N.Y. Reports Highest Daily Death Toll; Hospitalizations Plunge

(Bloomberg) — New York City reported a record 824 deaths from the coronavirus in 24 hours, a grim reminder that despite flattening infection curves and lower hospital admissions, the health crisis in the largest U.S. city is far from over.

Statewide, the fatality rate has worsened by the day. New York reported 799 new deaths on Thursday, on top of about 1,500 in the prior two days. Total coronavirus deaths in the state now exceed 7,000.

The city and state take snapshots of the virus’s effects at different times during the day, which may account for the discrepancy showing more deaths in the city than in the state. Spokesmen for the mayor and the governor didn’t have an immediate explanation.

The latest spike in deaths, which lag as an indicator of the virus’s spread, comes as the rate of hospitalizations in the city and state is dropping sharply.

At his daily virus briefing on Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said there had been only 200 net new hospitalizations over 24 hours, the lowest number since the crisis broke out. That number had been as high as 1,400 just a week ago. Likewise, the rate of new intensive-care admissions and intubations — when patients are put on a ventilator — also plummeted.

But New York State also reported more than 10,600 new positive cases on Wednesday, a second day above 10,000 after multiple days when the number was trending downward. At more than 159,000 infections, New York’s cases have now eclipsed those of Spain and Italy. It’s unknown how many people have been infected but never tested.

About 18,000 people in the state are hospitalized for the virus. If New York is indeed reaching a plateau, the statistics suggest that the state will need far less hospital capacity than it raced to build at the onset of the crisis.

After early models predicted a wave as big as 135,000 coronavirus patients, New York nearly doubled its hospital capacity to about 90,000 beds, with hospitals filling hallways, lobbies and conference rooms with them. If the spread continues to slow, the question may become what to do with the excess capacity the state no longer needs.

That wasn’t a question Cuomo was prepared to answer on Thursday, saying it was too early to begin making such assessments.

“I don’t want to get into a retrospective when we’re in the middle of the game,” Cuomo said. But he added: “The expert models were all off.”

He urged New Yorkers to continue practicing social distancing, noting that the curve could begin trending up again if people become complacent and that the state needed to prepare for potential additional waves of the virus.

“We’re in a battle right, but this is about a war,” Cuomo said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that the apparent flattening of the infection curve might mean that the city could reach a second phase as early as June that would relax restrictions on movement outside the home. That would require much wider testing and continued adherence to some level of social distancing, he said.

The mayor gave no estimates for when, or under what conditions, businesses, schools, courts, restaurants or theaters could reopen.

“If we do things right and get testing we can make steady progress,” de Blasio said. “If we don’t do things right or get thrown a curve ball we may have to tighten restrictions further.”

The city death toll reached 4,426 on Thursday morning, up from more than 3,600 the previous day. Confirmed cases totaled roughly 84,000, up about 6,400 from 24 hours earlier.

As the caseloads stabilize and then decrease, city officials plan to isolate mildly symptomatic patients in hotel rooms while they fight off the virus to prevent them from infecting others in their households, de Blasio said.

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