Published: 10:04, April 2, 2020 | Updated: 05:26, June 6, 2023
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New York robbed of its hustle and bustle
By Ai Heping in New York

Streets deserted as shows, museums, restaurants close

A man passes through a deserted Times Square in New York on Sunday. (SETH WENIG / AP)

The city that never sleeps is not only asleep, it is at a standstill-robbed of its hustle and bustle as its estimated 8.7 million residents are told to stay indoors to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The never-say-die spirit of New Yorkers still exists, but much of what has made the city a place where people want to live and visit has, for now, evaporated.

A stay-at-home mandate brought it to a halt.

On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the death toll from the virus in the city stood at 932. Hours later, officials reported that 1,096 people had died from it.

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Tuesday that 332 people had died in the state since Monday morning, bringing the statewide death toll to 1,550. He also said that the number of cases in the state had risen by 14 percent overnight to 75,795, with 43,139 in its biggest city-including his 49-year-old brother.

The new cases in the state make it the global coronavirus epicenter, surpassing Hubei province, which has reported 67,802 confirmed cases since December.

The number of patients hospitalized in New York City passed 10,900 on Tuesday, up by 15 percent from Monday. Of those, 2,710 were on ventilators in intensive care.

On Monday, the city's ambulances responded to 6,537 emergency calls.

More than 500 paramedic and emergency medical technicians, 2,000 nurses and 250 ambulances were heading to the city from across the US to help support a healthcare system that was being buried under an avalanche of coronavirus patients, De Blasio said on Tuesday.

The virus is taking a heavy toll on the city's police department, the nation's biggest. Nearly 1,200 officers, more than 3 percent of the force, have tested positive, Commissioner Dermot F. Shea said on Tuesday.

He added that about 15 percent of officers were on sick leave, at least four times the normal proportion. Five police department employees have died in the past week.

With the exception of ambulances and police cars, vehicles have largely deserted the streets of all five boroughs in the city, especially Manhattan.

Normally-crowded subway cars are empty; some of them occupied only by the homeless, stretched out asleep.

All museums and 31 Broadway shows have closed, while the annual Easter display of millions of flowers at Macy's flagship department store on now-deserted 34th Street has been canceled for the first time in 70 years.

The annual auto show at Javits Convention Center-now a field hospital with 1,000 beds for patients with non-coronavirus issues-has been called off for the first time since World War II.

All the city's restaurants and bars are closed, with many displaying "Takeout Only" signs.

About 154,400 people work in bars, restaurants, cafes and on food trucks, earning a total of US$4.7 billion annually, according to a study last year by the city's comptroller's office.

Grocery stores are open. Signs stating "No hoarding", "Only two to a customer" and "Use plastic gloves to touch produce" remain on empty shelves.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, right, visits a nearly completed makeshift hospital erected by the US Army Corps of Engineers at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Friday. (DARREN MCGEE / OFFICE OF GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO / AP)

Masks on the streets

In Manhattan, which reported 6,060 confirmed cases on Monday, there are few Uber or Lyft ride-hailing vehicles available, and fewer taxis.

On the streets, nearly everyone, including a reduced number of joggers, is wearing a face mask. Those with or without masks shooed this reporter away as he approached for interviews.

Daffodils are blooming in Manhattan's Central Park, but the vendors selling ice cream, hot dogs and pretzels have vanished, along with tourists, horse-drawn carriages and pedicabs.

"People are scared to come outside," Justin Rahim, a Central Park tour guide, told Fox News. He said several of his pedicab drivers-who rely on tourists for a living-had quit to drive for Uber's food delivery service, adding: "It's crazy. How am I going to survive this?"

On the west side of the park, across the street from Strawberry Fields-dedicated to the memory of John Lennon-there are few lights on at night in the landmark Dakota apartment building where the former Beatle lived, was shot and killed.

"They (residents) have fled to the Hamptons or elsewhere," said a doorman, who declined to give his name.

One man, who also spoke anonymously, said he had been due to move into the building shortly. He paid US$8 million for an apartment at the rear, but is now going elsewhere.

"Our apartment isn't ready, so I'm taking my family and heading for a rental house in the Catskills," he said, referring to an area nearly 220 kilometers north of The Dakota.

In Central Park's East Meadow, a field hospital opened on Tuesday.

A team of 72 doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers from Samaritan's Purse, an evangelical Christian disaster relief organization, erected the facility, where they will work and which is equipped with 10 ventilators.

People wait for a COVID-19 test in New York on March 25. (JOHN MINCHILLO / AP)

It will treat patients from Mount Sinai Health System hospitals in Brooklyn and Queens who are not infected with the virus.

On Monday, a few blocks north of the Javits Center on the West Side of Manhattan, the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort docked, dispatched by US President Donald Trump.

Like the makeshift hospital, its 1,000 beds are also for patients who don't have the virus. The vessel is equipped with surgical rooms, a CAT scan unit, X-ray machines, a dental suite and two oxygen-producing plants-manned by 1,200 medical workers.

All 13 medical schools in the city, Long Island and Westchester County will allow their students to graduate early so they can help at inundated hospitals.

Only essential workers are allowed to go to their jobs in New York state. All others must remain indoors to curb the spread of the virus and to avoid hospitals becoming overwhelmed.

New York's political leaders have warned Trump and the public that the situation in the city will worsen this week, with mounting deaths.

"The virus continues its march across the state," Cuomo said at a news conference on Sunday. "I don't see how you look at those numbers and conclude anything less than thousands of people will pass away."

On Tuesday, a grimmer Cuomo said: "I'm tired of being behind this virus. We've been behind this virus since day one. We've been playing catch up, you don't win playing catch up. We have to get ahead of it."

Cuomo reiterated that the state needs many more ventilators. He said it placed an order for 17,000 from China for US$25,000 each, but only expects to receive 2,500, because California, Illinois and the Italian government also ordered the same ventilators.

De Blasio said he has requested 1,000 nurses, 300 respiratory therapists and 150 doctors from the ranks of both reserve and deployed military personnel to help when a wave of new cases arrives.

He said the federal government has supplied 2,500 ventilators-a crucial resource during the pandemic-but the city needs 15,000 as soon as possible.

Healthcare workers, passengers and crew aboard a flight from Atlanta to New York hold their hands in the shape of a heart before departure. (DAYARTRA ETHERIDGE / AP)

Supplies flown in

Cuomo and officials at all levels of government are acquiring ventilators and other supplies from China, where newly built factories are producing vital goods as the outbreak in the country eases.

A commercial aircraft carrying 80 tons of gloves, masks, gowns and other medical supplies from Shanghai landed in New York on Sunday, the first of 22 scheduled flights that White House officials say will funnel much-needed goods to the US by early this month.

Lizzie Litzow, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the plane delivered 130,000 N95 masks, 1.8 million other masks and gowns, 10 million gloves and thousands of thermometers for distribution in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

De Blasio has warned of even more devastating days ahead.

"I still fear the worst is not going to be April, but actually the beginning of May," he said. "I guarantee you that April is going to be exceedingly tough, and we have to understand that any projection of things being all OK by Easter-there's just no way that's true for New York City."

He was referring to Trump's statements last week that he wanted the US economy back up and running by Easter-April 12. It would be a "beautiful time", Trump said.

On Sunday, the president said he realized this would not be possible, given the continuing spread of COVID-19. He extended social distancing guidelines to April 30.

New York City residents who breach social distancing rules, which require them to keep 6 feet (1.82 meters) apart, will be subject to fines of up to US$500, de Blasio said on Sunday.

"You've been warned and warned and warned again," the mayor said during a news conference.

On Tuesday, he said he closed 10 playgrounds across the city after residents failed to adhere to the guidelines.

Social distancing-or the need for more of it-reportedly led to the death of an 86-year-old woman.

A patient is taken to a hospital in New York on Sunday. (GUO KE / XINHUA)

She died after being pushed to the floor in a Brooklyn hospital for not keeping a sufficient distance, the New York Post reported on Sunday. The woman, who was pushed by a female patient, fell back and hit her head on the floor. She died about three hours after the incident.

The patient was issued with a summons.

White tents erected outside some city hospitals after 9/11 have reappeared, along with refrigerated trucks. The tents block views of the dead on stretchers being placed in trucks because hospital morgues are full.

On Sunday, Trump described the scene at Elmhurst Hospital in his native borough of Queens.

"I've been watching that for the last week on television," he said. "Body bags all over, in hallways. I've been watching them bring in trailer trucks-freezer trucks, they're freezer trucks, because they can't handle the bodies, there are so many of them. This is essentially in my community, in Queens-Queens, New York. I've seen things that I've never seen before."

Last week, the virus killed 13 patients at the hospital in one day.

On Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was sending an estimated 85 refrigerated trucks to the city to collect the bodies of disease victims as morgues struggle to keep up.

FEMA's regional director, Thomas Von Essen, a former New York City Fire Department commissioner who was in office during the 9/11 attacks, said there is a desperate need for morgue space, particularly in Queens,

It is the hardest-hit borough, with 12,756 cases reported on Monday.

The Department of Defense Mortuary Affairs is sending 42 staff members to help in the Manhattan medical examiner's office.

A man living near a medical center in Brooklyn told the Politico website about a refrigerated truck outside the facility.

Marc Kozlow said: "We leave our windows open and we hear the hum of the refrigerator going all night long. It's disturbing to know what's in there."

American Airlines employees wait for passengers to check in at LaGuardia Airport on March 21. (MARY ALTAFFER / AP)

Praise for governor

Governor Cuomo, 62, another political leader born in Queens, has been described as a "hero" by national and international media.

His morning news conferences each day, broadcast live on radio and several television stations in the city and elsewhere in the country, have become "must-sees" for those confined to their homes.

The news conferences are a combination of facts and morality lessons. Sometimes, Cuomo cracks a joke, and often refers to his father, Mario, who served three terms as governor, from 1983 to 1994.

The governor's action in fighting the virus has won praise, even from Trump, along with criticism. Trump said this week that Cuomo has "good grades" for fighting the pandemic, while he, the president, has "great grades".

On Monday, Trump said Cuomo would be a stronger Democratic opponent in the presidential election in November than Joe Biden.

"I wouldn't mind running against Andrew. I've known Andrew for a long time. I wouldn't mind that, but I'll be honest, I think he'd be a better candidate than Sleepy Joe," Trump said.

In a lengthy, flattering piece about Cuomo, Maureen Dowd, a writer for The New York Times, stated, "To the surprise of many who did not associate the name 'Andrew Cuomo' with the word 'empathy,' the governor has become a sort of national shrink, talking us through our fear, our loss, and our growing stir-craziness."

Dowd asked him if was interested in running for the White House.

Cuomo replied: "No. I know presidential politics. I was there in the White House with (Bill) Clinton. I was there with (Al) Gore. No, I'm at peace with who I am and what I'm doing."

On Tuesday, Cuomo's brother, Chris, said he tested positive for the coronavirus after being exposed to people who are infected.

The CNN anchor said he is working from the basement of his house, where he has isolated himself from his wife and children.

Andrew Cuomo said in a statement: "This virus is the great equalizer. Stay strong little brother. You are a sweet, beautiful guy and my best friend."