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Cuomo tamps down talk of quarantines while NYC mayor says prepare to shelter in place



Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he may take more steps soon to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including ordering the closure of most businesses, but he hasn't made that decision yet.

The governor, trying to tamp down rumors spreading on social media, also said he has no plans at this time to quarantine any cities in the state.

Just a few hours later, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said city residents should be prepared in the next 48 hours to possibly shelter in place. But he said he won’t give the order without consulting with the governor.

Cuomo said more may need to be done besides closing bars, restaurants, gyms and casinos to help prevent a worst-case scenario for transmission of the virus.

“The curve is not flattening to a level that we can sustain, which would suggest that you're going to need to take more efforts to slow the curve,” Cuomo said. “That’s what we're exploring now.”

The governor said quarantining any particular city or region, as has been done in the San Francisco area, will only cause people to flee to other locales. And he said he would not allow any local government in New York to make that decision.

“Whatever we do is going to be statewide, thought through, comprehensive. Nobody is going to be quarantined,” Cuomo said. “The likely additional actions would be on the business side first.”

An example would be closing all but essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies.

De Blasio said in his briefing on the virus a few hours later that he respects the role of the state, but he said sheltering in place in New York City within the next 48 hours is a possibility, and he thinks it’s “decision time.”

In response, Cuomo’s chief of staff, Melissa DeRosa, said in a statement that “any blanket quarantine or shelter in place policy would require state action and as the governor has said, there is no consideration of that for any locality at this time."

Cuomo is concerned about having enough hospital beds and ventilators to handle what state health officials believe will be the peak of the infection in about 45 days, on May 1. He said the current hospital bed capacity in the state is 53,000 beds, but as many as 110,000 may be needed.

The governor said he’s trying to do what he can to locate unused dormitories and closed nursing homes to refit as temporary hospitals. And he said he’s putting aside his political differences with President Donald Trump, with whom he has often feuded, and asking him to authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to quickly build new hospital space.

Cuomo spoke to Trump on Tuesday morning.

“I said to the president -- who is a New Yorker, who I’ve known for many, many years -- ‘I put my hand out in partnership,’ ” Cuomo said. “I think the president was 100% sincere in saying that he wanted to work together in partnership, in a spirit of cooperation.”

The governor said he believes the president’s team is now “on it.”

Trump said he’d help New York but offered no specific promises, Cuomo said.

The governor also said a drive-through testing center will open in Nassau County on Tuesday, and there will also be one opening soon in Rockland County.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to pass a state budget, and the State Legislature is tentatively scheduled to return Wednesday to take some votes.

The state comptroller estimates that a $6 billion deficit may grow to at least $10 billion. The governor said he may ask the Legislature for special powers to make changes to the spending plan later in the year, if revenues continue to fall.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.