A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the coronavirus cases in New York City at the start of the pandemic were from Europe, prompting a new round of outrage from Governor Andrew Cuomo. "The virus came to New York, and Americans died, because of government failure," he said in call with journalists on Thursday afternoon. "These are the facts. They missed the science."
The report, titled, "Detection and Genetic Characterization of Community-Based SARS-CoV-2 Infections — New York City, March 2020," notes, "The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducted sentinel surveillance of influenza-like symptoms (ILS) and genetic sequencing to characterize community transmission and determine the geographic origin of SARS-CoV-2 infections. Among 544 specimens tested from persons with ILS and negative influenza test results, 36 (6.6%) were positive. Genetically sequenced positive specimens most closely resembled sequences circulating in Europe."
The CDC also noted that while domestic airport screening and bans "on foreign nationals traveling from China" were put in place on February 2nd, "similar travel restrictions from the Schengen Area in Europe were only implemented March 13th," when the virus was already in New York. "Although travel restrictions are an important mitigation strategy, by the time the European restrictions were implemented, importation and community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 had already occurred in NYC."
Cuomo reiterated the point about the European travel ban being too late, "The president likes to talk about the travel ban [on Chinese flights] that was effective... his own CDC says the travel ban was too late." He pointed out how there were thousands of flights from Europe landing at JFK and Newark Airports in early March.
The CDC report also bolsters Mount Sinai's findings, published in April, that said the genome associated with COVID-19 patients in NYC resembles a strain of the virus from Europe.
A frustrated Cuomo warned, "There will be a second wave, [but] it's not going to be a mutated virus... it's going to be a rebound of COVID from other states that got infected, transmitting it back to New York."
The governor said this would be a "double-barreled shotgun of federal incompetence," and urged, "Follow the science, Mr. President. Open your eyes. Listen to the federal health officials."
NYC's Phase 4 Won't Include Additional Indoor Activity, Cuomo Says
1:30 p.m. New York City's Phase 4 won't include additional indoor activity like malls and cultural institutions once the city moves into the final COVID-19 reopening phase, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced during a press call on Thursday.
NYC is on track to go into Phase 4 on Monday, but Cuomo said a final decision won't be announced until 4 p.m. Friday.
All other regions in New York have entered Phase 4, which includes low-risk outdoor and indoor activities like zoos, gardens, historical sites, malls and museums. It also includes schools and sports competitions without fans.
Cuomo didn't say when those indoor activities could reopen in the city.
On Wednesday, 14 New Yorkers died from the coronavirus, Cuomo said. Hospitalizations dropped by 18 to 813 in the state. The positivity rate was about 1 percent—769 of the 72,685 COVID-19 tests came back positive.
Though the infection rate remains steady, the governor emphasized infection increases elsewhere in the country could come back to hurt New York and doubled down on compliance of social distancing rules at bars and restaurants.
“That’s one of the things we’re worried about in New York is the virus coming from the states with the high infection rates. It’s our pleasure to help Houston, to help Atlanta, to help states across the nation deal with it," he said on the press call, joined by Houston's Mayor Sylvester Turner. "It’s the right thing to do as Americans. It’s also in our self-interest because we are all in this together.”
A new rule will now allow officials to shutter an establishment after three violations of social distancing regulations. Previously, officials could revoke a business's liquor license.
"If we do not enforce compliance, the virus will spread," Cuomo said. "It is that simple. If you eat a piece of cheesecake, you will see it on the scale tomorrow. Our actions create the response of the virus."
Cuomo said the state’s mandated 14-day quarantine rules for out-of-state travelers saw a 92 percent compliance rate, which refers to travelers who fill out forms before they leave an airport. State officials do random checks on those who fill out the airport forms, though he didn't say how many people were checked. An upstate county saw its infection rate rise after New Yorkers returned on a flight from Atlanta last week.
“It’s like any other law. You can speed, yeah, but if you get caught, you get the ticket,” Cuomo said. “This is a totally new function for state government. We have no border control. It’s not what the state does.”