Study: Virus death toll in NYC worse than official tally
New York – New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus may be thousands of fatalities worse than the official tally kept by the city and state, according to an analysis released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Between mid-March and early May, about 24,000 more people died in the city than researchers would ordinarily expect, based on the season, the report said.
That’s about 5,300 more deaths that had been previously attributed to the coronavirus during that time period.
These so-called “excess deaths” could have been caused by byproducts of pandemic, the report found, including “the demand on hospitals and health care providers and public fear related to COVID-19” prompting delays in people seeking or receiving lifesaving care.
“Tracking excess mortality is important to understanding the contribution to the death rate from both COVID-19 disease and the lack of availability of care for non-COVID conditions,” the report says, adding the further investigation is required.
The report, based on data compiled by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, underscored the challenges authorities face in assessing – and quantifying – the human toll of the crisis. Even deaths caused by the coronavirus are believed to be widely undercounted worldwide, due in large part to limits in testing and the different ways countries count the dead.
Through Sunday, New York City had recorded nearly 14,800 deaths confirmed by a lab test and another nearly 5,200 probable deaths where no test was available but doctors are sure enough to list the virus on the death certificate.
In its analysis, the report released Monday said the 5,293 excess deaths were on top of both confirmed and probable fatalities.
Deaths of people with chronic health problems like heart disease and diabetes – conditions closely associated with coronavirus mortality – “might not be recognized as being directly attributable to COVID-19,” the report found.
Here are the latest coronavirus-related developments in New York:
SLOW REOPENING OF UPSTATE
Several regions of upstate New York that have shown progress in taming the coronavirus outbreak are ready to gradually restart economic activity by the end of the week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Cuomo shut down the entire state March 22 as the New York City area emerged as a global pandemic hot spot, but the outbreak has been less severe in the state’s smaller cities and rural areas. He said three upstate regions have met all criteria for opening some business activity after May 15: the Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley and the Finger Lakes. Other upstate regions are making and could follow soon after.
The reopening regions still need to work out logistics, such as creating regional “control rooms” to monitor the effects of the reopening.
“This is the next big step in this historic journey,” the Democratic governor said at his daily briefing.
New York’s first tentative steps toward reopening follow other states that have already relaxed restrictions.
Cuomo last week said regions of the state could phase in reopening if they met seven conditions. COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations need to trend down and there must be enough hospital beds to meet a surge. Counties also have to beef up testing and contact tracing. And businesses will need to take steps to protect workers.
The economic reopening will happen in four phases. The first businesses that can open will include construction, manufacturing and retail with curb-side pickup.
Additionally, landscaping and gardening businesses and drive-in theaters can open statewide, the governor said.
In a nod to social activities, Cuomo said the state also is relaxing restrictions on low-risk outdoor activities such as tennis.
New York is poised to launch its training plan for the huge corps of disease detectives it plans to deploy to track people who might have been exposed to the coronavirus.
The effort, seen as a key to keeping the outbreak from flaring again once it is under control, is likely to involve hiring several thousand people who have no background in public health.
And since getting huge groups of people together in one place for a contact-tracing boot camp is impossible, the training will be done through a 5- to 6-hour online course launching Monday.
“There’s all this discussion about using technology in some way. But fundamentally, this is a pretty human activity,” said Josh Sharfstein of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which developed the course with Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable foundation of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
When someone becomes newly infected with the virus, the tracers will be tasked with figuring out everyone who might have had contact with that person, reaching out to them, and advising them how to quarantine themselves until they know for certain they aren’t sick, too.
The video training includes having actors portray how the tracing interviews, mostly conducted by phone or video chat, are supposed to go.
Sharfstein said the training, to be offered on the Coursera website, will be available to anyone, not just those seeking to become contact tracers, the developers said.
Bloomberg is putting up $10.5 million through his foundation to help the state roll out its tracing plan.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made hiring at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents a requirement for any part of the state to reopen.
SUBURBAN ‘PATIENT ZERO’ SPEAKS
A man who was the second person in New York to officially be diagnosed with COVID-19 said he didn’t suspect he had the virus when he went to the emergency room, and woke up from a coma weeks later with no memory of his time in the hospital.
“So it’s as if three weeks of my life had completely disappeared, and I was asleep for all of it,” Lawrence Garbuz, a lawyer from New Rochelle, said on NBC’s “Today” show Monday in his first television interview.
Garbuz, 50, was the first New Yorker to be publicly identified as having contracted the virus without having traveled internationally, and his case quickly became linked with an outbreak in New Rochelle that prompted the governor to shut schools and houses of worship in the small city.
All of those restrictions, and many more, were later extended statewide.
Garbuz’s wife, Adina Garbuz, said she and her husband originally thought he had pneumonia, but he kept getting worse. She decided to move her husband to a larger hospital in New York City after discovering he had COVID-19.
“I just didn’t think he was gonna make an ambulance ride,” she said.
Garbuz has now fully recovered.
ARRESTS IN BIAS ATTACK
A man and woman have been arrested on charges they tried to pull the masks off people who had gathered in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Police said Clelia Pinho, 46, and Paulo Pinho, 35, accosted three men around 8:30 p.m. Sunday in Williamsburg, pulling the surgical masks off their faces and making anti-Semitic remarks blaming Jews for the coronavirus outbreak.
The pair were arrested on charges of aggravated harassment as a hate crime. Information on their lawyers wasn’t immediately available.
The victims did not require medical attention.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called the attack “unacceptable” and said Monday: “We don’t accept bias in New York City. We don’t accept hate in any form.”
De Blasio personally oversaw the dispersal of a large funeral in Williamsburg last month and faced criticism when he tweeted that “the Jewish community, and all communities” must follow social distancing guidelines intended to stop the spread of the virus.