New York City may issue 'shelter-in-place' order in fight against coronavirus

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference for the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at City Hall in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 17, 2020.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference for the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at City Hall in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 17, 2020. © REUTERS/Jeenah Moon/File Photo

New York City may soon compel most people to stay in their homes except in emergencies or when shopping for essentials, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday, but the state's governor, Andrew Cuomo, doubted it would work.


Any decision to issue the "shelter-in-place" order would likely be made in the next 48 hours, but even if imposed, it would likely still allow more than 8 million residents to make necessary trips out to buy food or medicine, the mayor said as the number of confirmed cases in the city rose to 814.

Cuomo, a Democrat like de Blasio, said he did not think sheltering in place would be effective. "I don’t think you can really do a policy like that just in one part of the state. So I don’t think it works," he told CNN.

"As a matter of fact, I’m going so far that I don’t even think you can do a statewide policy," Cuomo said.

New York, Washington state and California account for the bulk of confirmed U.S. cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness. There have been 13 deaths in New York state, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Some 6.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay area have already been ordered to stay home for all but the most crucial outings until April 7.

New York City officials acknowledged on Tuesday they still did not have all the medical resources they were seeking and that they had been receiving protective equipment from the federal government that was past its expiry date.

The city has already asked New Yorkers to stay home when they can and has closed schools and limited bars and restaurants to takeout or delivery.

But if there is still not enough compliance, the city may soon enforce new rules restricting people to their homes unless they can prove they have a good reason to stay outside, Emergency Management Commissioner Deanne Criswell said in an interview.

A tally of mechanical ventilators found the city had far fewer of the life-saving machines than was thought, she said.

There are about 3,500 mechanical ventilators in the city's public and private hospitals, the tally found, not the 5,000 city officials including the mayor cited as recently as Tuesday afternoon.

In the most serious cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, patients need the machines in order to breathe. Public health officials fear there may not be enough to go around, forcing doctors to make life-and-death decisions.

"We're aggressively trying to buy ventilators right now," Criswell said.

'We've never been here before' 

The city asked the federal government to send 2.2 million N95 respirator masks, which nurses and doctors place over their faces to prevent getting infected by the patients they treat, from the National Strategic Stockpile.

"We received 76,000," Criswell said. "And they were all expired." It was not clear when, or if, the government would send the other 2.1 million masks.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the stockpile and previously acknowledged some resources were expired, did not respond to a request for comment.

Federal health agency guidance allows expired masks to be used in certain circumstances, which Criswell said the city would follow.

"We're facing an unprecedented disaster here and it's going to continue to grow rapidly and get much worse before it gets better and we need to get the federal government to make sure we're receiving the right resources to help our citizens," she said.

The city has asked the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, which can care for up to 1,000 patients, to dock in New York, a request echoed by lawmakers from the state on Tuesday, Criswell said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday he ordered the Navy to get ready to deploy Comfort and a second hospital ship, Mercy, if needed, but did not say to where.

"We've never been here before," de Blasio said of the possible "shelter-in-place" order. "I have never heard of anything like this in the history of New York City. We're going to have to create it from scratch, if we do it."


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