File photo: Denise Civiletti

(Updated: 7 p.m.) Stony Brook University is one of four sites in downstate New York being considered for the construction of temporary hospitals by the Army Corps of Engineers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a press briefing this morning on the status of the coronavirus in New York.

The other three sites are SUNY/Old Westbury, the Javits Center in Manhattan and the Westchester Convention Center.

“This would give us a regional distribution and real capacity if we can get them up quickly enough,” Cuomo said.

The state has asked the Army Corps of Engineers to build the temporary hospitals and Cuomo said he plans to provide the federal agency with a list of sites today, after visiting them himself.

Hospitals across the state have been asked to reconfigure their spaces to accommodate more beds, Cuomo said. The state is waiving regulatory restrictions that limit the number of beds currently allowed in existing hospitals.

The governor said hospitals have been asked to end elective surgeries, a measure that has already been implemented by Northwell Health, operator and Stony Brook Medicine.

“Our goal is to increase available beds from 50,000 to a minimum of 75,000 beds,” Cuomo said.

The state is working to increase hospital capacity simultaneously as it works to slow the spread of the virus — and thereby reduce the demand for beds.

Cuomo said if New York can slow down the spread of the virus so that it impacts the state over a period of months rather than weeks, the health care system would be able to handle the patients that would need hospitalization. If the state does not succeed in slowing the spread of the disease, the number of patients needing hospital care will overwhelm the health care system’s ability to provide care — the situation in Italy.

The governor said the sweeping measures he has implemented — shutting down all non-essential businesses, closing schools and the like — are aimed at stunting the spread of the virus.

It is unclear whether measures implemented so far are having the desired effect. The number of infections in New York remains unknown, but the virus is believed to be widespread throughout the New York City metro region. Cuomo said epidemiologists estimate that 40% to 80% of the population will be infected with the novel coronavirus before the crisis is over. That means between 7.8 million and 15 million New Yorkers will be infected with the virus.

The state has ramped up testing in an effort to identify and isolate people with the virus and the people they have had contact with, hoping that will help slow the spread of the disease.

Ramped-up testing — the state has done 45,437 tests to date — has resulted in identifying 10,356 positive cases as of this morning. Sixty percent of the positive tests were in New York City. Westchester had 1,386, Nassau 1,234 and Suffolk 662.

Photo: Peter Blasl

County Executive Steve Bellone today reported two more coronavirus-related deaths — one at Peconic Landing in Greenport and another at Huntington Hospital. Both were women in their 80s, he said.

A town-by-town breakdown of the Suffolk cases was provided by the county Saturday evening. The number of confirmed cases had risen to 668.

  • Babylon — 86 patients
  • Brookhaven — 85 patients
  • East Hampton — 5 patients
  • Huntington — 127 patients
  • Islip — 109 patients
  • Riverhead — 11 patients
  • Shelter Island — 1 patients
  • Smithtown — 39 patients
  • Southampton — 10 patients
  • Southold — 70 patients
  • Township unavailable — 44

As of this morning, there were five confirmed COVID-19 patients at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, where 11 other patients were pending confirmation, PBMC president and CEO Andrew Mitchell said.

The hospitalization rate for the disease is about 15% but it is not yet clear what percentage of those requiring hospitalization also need ventilators. The state is buying 6,000 ventilators from places “across the globe,” the governor said. But that may be only a fraction of what is needed if people requiring hospitalization also need the ventilators in great numbers. The state is also gathering ventilators from facilities across the state to ship them where they are most needed.

The state today is shipping 1 million N95 masks to New York City for health care workers and 500,000 of them to Long Island, the governor said. Various apparel companies have stepped forward to offer to begin making gowns and masks for hospital workers, Cuomo said.

Bellone said the county is grateful for the supply but stressed it still needs more masks, gloves, gowns and other personal protective equipment. The county is starting a collection drive for this equipment and will be accepting donations at the Suffolk County Fire Academy (102 East Avenue, Yaphank) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., weekdays.

Peconic Bay Medical Center is also seeking donations of surgical masks, goggles and N95 masks. These items can be donated at the front door of the hospital, located at 1300 Roanoke Avenue just off the Route 58 traffic circle.

“Many construction companies use N95s and if anyone has them and are willing to donate, we would greatly appreciate it,” PBMC Vice President  Samantha Vigliotta said. “Donations can be dropped at the front entrance of the hospital with security.  You don’t have to enter the building you can just leave them in a bag at the door.”

Image: Centers for Disease Control

As of 1 p.m. today, 287,239 confirmed cases have been identified worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 global tracking center. There were 19,931 cases in the U.S., where 278 people have died.

The outbreak in Europe continues to grow, with Italy having more than 47,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,032 deaths — overtaking China, where the outbreak started and where the disease has infected 81,304 people and claimed 3,259 lives.

Spain, Germany and France are all reporting cases in the tens of thousands.

Cuomo warned residents that COVID-19 is not just a disease that affects the elderly.

“You are wrong. That is not a fact,” he said. People ages 18 to 49 represent 54% of the cases in New York, Cuomo said.

“You’re not superman and you’re not superwoman. You can get this virus, and you can transfer this virus, and you can wind up hurting someone who you love or hurting someone wholly inadvertently,” he said.

“This is a public health issue and you cannot endanger other people’s health or your own health,” Cuomo said. “Your actions can either save or endanger a life.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add data provided by Suffolk County about confirmed cases in each of the towns.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.