Cuomo: 75 percent of non-essential employees must work from home

The Associated PressIn this Jan. 24, 2019, file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks during a ceremony in New York. On Thursday, Cuomo announced that 75 percent of the state's workforce must now work from home in an effort to reduce density among workers amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

ALBANY -- New York businesses, with some exceptions, were ordered Thursday to allow at least 75 percent of their employees to work from home.

In another series of sweeping moves to address the consequences from the COVID-19 virus, mortgage payments are now waived for people facing a financial hardshop due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at the state Capitol this morning.

The state is also ordering financial institutions to waive ATM fees as well as penalty charges on late payments for credit card bills and loans, Cuomo said.

The new order represented an even more aggressive approach to contain the virus from Wednesday, when Cuomo directed businesses to reduce on-site work forces to 50 percent of employees.

Companies exempt from the order include shipping, media, warehousing, grocery and food production, pharmacies, healthcare providers, utilities, banks and related financial institutions, state officials sasid.

The Cuomo administration has ordered shopping malls, amusement parks and bowling alleys to close by 8 p.m. Thursday. Similar orders have been imposed in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

The announcements came as the total number of New Yorkers who have tested positive for the coronavirus climbed to 4,152 Thursday morning

The new total reflects an increase of 1,769 additional positive results since Wednesday afternoon, when state officials said 2,382 individuals were confirmed as having been infected. 

The hospitalization rate of those infected in New York was put at 19 percent, down from 23 percent Wednesday. The number of New York hospital patients now being treated for the virus is now 777.

The number of patients in intensive care is still being compiled, he said.

The downstate region is the epicenter of New York's outbreak. New York City accounts for 2,469 of the state's total positive cases now. That reflects an increase of 1,129 new cases since one day earlier.

Cuomo said the availability of virus testing has grown dramatically. As recently as last week, only 200 people per day could be tested. On Wednesday night, though, 7,584 New Yorkers were tested, the governor said. To date, more than 20,000 people across the state have been tested, he said.

Cuomo said he is requesting that the Trump administration direct manufacturers to speed up the production of ventilators.

He estimated the state will need an additional 30,000 ventilators, putting New York's current supply at 5,000 to 6,000 of the devices used for patients with serious respiratory problems.

"There is something called the Federal Defense Procurement Act," Cuomo told a CNN interviewer as he sat next to a ventilator earlier Thursday.

"This is a war. Treat it like a war. Say to the manufacturers in this country, 'I need you to build these pieces of equipment quickly,' certainly the gear, the machine next to me, the ventilator, this is going to be the matter of life and death for people."

"The health care system is going to be overwhelmed,” Cuomo said in an NBC interview.

“The question is now to what extent and with what consequence?"

He strongly objected to the notion that a quarantine or shelter-in-place order is needed to curb the spread of the virus.

“I am not going to imprison anyone in the state of New York,” the governor said on CNN. “I am not going to do martial law in the state of New York."

About 8,000 people have been tested across the state, he said.

"The fear is spreading faster than the virus is spreading," he said.

Cuomo also voiced his opposition to reports that some celebrities have had immediate access to testing while many other people have to wait for prolonged periods.

"If someone is getting priority, that is 100 percent wrong," he said.

New York has the highest number of people infected by the virus in the nation.

Cuomo has ordered shopping malls across the state to close beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday. Many companies have been ordered to reduce staffing at their work sites by 50 percent, though employees can work from home to achieve the reduction being sought as part of a density reduction strategy to counter the spread of the contagion.

This is a developing story and will be updated later in the day.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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