New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday urged people to work from home as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S. and the death toll continues to rise.
"For a business that can allow more employees to telecommute, we want you to do that," he said at a press briefing. "We simply want to reduce the number of people on mass transit just to open up some more space."
"The challenge," he continued, "is people just packed like sardines" in New York City, where he said it can be much easier to transmit disease among tight crowds.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who joined the mayor on stage, directed New Yorkers to seek out the city's mental health counseling services if they are feeling anxious or depressed over the outbreak.
"New Yorkers are hearing every day about new cases all over the world. They are hearing about an increasing death toll from this virus. I wanted to just take a moment to say these times, it's normal and to be anticipated that some people may be frightened, some people may be sad," Barbot said. "And I want to remind New Yorkers that NYC Well is a resource during these times."
Detailing the city's plan to contain the virus, de Blasio said nurses are being deployed to "every public school building" this week, to help identify cases sooner in the event of an outbreak at any school. "All public schools will have nurses this week that don't have them currently," he said, adding that schools are regularly being supplied with soap and paper towels.
De Blasio also announced emergency aid for small businesses that have been hit hard by the outbreak.
Businesses with up to 100 employees may be eligible for zero-interest loans of up to $75,000 if they can document a 25% or more drop in sales in recent weeks, he said.
"For businesses with fewer than five employees — these are the mom-and-pop stores, neighborhood stores — we will do direct grants up to 40% of payroll costs," he continued. "That's to help them continue to employ their employees even if they are seeing a downturn."
With the outbreak, the price of hand sanitizer has skyrocketed, making the product harder to access. Earlier Monday Gov. Andrew Cuomo took several shots at suppliers of hand sanitizer such as eBay, Amazon and Purell, warning them that the New York government will release a cheaper alternative to their product if they continue to raise prices.
De Blasio touched on the same idea Monday, warning local shops against price gouging and asking the public for help in identifying which stores are marking up those products. He announced that businesses in violation of this mandate will face a fine of up to $500.
De Blasio tried to calm public anxiety over the outbreak as U.S. stock markets were in a state of free fall and oil markets plummeted. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by more than 2,000 points in the worst trading day since 2008.
He said the city's "disease detectives" have found that the coronavirus doesn't last long on surfaces, "literally a matter of minutes," counter to the World Health Organization's findings. De Blasio said his data was based on the city's own experience over the last few weeks with the virus, which has infected less than two dozen people in the city so far.
WHO said preliminary research on the coronavirus shows it may live for "a few hours or up to several days," but that could vary based on the type of surface, temperature and humidity of the environment.
De Blasio's remarks come just days after Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York, as the coronavirus outbreak becomes more severe in the state. Earlier Monday, Cuomo identified New Rochelle, a suburb located about 25 miles outside of New York City, as a COVID-19 hot spot, with 98 of the state's 142 confirmed cases. De Blasio said New York City has 20 confirmed cases so far.
On Monday, both Cuomo and de Blasio urged people to avoid dense crowds, particularly while using mass transit. Cuomo announced on Monday in a press briefing that Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has tested positive for the new coronavirus and will be "on quarantine."
The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, a city in China's Hubei province, in December, has spread to dozens of countries globally, with more than 111,000 confirmed cases worldwide and at least 3,892 deaths so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
There are at least 600 confirmed cases in the U.S. and at least 22 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
The outbreak has roiled markets and led world leaders to take drastic action to contain the virus as it rapidly spreads across the globe.