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New York coronavirus: Nearly 20% of the NYPD’s uniformed workforce is out sick


NYPD Auxiliary Police Officer Ramon Roman died on Sunday from coronavirus-related complications, according to a daily coronavirus report from the NYPD.

Nearly 20% of its uniformed workforce is out sick.

The city is a hotspot for the virus, with more than 68,000 cases and 2,700 fatalities. The city’s hospitals have been struggling to maintain the space, personnel and equipment to treat the growing number of patients.

On Monday, 6,974 uniformed members of the NYPD were out sick, accounting for 19.3% of the Department’s uniformed workforce, according to the report. That number has jumped from 12% on March 28.

Currently, 1,935 uniformed members and 293 civilian members tested positive for the coronavirus, the NYPD said.

These states have implemented stay-at-home orders. Here's what that means for you
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea previously said that while they were not close to implementing 12-hour shifts, they would do so if necessary.

Some recovered officers returned to work Friday, a law enforcement source told CNN, which delays the necessity to implement 12-hour shifts on the department.

“Now we’re getting the first wave back,” said the official. “By next week, we could be getting hundreds back.”

The NYPD said it is cracking down on social and religious gatherings.

Over the weekend, police used sirens and played social distancing messages over their PA system in Borough Park to break up a large gathering for a funeral in the Hasidic Jewish community that did not follow social distancing guidelines, according to CNN affiliate WPIX.

In a 24-hour period, officers visited 2,419 supermarkets, 6,959 bars and restaurants, 1,238 public places and 3,288 personal care facilities.

Nobody was arrested or issued summonses in relation to the visits, the NYPD said.

CNN’s Laura Ly and Mark Morales contributed to this report.



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New York request to treat coronavirus patients on Navy hospital ship approved by Trump



Cuomo had told reporters earlier Monday that he was “going to call the President this afternoon and ask him to shift the (USNS) Comfort from non-Covid to Covid.”

Trump, speaking at a White House news briefing Monday afternoon, said he “was informed that Gov. Cuomo has already told you and announced he called me up a little while ago and asked whether or not it would be possible to use the ship with respect to fighting the virus.”

“We hadn’t had that in mind at all, but we’re going to let him do it,” Trump remarked.

“It’s set for Covid,” Trump said of the Comfort. The President also confirmed that the ship has been approved to treat New Jersey patients.

The US Navy hospital ship had originally been designated as a space for non-coronavirus patients to alleviate the pressure from New York hospitals, though Trump signaled this weekend that the ship could be used for coronavirus patients if needed.

“That was not supposed to be for the virus at all and under circumstances, it looks like more and more we’ll be using it for that,” he told reporters at the White House Sunday. “The ship is ready and if we need it for the virus, we’ll use it for that.”

The move comes as New York City’s hospitals have been overwhelmed with coronavirus cases and are struggling to respond to patients streaming in. A shortage of personal protective equipment has also placed medical workers at risk of contracting the virus.

As a result — even before Trump’s announcement Monday — Joint Staff Surgeon Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the top medical doctor for the military, said the USNS Comfort had already treated coronavirus patients, stating, “Our commitment has been that if a patient comes to us, we would take care of them.”

“Have we had patients who ultimately were determined to have coronavirus on the hospital ships? Yes,” Friedrichs said. “And we’re taking care of them, just like we’re taking care of all the other patients going forward.”

A defense official tells CNN that the Comfort has treated fewer than five coronavirus patients and the Pentagon has said that Comfort has treated a total of 41 patients.

“Having the Comfort here is a very, very important thing for New York City in terms of the number of patients served, but also an extraordinary morale boost when we needed it,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN Friday. “I don’t have a doubt in my mind, the Comfort will be filled up soon.”

CNN’s Nicky Robertson contributed to this report.



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NRA suing New York for deeming gun stores non-essential businesses during coronavirus pandemic



In the lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of New York, the NRA claimed that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has “effectively and indefinitely suspended a key component of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution” by forcing gun stores across the state to temporarily shutter their doors.

As states around the country issued stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, some, like New York, didn’t deem firearm and ammunition retailers to be essential, forcing those businesses to close.

The NRA sued the Democratic governor in both his official and personal capacity, as well as New York’s Empire State Development agency and its acting commissioner.

“By closing federally licensed dealers, Defendants have cut off the only way of legally purchasing firearms in the State,” the lawsuit says. “As a result of the government’s overreach, most New Yorkers have no legal way to exercise the constitutional right to purchase arms or ammunition.”

In its filing, the NRA also suggested that the pandemic could be a time of heightened need for a firearm.

“The current public health emergency does not justify impeding the exercise of Second Amendment rights,” the lawsuit says, “especially during a time when many New Yorkers have valid concerns about the ability of the government to maintain order—and criminals are being prematurely released from jails.”

On Saturday, Cuomo addressed the legal challenge during a news conference on coronavirus.

“I think I’ve been sued by the NRA, must be a dozen times. I didn’t even know I was sued this time. You become sort of lawsuit immune. I wish I could become immune to this virus the way I’ve become immune to NRA lawsuits,” he said.

Kris Brown, the president of the pro-gun-control group Brady, called the lawsuit “another attempt by the NRA to jeopardize life-saving responses to stop the spread of this deadly virus that is killing thousands of New Yorkers.”

She said Cuomo is “well within his authority” to close the stores in an effort to address the virus’s spread.

“The Second Amendment, like all amendments in the Bill of Rights, is balanced by concerns of public safety and health,” she added. “Right now, those concerns necessitate the closure of many businesses, including the need to forbid large gatherings, which are rights otherwise protected by the First Amendment. The Second Amendment does not supersede the First, nor does it override the need to stop the spread of coronavirus.”

This story has been updated to include comment from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

CNN’s Sara Murray, Sheena Jones and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.



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New York woman played her husband their wedding song on FaceTime as he passed away from coronavirus


They weren’t just the “have a great day” letters, she said, but they described what she meant to him and maybe their plans for the next day or the upcoming weekend.

“He always took care of me, got me my coffee and help me in every way,” she told CNN Friday.

Joe, 42, died last weekend from complications with coronavirus. Like other families across the US right now, Lewinger had to say goodbye to her husband virtually, over FaceTime in their case. She said that because of the stay-at-home orders, social distancing and overall isolation that this virus has brought on, the reality of her husband’s death sometimes misses her.

“Right now, not seeing anybody, it sometimes just feels like he’s at work,” she said.

Joe worked at a Catholic High School on Long Island, New York, for 20 years. He was an assistant principal and coach of the basketball team.

“He always had a listening ear, no matter what you were talking about, Joe was always listening. He always felt like you are the most important person in the room,” Lewinger said.

Joe had no pre-existing conditions and he started out with “mild symptoms,” Lewinger told CNN Friday, that included a low-grade fever. It was around St. Patrick’s Day in March that his fever spiked and he started to have issues breathing.

A woman got to say goodbye to her mother over FaceTime before she died thanks to a nurse at this Washington hospital

In the days before Joe’s death, Lewinger told CNN the two “pretty much spent 24/7 on FaceTime, trying to mediate and calm him, trying not to let him feel alone.”

“The country is getting used to remote learning and we had to get used to virtual caregiving and virtual marriage in just being there for each other,” she said.

When doctors told Lewinger her husband’s breathing was getting worse and that he was on three different blood pressure medications, she requested to speak with Joe on Facetime.

“I saw him and I begged him not to leave us and told him we all need him,” Lewinger said.

Doctors told her they’d try other methods to keep Joe alive. During that waiting period, Lewinger told CNN she listened to her wedding song on loop just staring into the backyard. Then the doctor called back.

“We have thrown the kitchen sink at him and I’m afraid he doesn’t have more time,” the doctor told Lewinger.

Two sisters died days apart from coronavirus in Illinois. Family members didn't see them in their last moments

She told the doctor she needed to FaceTime with her husband again.

“I thanked him for being the most amazing husband, for making me feel cherished and loved every single day,” Lewinger said she told her husband.

The doctor then told her Joe’s pulse was gone.

“I played our wedding song for him. And then that was it,” Lewinger said.

Joe leaves behind his wife, three children, a son and two daughters. Lewinger stressed the importance of abiding by social distancing and staying at home.

“People are just not being careful. People are being so invincible-feeling and they think it can happen to them,” she said. “You cannot, cannot, be with people that are not in your house. As sad and lonely and everything that is, you must, must stay with only the people in your house.”

CNN’s Hollie Silverman contributed to this report.



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New York coronavirus: A day in the life of one emergency doctor in a Queens hospital


“My wife and I decided that it would be safer for our family, for our 17-month-old daughter and my wife, to leave our apartment until this is over, since I’m in and out of this high-risk environment everyday,” he said to the camera while sitting in his car. “I don’t know how long it’s gonna be, but this morning when I left the house and said goodbye to my wife and my daughter for who knows how long. It’s gonna be several weeks probably before I see them in person again.”

Bai, an attending physician in the emergency department at Mt. Sinai Queens hospital, spoke about his difficult decision as part of a video diary documenting his day in the coronavirus pandemic.

New York has been the hardest hit state in the U.S. with over 84,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 2,200 deaths. The surge in cases has threatened to overwhelm the health care system, and doctors have warned they are running low on space, ventilators and supplies.

“You can see all the rooms are filled,” Bai said as he navigated around patient beds in the hallways. “Usually these halls are very neat and empty. And now you can see, there’s patients everywhere because of this. It makes it very hard to work, and we’re trying our best to treat everyone we can.”

“All these patients here, sitting out in the hallways because we are full. All these patients in the hallway have all been seen, even though we’re overflowing — (we’re) trying our best to still provide them care, which we are doing. You can see here that the patients have oxygen tanks that they need.”

Dr. Matthew Bai speaks on a video posted to the Mount Sinai Hospital's Facebook page.

Bai knew it would be a difficult day from the start. The night earlier, he said, there were over 60 patients waiting for a hospital bed with Covid-19.

“I don’t know what this morning’s gonna be like, but it’s probably not gonna be that much different from last night, meaning it’s gonna be a busy day. It’s been tough,” he said.

After arriving to the hospital, he put on layers of PPE that generally stay on for the entire day, including an N95 mask, a surgical mask on top of that, and eye protection.

“If I need to go into a high-risk procedure, like intubating a patient, meaning putting a patient on a ventilator, we have full face masks that cover the entire area and all your equipment,” he said. “And after you’re done with the procedure, that comes off, and we wipe that down and disinfect it for the next use.”

His shift was supposed to end at 5 p.m., but he said he stayed until about 7 to finish taking care of patients. Bai, red-nosed from the tight fit of his PPE, admitted it was a tough day.

“The (Emergency Department) has been really full and everyone’s trying their best to give everyone the treatment that they need. I mean I’m— I’m tired. I’m gonna go home and I’m gonna try to sleep, and then we’ll be back tomorrow,” he said.

“I want to say that, I mean, the things that I see in the ER are scary. I’m a little scared myself. But it’s good to see all these people coming in from all over, from other services in the hospital, from other areas in the nation stepping in to help out.

“So, it’s not gonna be easy. I mean it’s gonna be really tough and it’s only gonna get tougher over the next two weeks,” Bai said. “But we’ll get through this as best as we can, and we’ll try to use the resources that we have, as best as we can to help as many people as we can.”

CNN’s Kelly Christ contributed to this report.



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Monsey stabbing victim dies 3 months after attack at Hanukkah celebration in New York



He died of his injuries Sunday, Kohen said.

Neumann was one of five people assaulted in the attack on December 28 and was the most severely injured, his daughter said.

Dozens of people were gathered at Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s Monsey home to celebrate the holiday.

Rottenberg’s son had just lit a menorah when Grafton Thomas, 37, ran into the house with an 18-inch machete and yelled “No one is leaving,” before attacking those in the home, federal prosecutors said.

Thomas pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and was charged with a federal hate crime in January.

Michael Sussman, an attorney for Thomas told CNN that his client was hospitalized several times in 2019 and may have suffered a hallucination during the night of the attack.

Neumann sustained multiple stab wounds to his neck, arms and head, one of which penetrated his brain.

In February, he underwent surgery to have breathing and feeding tubes implanted.

Those who knew Neumann described him a compassionate man.

Yisroel Kraus, who was also a guest at the rabbi’s home the night of the attack, told CNN in January that he considered Neumann a mentor and “incredibly kind human being.”

“One of the most selfless people I know,” Kraus said. “Since I knew him, he was a very poor man. He never had a dime to his name and always goes around collecting money for other poor families. It was never about himself.”

CNN’s Lizzie Jury contributed to this report.



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Hillary and Bill Clinton sent over 400 pizzas to New York hospitals fighting against coronavirus


This week, the Clintons sent over 400 pizzas to all the hospitals in their home county of Westchester “as a small token of their appreciation for everything medical professionals are doing for their communities,” according to Angel Ureña, spokesman for President Clinton.

With a note that read, “Thank you for protecting our communities. From Bill and Hillary Clinton,” 80 pizzas were delivered Wednesday evening to St. John’s Riverside Hospital alone.

“Thank you to the Clintons for pizza today at DOBBS FERRY ED! Leaders like you will get us through this. So much gratitude thank you thank you thank you,” Angela Cirilli, the emergency medicine ultrasound director at St. John’s Riverside Hospital, said in a tweet.

“When someone is thoughtful enough to bring in food, then our doctors don’t have to think about it and it allows them to continue doing their job,” Denise Mananas, the hospital’s senior director of external affairs said.

20 pizzas were also sent on Tuesday evening to Blythedale Children’s Hospital, which cares for babies and children with medical complexities.

Healthcare workers at Blythedale Children's Hospital enjoying pizza donated by the Clintons.

“The impromptu pizza party for our frontline caregivers was a tremendous surprise and was greatly appreciated by all,” said the hospital’s spokeswoman Connie Cornell. “The Clintons have always been good neighbors, and their kindness during a tremendously difficult time for health care workers truly boosted everyone’s spirit.”

Abi Krasniqi, the manager of Mr. Nick’s Brick Oven Pizza, said his restaurant delivered 20 pies to Phelps Memorial Hospital. While the move was obviously supportive of the healthcare workers, Krasniqi said it helped his business too.

Nick Krasniqi of Mr. Nick's Brick Oven Pizza standing with one of the pizzas that were delivered to Phelps Memorial Hospital.

“Business has been steady but it’s not the same as it was before all this happened,” Krasniqi said. “It goes to show that (the Clintons) care about their people, they care about their country.”

From sewing masks to donating their own supplies of protective gear, communities around the US are doing whatever they can to support the healthcare workers during this difficult time.

But when famous individuals like the Clintons show their support, Mananas said “they have the power to spread the word about what our hospital is facing.”

On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton wrote a message of support to not just the medical professionals, but all the other workers and employees who are continuing to serve in their essential roles.

“Thank you to the medical professionals, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, pharmacy workers, mail carriers, firefighters, police, nursing home employees, and everyone else who is working to save lives and keep us all going right now,” the former secretary of state tweeted.





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FDA expediting use of a blood plasma coronavirus treatment as New York rolls out new clinical trials


The FDA said in a news release that it is “facilitating access” for patients with life threatening infections to blood plasma taken from a person who recovered after once testing positive for the virus.

It’s a treatment the state of New York is pursuing in clinical trials, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

The process, known as plasma-derived therapy or “convalescent plasma,” involves doctors testing the plasma of people who recovered for antibodies to the virus and then injecting that plasma, or a derivative of it, into the sick person.

The move is a “big step” forward, said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chief of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who has advocated for the plasma treatment.

“It has a high likelihood of working but we won’t know whether it works until its done” and enough patients have been treated, he said. “We do know based on history it has a good chance.”

Rolling out trials

The move comes as the US recorded its deadliest day since the outbreak began. More than 150 deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, were reported in the US on Tuesday, according to a tally by CNN. At least 700 people in the US have died and more than 53,000 have tested positive for the virus.

Cuomo said his state is also pursuing testing people’s blood for antibodies and immunity to coronavirus.

“That would be very important for us to know because then healthcare workers that could go back to work, there are workers that could return back to the private sector.”

The New York State Department of Health is also rolling out clinical test trials for anti-malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic Azithromycin. The patients who are hospitalized with moderate or severe coronavirus will be eligible to receive the treatment.

“Those are the patients that we think can have the greatest impact so we want to focus on them,” according to a New York health official.

A second New York University trial is exploring if Hydroxychloroquine can be used as a preventative measure to preemptively treat people who don’t have the virus but are in contact with those who do, according to an email seen by CNN that was sent by a member of the NY Health Department’s Institutional Review Board.

Logistics are the biggest issue

The New York health official said for the plasma treatment they will be recruiting patients from New Rochelle, which had the first cluster of cases in the state and now has a critical mass of people who have recovered.

Plasma treatments will take time to get off the ground.

Physicians will need to identify patients who now test negative for the disease, extract their plasma and have it tested for antibodies for Covid-19 before it can be deployed to ill patients. If there are enough antibodies in plasma it can kill the disease, some doctors say.

The FDA is limiting the plasma treatment to the most seriously ill patients.

The New York health official acknowledged finding a good candidate and providing plasma could take days, but the official said they are expediting this process to just a few days.

“The biggest issue is the logistics. You’ve got to find the people, you’ve got to test them, identify the right donors, donate plasma and get it to the people who need it. That involves logistics but it’s all doable we’re not talking about rocket science,” said Casadevall. He says he’s been overwhelmed with people who want to donate their plasma and doctors around the world who want to understand the potential treatment.

Casadevall has set up a website where he hopes to post more information in the next few days.

Plasma treatments have been used since 1900s

He anticipates doctors could know in as soon as one month whether the plasma treatment is working if they get enough volunteers to donate their plasma.

How we've overcome past pandemics

Plasma treatments have been used since the 1900s to treat infectious diseases like influenza and more recently Ebola. China has used this treatment in its Covid-19 positive patients and says it is working although US doctors have not yet seen the underlying data.

Casadevall said it’s largely safe but there are always risks, including whether someone passes along a pathogen that wasn’t identified earlier.

He said the treatment might not work if the patients are too critical. In 2009, he said, there was a trial to treat influenza using plasma but some of the patients were already too sick for the antibodies to work. He said their dire situation had less to do with the virus and more to do with inflammation.

In New York, he said, the treatment will be given to people who are already very ill, but he hopes it will get to the point where doctors can prescribe it to patients who are diagnosed much earlier.



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R. Kelly faces new charges in federal court in New York


An updated indictment adds five acts of racketeering and charges the singer and entertainer with four more counts of violating the Mann Act for allegedly coercing and transporting women and girls across state lines to engage in illegal sexual activity.

Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, has pleaded not guilty to all charges in New York and other jurisdictions. He remains jailed without bond at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. He has denied all the allegations.

An attorney for Kelly, Douglas Anton, issued a statement Friday saying some of the alleged victims appear to have remembered new details about their interactions with the singer.

“How does an alleged victim ‘forget’ such things?” he wrote. “Or… perhaps… these alleged victims are not victims at all, but only women who have been told and instructed, even peer pressured if you will, years later, that the claimed relationship they freely and voluntarily engaged in, should now, in the #metoo era, be classified as ‘bad’ or ‘abusive,’ and they are continually seeking to add facts, even if not truthful, to their story, to make the alleged events as salacious as humanly possible.”

Anton said the women should “hire a literary agent instead and put out your book of fiction, in which you can claim anything you want, subject only to the laws against defamation.”

R. Kelly's girlfriend accuses him of controlling and manipulative behavior
Another one of Kelly’s attorneys, Steve Greenberg, posted a statement to Twitter: “Having now had the opportunity to review the latest superseding indictment against @rkelly, we do not believe it fundamentally changes anything.”

According to the superseding indictment, the New York federal charges include six alleged victims, including three minors.

The indictment accuses Kelly of allegedly having unprotected sex with two of the alleged victims without telling them he has herpes, referring to the victims as Jane Doe #5 and Jane Doe #6.

The four new alleged violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits sexual trafficking across state lines, include three charges involving Jane Doe #6. A fourth charge, according to the indictment, alleges that Jane Doe #5 was a minor at the time and was forced to “engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing one or more visual depictions of such conduct.”

R. Kelly adamant about his innocence in first TV interview amid sexual abuse charges

No arraignment date has been set regarding the new charges against Kelly, according to the US Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York.

Last month, Kelly was charged in the US District of Illinois in a 13-count superseding indictment with multiple counts of child pornography and other crimes. That indictment included a new alleged victim, identified as “Minor 6.”

Federal prosecutors in Illinois claim Kelly videotaped himself allegedly having sex with at least four girls under the age of 18 beginning in 1998. Combined with the New York indictment, he now faces 22 federal criminal charges involving allegedly abusing 11 girls and women between 1994 and 2018.

Kelly also faces state charges in his hometown of Chicago.





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New York subway: Commuting in the time of coronavirus in the nation’s largest transit system


Two stops later, the epidemiology professor at New York University’s School of Global Public Health scored a prized seat next to a car door. To her immediate right was a woman fidgeting with a cell phone and another whose face was hidden below the eyes by a white surgical mask. A subway rider leaned on a metal pole a couple of feet away, looking around and pressing a black scarf against her nose and mouth.

“Last week somebody near me was coughing,” said Gershon, a disaster preparedness expert and subway regular. “I took a tissue and covered my nose and my mouth. I have glasses on already, which is good. You know, the way in also is the eyes.”

Crowded trains each weekday carry more than 5 million people hardened by terror threats and track-dwelling rats, daylight assaults and diluvial water main breaks. COVID-19 is their latest worry.

“I do think they are potentially at risk because you’re in close quarters and sometimes you can’t escape if somebody is really near you and the train is packed,” said Gershon, a native New Yorker.

On Monday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Pat Foye sought to assure the public the trains “remain safe” but urged people with health issues, “If you can get around without riding the subway, do it.”

“If you experience symptoms like fever or respiratory issues or have compromised immunity, or other serious health issues, it’s good advice always, to avoid large crowds,” he told reporters.

The message came on the day state officials revealed Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, tested positive for the coronavirus. Cotton is under quarantine and will continue working from home, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

The Port Authority oversees much of New York City’s travel infrastructure, including some airports, tunnels, bridges and seaports.

Mayor Bill de Blasio urged some New Yorkers Sunday to avoid the subway. He called for employers to stagger work hours for employees to ease overcrowding.

“If you’re sick, you shouldn’t be going on the subway,” he told reporters.

“If you are traveling by subway and the train that comes up is all packed and you can possibly wait for the next train in the hopes it might be less packed, please do,” the mayor added. “We’ve all been sardines in the subway. If you have the option of walking or biking to work, please do that.”

De Blasio is also asking the Food and Drug Administration to approve automatic tests for coronavirus.

“The FDA needs to approve the automated tests,” de Blasio said Monday afternoon. He noted results are received every day, but could be more frequent if the FDA were to approve automated tests “with the stroke of a pen.”

Transit system undergoes a deep cleaning

The MTA, the state agency that runs the subway, buses and commuter rails, last week announced it was using bleach and other disinfectants recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to scour all equipment in the system every 72 hours.

The major cleaning includes 472 subway stations, 21 stations on Staten Island Railway, 124 stations and terminals on the Long Island Rail Road and 101 Metro-North stations.

“Even if you clean it twice a day, if someone happens just by chance to come on who’s infected and their hands may be contaminated — they just sneezed into their hands and they put their hand on some surface — the cleaning only works for a short time,” said Stephen Morse, 68, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “It’s really up to all of us to take the precautions to protect ourselves.”

Subway and bus riders are urged to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, after disembarking, according to experts. Hand sanitizers have been in short supply nationwide.

People should ‘go about their everyday lives — use the subway, take the bus’

With more than 100 confirmed coronavirus cases across New York State, high-grade disinfectants are being splashed on everything from turnstiles and ticket machines to the subway’s 6,714 cars and 1,100-plus commuter rail cars, according to the MTA.

“Your safety is our highest priority and, as such, we’re going above and beyond recommendations from health experts to disinfect the system,” Foye said last week.

Still, densely packed trains and buses — where it’s often hard to stand inches away from others when the CDC recommends six feet to avoid infection — can be fertile ground for the spread of the virus.

People board a crowded subway train in the New York City.
Transmission between people happens when someone comes into contact with an infected person’s secretions, such as droplets in a cough.
Depending on how virulent the virus is, a cough, sneeze or handshake could cause exposure. The virus can be transmitted by coming into contact with something an infected person has touched and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

“The risk is related basically to proximity of infected people, how long you’re on the subway and obviously the number of exposures you may have,” said Morse, who uses the subway every day to get to work where his research interests include risk assessment of infectious diseases.

“So, if there are infected people near you, obviously then it’s a matter of density. But we don’t know how many infected people there are out there.”

Visiting New York with 100 medical masks and hand sanitizer

Leonardo Gayer and wife Vanessa, visiting from Brazil, wear surgical masks in the New York subway.

Beneath bustling Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan, a public service announcement plays from speakers on the subway platforms. It advises riders to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. The same message scrolls across station screens.

Leonardo Gayer, 37, a marketing director for an energy drink company, and his wife Vanessa, 37, pushed through the turnstiles wearing white surgical masks. They’re visiting the city from Brazil and packed a box of 100 masks and several bottles of hand sanitizer in their luggage.

Vanessa Gayer showed the hand sanitizer bottle she carries everywhere. They use it the moment they leave the subway. She’s six months pregnant.

Vanessa Gayer holds a bottle of antibacterial gel she brought with her from Brazil to New York.

“That’s our main concern,” her husband said of her pregnancy.

In Brazil — which has just over a dozen coronavirus cases compared to more than 500 and 21 deaths in the United States — people are “getting crazy” and panicky about the outbreak, Vanessa Gayer said.

“In Brazil, we are more concerned than here because nobody is wearing masks here,” Leonardo Gayer said. “It’s strange.”

They were headed to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum downtown, where they said they planned on wearing the masks if it was crowded.

Across town, college student John Yang, 23, wore a surgical mask as he traveled with a friend on a train under Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He said he was as concerned about mounting racist assaults against Asians as he was about the spread of coronavirus.

“There are a lot of people getting beat up for wearing masks,” Yang said. “I feel like I’m pretty westernized, but I still have Chinese roots … I’m traveling with my boy though.”

Transit agency to employees: Don’t wear masks on the job

People walk through Grand Central Terminal, a major transit hub.

The use of medical face masks had sparked friction between the MTA and the Transport Workers Union, which represents about 40,000 subway and bus workers. The agency last week ordered a train operator who refused to remove a surgical mask to sit in a break room for at least two shifts, union officials said.

“It’s optics. If there is a bus operator with a mask, they feel the public is going to say, ‘Oh, he’s wearing a mask. Is that bus contaminated?'” TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano said of the MTA.

“We feel that if our operators or any of our employees wants to wear a mask, they should be able to,” said Utano, who met with agency officials last week to discuss the policy. “It’s just peace of mind for our people.”

By Sunday night, the agency had reversed its position, telling workers in a memo that “any employee may choose to wear gloves and masks, if they have underlying medical conditions or if this makes them more comfortable during this time.”

Patrick Warren, the MTA’s chief safety officer, said in a statement last week that medical guidance indicated respiratory masks don’t protect healthy people from the virus but are meant instead to keep those infected from spreading it.

“Since a mask is not part of the authorized uniform and not medically recommended at this time they may not be worn by uniformed MTA employees,” Warren said. “In the event that guidance from federal and state health authorities should recommend a modification of this policy, it will be reevaluated at that time.”

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams last week urged people to stop buying face masks to prevent the coronavirus. The risk of infection might increase if the mask is not worn properly, he warned.

How effective are medical masks in stopping the spread of the virus is an unsettled question among scientists, according to Morse.

“We have a certain amount of data that is kind of mixed,” he said. “The official recommendation has been that uninfected individuals probably won’t get much protection from masks. But we have some other data that suggests maybe they do.”

Subways ran during the most severe pandemic in recent history

Don’t expect the health emergency to stop the trains and buses, experts said.

Even during the 1918 influenza outbreak, the most severe pandemic in recent history, the smaller subway system and schools in New York remained open, Morse said. Businesses staggered work hours to make travel less crowded — just as the city is recommending now.

Sometimes referred to as the “Spanish flu,” the 1918 pandemic was estimated to have infected about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population and killed some 50 million worldwide.

“We’re blessed to have a really excellent mass transit system, by and large, and it actually functions for many people,” Moorse said. “It’s in many ways the lifeblood of the city. You should recognize there are some risks, but those risks can be minimized.”

Gershon said she’s seen changes of late in the way people ride the trains.

“I notice a lot of people holding on the rails using their arms that are covered instead of their hands — like in the crook of the arm,” she said. “I’ve noticed people standing rather than sitting. And it definitely has not been as crowded as it had been.”

Still, public transit keeps running even during the worst pandemics so crucial health care employees can get to work, she said.

After subway travel, Gershon said, she uses “quite a bit” of hand sanitizer. When she gets to work or home, she does a “super wash” of her hands in the sink. She uses a disinfectant wipe on her phone, purse and doorknobs.

Gerson emerged from the subway near her home on the Upper East Side the other night and checked a chain drug store on the corner for hand sanitizer. They were out.

“At this stage, somebody getting on a train visibly ill — if somebody did that, I think people would go ballistic,” she said. “I don’t have any face masks because, of course, they’re all sold out.”



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