Cuomo extends school, business closures; increases social distancing fines

Schools and non-essential businesses across New York State will remain closed through at least April 29, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced at his daily COVID-19 media briefing Monday.

The governor also said he has doubled the maximum fine for social distancing violations from $500 to $1,000.

“Now is not the time to slack off on what we’re doing,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The governor’s announcement comes on the same day he reinforced his belief that hospitalization data indicates New York may have hit a plateau in its fight against the coronavirus, a projection that suggests the state is near its apex. For the second consecutive day, new hospitalizations declined and the number of hospitalized individuals remained flat.

“While none of this is good news, the flattening or possible flattening of the curve is better than the increases we had seen,” Mr. Cuomo said.

There have now been more than 130,000 positively diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in New York State and more than 4,750 deaths, according to the governor. There are at least 13,487 confirmed cases in Suffolk County, including 211 in Southold and 149 in Riverhead. The number of fatalities in Suffolk is at 203, according to the state Department of Health.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone — who reported just 26 new hospitalizations in Suffolk County, including six in intensive care Monday — echoed the governor in saying we still need to see more data before declaring it the apex.

“If this is in fact that we are at an apex or we have reached that plateau, it’s because of social distancing,” said Mr. Bellone, who added that 63 COVID-19 patients have been released from Suffolk hospitals. “That does not mean we take the foot off the pedal.”

There are currently 710 hospital beds, including 64 intensive care units, available in the county, he said.

Mr. Cuomo hopes the increase in fines for residents who fail to obey social distancing rules will further curtail public gatherings. He shared photographs of people meeting in groups at parks in New York City as an example of what not to do.

Mr. Bellone said no fines have been issued in Suffolk County for social distancing violations, but police do continue to respond to calls. Police commissioner Geraldine Hart said 342 non-compliance calls have been lodged with the county police department. Those numbers do not apply to town departments on the East End.

Following Monday’s announcement that school closures have been extended, state education officials announced that June’s regents exams will be canceled. It is unclear if Regents exams set for August will continue as planned.

More takeways from Monday’s briefings:

• Mr. Cuomo said 802 ventilators will be distributed across New York State to meet the needs of hospitals. He said the state’s hospitals are to the point where they are using BPAP systems and splitting ventilators to be used by more than one patient at a time.

“We are at the limit of ventilators within the current system,” he said. “The 802 we’re sending today meets the need for today.”

• Mr. Bellone again thanked Congressman Lee Zeldin and President Donald Trump for securing 200,000 N95 masks and 150,000 ear-loop masks for the county stockpile. He said the ear-loop masks have been delivered and the N95 masks were expected to arrive Monday. The masks will cost the county about $100,000, according to the county executive’s office.

• Mr. Cuomo said he planned to ask the president to relax restrictions on the use of the Navy Ship Comfort, which has been designated only for non-COVID-19 patients. He said that need is not necessarily there.

“We don’t need Comfort for non-COVID cases, we need it for COVID,” the governor said, adding that social distancing measures have led to fewer accidents, lowered the crime rate and reduced the number of trauma cases across New York.