With the total number of cases of coronavirus in New York state increasing to 328, with 148 in Westchester and 95 in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday plans to create a public health emergency system.
According to Cuomo, the public health emergency plan is taking place in two parts: reducing the spread and treating those who are infected. In reducing the spread, the state is working to increase testing and reducing density population.
“This has to be a system that is in balance and can handle the entirety of a public health emergency,” said Cuomo.
Plans to reduce population density including temporarily banning gatherings of over 500 people. Gatherings that are between zero and 500 people will reduce their capacity by 50 percent as a result. These changes will go into effect at 5 p.m. on March 13.
Exceptions to the reducing of density include schools, hospitals, mass transit and nursing homes. Any business that is incapable of complying with these new regulations and do a rigorous cleaning are encouraged to call the ESD for a close order.
Due to the concern surrounding the senior citizen community, new regulations are being put in place. All staff at nursing homes will be required to wear a mask and they will be monitored for coronavirus symptoms. No non-medical/staff personnel will be allowed in the nursing homes, which bars visitors from coming inside, except under exigent circumstances.
The governor is leaving it to each facility to determine these circumstances, and any visitor would have to wear protective garb.
Currently, a total 2,314 New Yorkers have undergone testing for coronavirus. New York state has already contracted 28 private labs to help increase the number of tests the state can run, and the state is in talks with a national lab to get more testing underway.
Through the testing, the governor wants to keep track of hospitalization rates in those that have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
“Testing is not about figuring out how many people have the disease. We are already way behind on testing,” said Cuomo. “The testing is about finding what percentage of those infected are hospitalized so we can determine the capacity we need in our hospital system.”
The second part of the plan is to prepare healthcare facilities for the influx of patients. According to Cuomo, about 80 percent of those infected recover at home, but for the 20 percent that need to be hospitalized, the Department of Health is looking into vacant facilities that could serve as temporary hospitals, as well as coordinating between upstate and downstate hospitals. The department is also working on accelerating staffing regulations and recertifications for staff so they are available.
Former doctors and nurses are encouraged to contact their former employer so they can serve as “on call” staff. The state will also be contacting medical schools to find healthcare professionals to act as a reserve staff in the event of a medical staff shortage, and National Guard medics are available should they be needed.
“Healthcare workers get sick and can’t come to work,” said Cuomo. “Making sure you have enough staff and reserve staff is just as important as having enough facility.”
Finally, as a final resort, hospitals may choose to cancel elective surgeries, which make up 25-35% of occupied hospital beds.
“The perception is changing, the reality isn’t,” said Cuomo. “The only question is, are you gearing up to handle that? There is no end date. It will be calibrated to the spread of the virus and the treatment of the virus.”
This story first appeared on amny.com.