The number of coronavirus deaths across New York State rose by the highest number yet in 24 hours, with 731 people dying from the disease between Monday and Tuesday.
The number, while staggering, is another indicator that the virus spread is starting to slow down across the 'epicenter' of America. It represents people who were admitted to the hospital weeks ago and were put on ventilators but never recovered.
Now, the total number of dead across New York state is 5,489 deaths (up from 4,758). The total number of cases is 138,836 (up from 130,689). That increase - of 8,147 - is smaller than the previous day's, which was 8,568.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the numbers at a press conference on Tuesday where he also announced the state Department of Health had approved an antibody test to determine whether or not a person has had coronavirus and recovered from it. If they are found to have, it will allow them to get back to work because they are immune to it.
Now, he is asking the FDA to help the state's Department of Health in scaling it up to allow millions to be tested and restart the economy.
He did not give a time scale for the mass-release of the test but is warning the state still has some way to go before it can slowly start to return to a sense of normal. The lockdown on non-essential businesses remains in place until April 29.
Cuomo, in an effort to boost morale, reminded residents that it had 'only' been 37 days since- the virus arrived in New York. By comparison, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic lasted six months, he said.
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo giving his daily briefing on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday
'I know it's been a frustrating 37 days but it's only been 37 days. I know it feels like a lifetime. It's been so disruptive, so abrupt, so disorienting, but it's only been 37 days.
'Everything in context, everything in perspective. I know it's hard to get up every day. This is like groundhog day, living through this bizarre reality that we're in.
'But it's only been 37 days... the 1918 pandemic that we talk about peaked in New York for six months,' he said.
He also told the public that the reason the number of new cases is coming down is because social distancing is 'working' and that it is not a coincidence or 'act of God'.
'We are changing the curve in that virus growth. If we don't do what we're doing, that is a much different curve.
This is not an act of god - it's an act of what society actually does... social distancing is working. It is working.
'Social distancing is working. It is working,' he said firmly, adding: 'This is not an act of god - it's an act of what society actually does.'
The test the state department has developed will determine whether or not a person has had the virus and recovered from it which is key in restarting the economy.
It is separate to the antibody test the FDA has discussed which, according to commissioner Dr. Zucker, determines if a person still has the virus.
Cuomo said we will not be able to stamp out the virus entirely before re-starting the economy, adding: 'We do not have that luxury.'
He is looking at strategies involving getting younger people back to work first or only allowing people back to work if they have taken the antibody test or test negative for the virus.
'How do we, when we get to that point - which we are not at - but how do we restart our economy? It's going to come down to how good we are with testing.
'You're not going to end the virus before you start restarting life. You don't have that luxury. It's going to come down to testing.
'You're going to have to know who had the virus and resolved and who never had it and that's going to be testing.
'That's an entirely new field that we're just developing now. New York state has developed an antibody testing regiment that the Department of Health has approved for use in New York state.
'That has to be brought to scale and the department of health is going to be working with the FDA to do just that,' he said.
SAILOR ON USNS COMFORT BECOMES INFECTED WITH CORONAVIRUS
A crew member of a Navy hospital ship sent to New York City for the coronavirus outbreak has tested positive for the disease.
The USNS Comfort crew member tested positive Monday and was being isolated, the Navy said in a prepared statement. The positive test will not affect the 1,000-bed hospital ship´s mission to receive patients, according to the Navy.
The Comfort has treated about 40 non-COVID-19 patients since arriving in the city last week, prompting complaints it was doing little to help overburdened hospitals in the area.
President Donald Trump said Monday he agreed to take COVID-19 patients aboard the ship after speaking with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Federal officials say emergency patients will now be seen on the ship, whether or not they have the virus, though the ship can only isolate only a small number of patients.
Another element was 'rapid' testing which is already in use, which involves 15-minute, same-day diagnosis.
The challenge will be combining those two efforts and getting them to the mass public quickly.
'You have 19 million people in the state of New York. Just think of how many people you would need to test and test quickly,' he said.
Cuomo added that he was working with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut to come up with a partnership plan where they could work with private companies to ramp up the tests.
He also said that while the hospital system continues to be overstretched, with nurses and doctors working round the clock to save lives, they all have the equipment they need to get by.
'What they have done is just incredible,' he said, in tribute to medical frontliners.
'Think of the mindset to walk into an ER every morning, put on all this protective clothing, having to changet hat clothing several times a day.
'Seeing people pass away then go to their own homes.'
While the death toll was staggering, he said he takes 'solace' in knowing anyone who could have been saved has been.
He had been asked if he struggles not becoming numb to the incomprehensible number of deaths and infections and said decisively that he had not.
'I guess one could get numb to the numbers. That's why I've been saying, remember every number, there's a human being behind that and a family.
'For myself, I can tell you, the last thing I do is get numb. I can tell you for the hospital staff, they are not getting numb. Families suffering, they're not getting numb.
'The pain is increasing. The grief is increasing. When you see pictures of bodies being put in trucks in parking lots. How could you get numb to any of this? I can't imagine, especially New Yorkers, that we lose the humanity of this.
'It's something I struggle with every day. I try to think of the opposite - that we are doing good. Because you can't save everyone. This virus is very good at what it does. It kills vulnerable people; that's what it does. We can't stop that.
Medical workers wheel bodies out of the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Monday
An Orthodox Jewish man talks on a mobile phone as another man removes personal protective equipment (PPE) outside Maimonides Medical Center
Paramedics take a patient into emergency center at Maimonides Medical Center during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
U.S. Navy personnel unload their gear from a bus as they arrive in Manhattan during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
'The question is are you saving everyone you can save. There, the answer is yes. I take some solace in that fact.
'Our healthcare system is operating. People we lost, we couldn't we save despite our best efforts,' he said.
He repeated his instruction to people to stay at home and reminded them there would be fines if they did not comply.
'We all talk about "life is bigger than us". Now is the time to live that. So when you feel the need of, "I have to do this", think "it's not about me. it's about we."
'My health is in your hands. Your health is in my hands. The health of those healthcare workers and first responders and people who have to show up to work every day. We are responsible for them.
'Let's not get complacent. We have to stay disciplined and smart and we do that by staying home. We will get through this together,' he said.
He also thanked the president for moving 'expeditiously' to turn the USNS Comfort from a non-COVID hospital into one that was accepting coronavirus patients.
The transition has halved the ship's capacity from 1,000 patients to 500, but it is a 'tremendous' relief on the hospital system, Cuomo said.
The Javits Center also has capacity for 2,500 beds and it is in use.
Drone footage captures prisoners digging graves in hazmat suits on Hart Island as NYC eyes it as a mass temporary burial site for coronavirus victims after 437 die in a day, bringing city death toll to 3,485
Drone footage shows inmates in hazmat suits digging graves on NYC's Hart Island suggesting that coronavirus victims could already be being temporarily buried there, as morgues across the city continue to overflow and the death toll ticks up.
Drone footage taken on Thursday - which is the day bodies are buried there every week - by The Hart Island Project shows inmates in hazmat suits digging graves on the island, possibly for victims of the virus which has claimed more than 3,400 lives across New York City and sickened more than 72,000. Ordinarily prisoners are seen digging in their prison uniforms.
Mayor Bill de Blasio did not confirm whether burials for coronavirus victims had been or would take place there but told reporters Monday: 'We may well be dealing with temporary burials so we can then deal with each family later.
Rikers Island inmates in hazmat suits dig graves on Hart Island on April 2. The island is where unidentified or unclaimed bodies have been buried for years. Now, the city is suggesting it could become a mass burial site for coronavirus victims. Burials ordinarily take place on Thursdays, which is when this video was filmed overhead
Bodies are buried three deep in wooden, unmarked caskets. Normally, 25 are buried a week. In the last week of March, however, 72 were buried. It is not known if any or all were coronavirus patients or whether or not the bodies, once in the medical examiner's office, were tested for COVID-19
A wider view of the operation on Hart Island which has been used to bury unclaimed bodies in New York City for decades
'Obviously, the place we have used historically is Hart Island.'
In a normal week, 25 bodies are buried there. According to Jason Kersten, a spokesman at the Department of Correction, which oversees the island, that number has risen to 72 since the end of March, when the virus exploded in New York City.
Hart Island is ordinarily used to bury unidentified or unclaimed bodies. It was used for bodies after the Spanish Flu.
Public officials sparked panic and disgust this week by claiming some of the dead would be temporarily buried in public parks across the city.
That suggestion, made by councilman Mark Levine, has since been dismissed but the question of what to do with the escalating body count remains pertinent.
THE GRISLY HISTORY OF HART ISLAND WHICH IS THE FINAL RESTING PLACE FOR MORE THAN ONE MILLION BODIES
Hart Island, sometimes referred to as Hart's Island, has a grisly history and started being used as a cemetery during the civil war in 1868 and there are now more than a million bodies buried there.
Since then it has been used as a women's psychiatric institution, a tuberculosis sanatorium, a potter's field burial site and storage for Cold War anti-aircraft missiles.
After its first use as a cemetery in 1868, the island started to be used as a potter's field for unmarked graves and accounts from the time describe bodies piling up on the island after being transported from hospitals in the city.
By 1958, burials there exceeded 500,000 and it has been used to house the bodies of victims of the 1870 yellow fever epidemic and the 1919 Spanish Flu outbreak.
During the Spanish Flu, when more than 500,000 Americans died, thousands were buried at Hart Island as city burial sites were overwhelmed.
It is estimated they would be asked to remove between 50 and 5,000 victims a day during the epidemic.
In more recent times, thousands of unclaimed AIDs victims have been buried on the island. The first were buried in 1985 away from other graves, in the belief that AIDs could infect dead bodies.
In one 200-foot trench the remains of 8,904 babies were buried between 1988 and 1999.
The island in Long Island Sound has also been the site of a homeless shelter, a boys' reformatory, a jail and a drug rehabilitation center.
During the Cold War, Project Nike anti aircraft missiles were stationed on the island.
An amusement park was planned for the site in the 1970s, but it was never built as it was too close to a prison.
During World War II the island was used as a correctional facility when the population of Rikers Island was moved there.
The island was also used as a homeless shelter which operated from 1951 to 1954 and an alcohol treatment facility in 1955, before returning to being used as a common grave in the 1980s.
It is still used to bury unknown or unclaimed people with bodies from across New York taken to the site every Thursday and laid to rest by inmates at Rikers Island.
Mark Levine, a Manhattan council representative, tweeted on Monday: 'Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a dignified, orderly and temporary manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take.'
He added: 'I have spoken to many folks in City gov't today, and received unequivocal assurance that there will be *no* burials in NYC Parks.
'All have stated clearly that if temporary interment should be needed it will be done on Hart Island.'
The mayor's spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein, stressed that the city government was not considering using local parks as cemeteries. But she added that Hart Island, where around one million New Yorkers are already buried in mass graves, may be used 'for temporary burials, if the need grows'.
Interments of coronavirus fatalities on the island may already have taken place.
Melinda Hunt, the founder of the Hart Island Project, said drone video footage shot last week appears to show burials of COVID-19 patients who passed away.
She told CBS New York: 'Within an hour they've buried 25 bodies, so it's a very efficient system of burials.
'Hart Island has been used during the 1918 flu epidemic. Thousands of New Yorkers were buried there, diphtheria, tuberculosis.'
One former Rikers Island inmate who spent five months working on the island until February this year has also told of the grim operation that goes on there.
Vincent Mingalone said in a voiceover of the video that he worked as a team of around seven men who formed a supply chain to move the bodies from a truck to the mass grave every Thursday.
They were stacked three deep and then covered with sand and soil.
Mingalone said that he is now worried about whether there will actually be enough inmates willing to do the job. When he was incarcerated, he said no one else volunteered to do the work because they viewed it as 'ghoulish' or 'dirty' and because it was low paid compared to other prison jobs.
Since the pandemic erupted, 1,000 inmates have been released from Riker's Island, leaving fewer people to bury the bodies when they keep piling up.
Mingalone said: 'My concern was, they released a lot of sentenced inmates. So I don't know if they're going to get the inmate labor.
'Even when it was a full house, a lot didn't volunteer. They thought it was ghoulish, they thought it was a dirty job.
'It was one of the lower paying jobs compared to maybe working the car wash or cleaning or any of the other outside clearance jobs. A lot of people didn't want that job.
'Now it's going to be slim pickings because a lot of inmates have all been released because of this pandemic,' he said.
The island is home to the city's potter's field, a cemetery for people with no next of kin or whose families cannot arrange funerals.
Over the last 160 years Hart Island has been a Union Civil War prisoner-of-war camp, a psychiatric institution, tuberculosis sanatorium and a potter's field burial site.
Since 1861 more than a million people have been buried there, with trucks still arriving at the site twice a week from morgues across New York.
One there inmates from Rikers Island are paid 50c an hour to act as pallbearers and bury the dead.
The dead are interred in trenches, with babies placed in coffins, which are stacked in groups of 1,000, measuring five coffins deep and usually in 20 rows.
Adults are placed in larger pine boxes arranged according to size and stacked in sections of 150, measuring three coffins deep in two rows.
Since the first decade of the 21st century there are fewer than 1,500 burials a year at Hart Island.
Hunt, who has documented Hart Island, added that help would be needed from the military when it came time to reunite families with the deceased.
Several undertakers interviewed said they were struggling to deal with New York state's coronavirus death toll of more than 500 a day.
Between Friday and Saturday, a high of 630 deaths were recorded.
Ken Brewster, owner of Crowe's Funeral Homes in Queens, said: 'The majority of funeral homes do not have refrigeration or [have] limited refrigeration.
'If you don't have the space...you need those trucks,' added Brewster, whose small business has been bombarded with requests for funeral services for COVID-19 patients over the past week.
Pat Marmo manages five funeral homes across the city.
He is finding it difficult to cope with the stress generated by influx of bodies, particularly because he himself just lost a cousin and close friend to the pandemic.
Marmo said: 'The hospitals are pushing [us]. They want the people picked up [as quickly as possible] and the funeral homes don't have the facilities to handle these bodies.'
Marmo estimates that his homes are currently dealing with three times more bodies that normal and that burials will last well into next month.
'It's almost like 9/11, going on for days and days and days,' he said, referring to the worst terror strikes on US soil back on September 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that the number of deaths across New York state had flattened out since Saturday's high, below 600 a day.
He suggested the state may be at the peak of its pandemic, but extended stay-at-home measures until April 29, saying now was not the time to end social distancing.