Health and Science

New York Gov. Cuomo bans gatherings of 500 or more amid coronavirus outbreak

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New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo briefing on updates on spread of covid-19 in New York State at NYPA White Plains Office.
Lev Radin | Pacific Press | Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced a ban on gatherings of 500 or more people across the state "for the foreseeable future" as public officials try to contain the fast-moving coronavirus outbreak that's spread across 44 U.S. states and infected at least 127,800 people across the world.

Cuomo said the state is trying to limit the contagion by reducing "density," or events where a large number of people gather in a close environment. There are currently at least 328 confirmed cases in New York, he said, 112 of which are new. But if the state's actual cases were "10 times that, I would not be surprised," he said.

"You are going to see the same trajectory that you saw in China, South Korea and Italy," Cuomo said during a press briefing Thursday. "So, we're going to take very dramatic actions in that regard to reduce the number of people in a contagious environment."

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The rules take effect at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, except for Broadway theaters in Manhattan, which will need to adhere by the new rules starting at 5 p.m. on Thursday, he said. Schools, hospitals, nursing homes and mass transit facilities will be exempt from the order, he said. 

"This is going to get much worse before it gets better," he said. "That was always the fact."

Facilities that have have an official occupancy capacity of 500 or fewer will need to reduce their capacity by 50%, he said. Companies that don't adhere to the new rules will face fines and possibly forced closures, state officials said.

"From zero to 500, we're reducing the capacity by 50%, so 50% of your seated capacity is the new capacity for a facility," he said. "Any business that can't maintain their current occupancy or the new occupancy rules with that diligent cleaning, they should contact Empire State Development."

Businesses will receive a "closed order," directing them to close from Empire State Development, he said, adding that the formal order is necessary for legal reasons. 

Cuomo said he's working with hospitals across the state to build "surge capacity" to handle a massive influx of patients. He said 47 people of the 328 confirmed cases across the state are hospitalized, indicating a 14% hospitalization rate.

"We need to make sure the health-care system has the capacity," he said. "That is the intelligent priority for any government that is planning right now."

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State officials are also weighing canceling elective surgeries and asking former doctors and nurses to reconnect with old hospitals to be on call in case they are needed. Cuomo also said the state is preparing to call on medical personnel of the National Guard to treat civilians. 

The loss of revenue to the state will be "incalculable," he said, adding that states won't be able to bear the financial burden of the outbreak without federal intervention. He asked the state comptroller to reassess the state's finances, saying the previous budget projection "was based on a reality 60 days ago that no longer exists."

Cuomo asked for federal relief to help compensate businesses for the lost revenue.

"It would bankrupt the state," he said.