-bred New Yorker who watched from my office window as the second plane hit the Twin Towers on 9/11, I find eerie similarities between the empty streets I see this week — and the constant wail of emergency sirens — and the days after the terror attacks.

  • A key difference: Social distancing has us pulling away from one another, not coming together for comfort.
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