ALBANY (TNS) — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday said the state will suspend mortgage payments 90 days for individuals under financial distress, a move that will not effect credit ratings or result in any penalties.
Cuomo said the “bold action” will be a “financial stress reliever for many families.” Fees at ATM machines and overdraft and credit card late fees also are being suspended.
The governor said the novel coronavirus is continuing to spread — New York City’s number of cases roughly doubled overnight — but reiterated his position that people should not panic and that the number of cases is increasing, in large part, because there is more testing being done.
He said thousands of people have the virus who have not been tested, and thousands more may have had the virus and recovered without being tested.
Cuomo said he is also expanding an executive order that will require businesses to have no more than 25 percent of their workforce report to work outside of the home. That number had been set at 50 percent on Wednesday.
Cuomo said he will not issue a shelter in place order in New York City or elsewhere in the state.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “I’m telling you I’m not doing it. ... In many ways the fear is more dangerous than the virus.”
Cuomo’s daughter Michaela Kennedy Cuomo sat next to him during his news conference at the Capitol on Thursday. He said she had canceled her plans to join her friends on a spring break vacation.
“Luckily, she made the right decision and I’m proud of her for that,” Cuomo said.
Still, the novel coronavirus is hitting closer to home. Cuomo’s press conference came as a third state Assembly member – Kimberly Jean-Pierre of Suffolk County – tested positive for COVID-19. She had been in Albany on Wednesday for a brief session but did not have contact with other members or staffers, Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said.
She received a test on Wednesday after learning that a family member was ill. Jean-Pierre is now back in her district, “self-quarantining and doing well,” Heastie said.
“Yesterday during session, we took extraordinary steps to keep everyone safe and followed CDC guidelines,” Heastie said in a statement. “Based on the protocols we put in place, we believe she did not come into close contact with anyone including her staff in Albany. I have ordered a deep cleaning of her offices in addition to the regular cleaning of the Assembly chamber and any other areas she may have visited in order to ensure the safety of everyone.”
Two other Assembly members — Charles Barron and Helene Weinstein, both of Brooklyn — have tested positive for the disease.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday joined Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont in adopting a “regional” effort to combating COVID-19, including shutting down bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and casinos. Bowling alleys and the indoor portions or retail malls were added to the list of mandated closures on Wednesday.
Bars and restaurants have remained open because they are allowed to sell takeout and delivery orders, and were granted a waiver for carry-out alcohol.
In New York, 4,152 people have tested positive for novel coronavirus, and 20 people have died from COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes. Nearly 20% of those infected — 777 — have been hospitalized. Counties reporting their first cases on Thursday are Fulton, Genesee, Jefferson, Niagara, Oneida, Schoharie and Wayne. There were 1,769 new cases were confirmed overnight Wednesday.
Cuomo reiterated this week that the state is shifting its healthcare strategy, including eliminating red tape to allow new medical professionals to begin working sooner, as he anticipates a “wave” of COVID-19 cases that could “crash” the healthcare system and overwhelm hospitals. The number of coronavirus cases is expected to peak in about 45 days, during late April or early May.
The first New Yorker known to have contracted COVID-19 has recovered at home and since tested negative for the virus.
“She was never hospitalized and recovered two weeks later,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “Worse than the virus is the fear that has spread ... I better stock up on groceries. That’s not going to happen. Take a deep breath. ... The panic and the fear is wholly disconnected from the reality.”
State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said that once a person has been infected, they develop an immunity to the virus that could last years or a lifetime, so it’s unlikely someone would be re-infected.
More than 20,000 people have been tested statewide. Cuomo said the fatalities have been people who are older and had underlying serious health problems — a segment of the population he expects will require the additional hospital beds. More than 80 percent of those who are diagnosed with the flu-like illness “self-resolve” at home, he has said.
New York has 53,000 hospital beds, including 3,000 intensive care unit beds. The hospitalization rate for people afflicted with COVID-19 is increasing and will likely increase to around 20 percent. Most of those needing hospitalization are older individuals with underlying health issues, ranging from emphysema to cancer.
Cuomo also said that all schools in the state were ordered to close Wednesday, but must develop plans for remote education, child care and meals for those in need.
The governor directed nonessential state employees statewide to work from home starting Tuesday. He directed local governments to reduce their overall workforce by 50 percent and allow nonessential employees to work from home.