New York City weighs closing parks, playgrounds and streets to enforce social distancing, Gov. Cuomo says

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media at the Javits Convention Center which is being turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases on March 24, 2020 in New York City.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | Getty Images

New York state and city officials plan to close some NYC streets may close parks and playgrounds to contain the coronavirus outbreak as cases across the state surge to 30,811 as of Wednesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

State and local officials are taking a tougher line to enforce social distancing recommendations. He said city residents aren’t following the state’s guidelines encouraging people to maintain a distance of at least six feet from each other, which he said was “effective and necessary” to slow hospitalization rates.

“The plan is going to pilot closing streets in New York City because we have much less traffic in New York City. We have many fewer vehicles in New York City. Open streets,” he said at a press conference Wednesday, adding that by opening the streets, fewer people will congregate in the parks. “People want to walk. They want to go out and get some air. You want a less dense area, so pilot closing streets to cars, opening streets to pedestrians.”

An empty playground is viewed on March 24, 2020 in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Angela Weiss | AFP via Getty Images

The state’s hospitalization rate is “moving faster than initial estimates,” he said, adding that health officials project that 140,000 people will be hospitalized with the coronavirus over the next 14 to 21 days. The state previously said it would need 110,000 beds for COVID-19 patients by early to mid-May.

More than 3,800 have already been hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state and 888 are in the ICU, Cuomo said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building several temporary hospitals to house up to 4,000 COVID-19 patients throughout the state, which has just 53,000 hospital beds. But that still won’t be enough. Cuomo said the state estimates that it will also need 40,000 ICU beds at the peak of the outbreak; the state only has 3,000 intensive care beds.

The city is the epicenter of a major outbreak in New York state where cases have been doubling every three days and now account for more than half of all U.S. cases. New York City accounts for 17,856 of the state’s cases. Cuomo said health officials have tested 103,470 people across the state, including 44,076 in the city. The state has already spent $1 billion fighting the pandemic, Cuomo said. 

White House officials Tuesday urged anyone leaving the New York City metropolitan area to self-isolate and monitor themselves carefully for 14 days. President Donald Trump called the region a “hot spot” for coronavirus cases.

“We remain deeply concerned about New York City and the New York metro area,” Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said at a press briefing Tuesday. She said about 56% of all U.S. cases and 31% of all fatalities in the United States are concentrated in the metropolitan area.

The New York metro area, which includes New Jersey, Long Island and southern Connecticut, also has the highest “attack rate” in the country with nearly 1 in 1,000 people in the region contracting the virus. The attack rate is the portion of the population that gets infected.

Cuomo said Tuesday that the “troubling and astronomical” number of cases has increased the urgency across the state for more hospital beds as the outbreak spreads “unabated.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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