NYC declares state of emergency, large venues like Madison Square Garden will likely be closed ‘for months’

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to the media during a press conference at City Hall on January 3, 2020 in New York City.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency in the city on Thursday, saying large venues like Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden will likely be closed for months to try to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak.

“The last 24 hours have been very, very sobering,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “Yesterday morning seems like a long time ago. We got a lot of information in the course of a day yesterday and a lot changed then, then last night it just seemed the world turned upside down in the course of just a few hours.”

The city now has 95 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 42 of them reported in the last 24 hours, he said. More than 1,780 people are under voluntary quarantine in the city, with an additional 29 people under mandatory quarantine, he said. By next week, the number of cases in the city is projected to rise to 1,000, he said. 

“I don’t think for most of us who even have been in public life a long time we’ve seen a situation quite like this where we receive extraordinary new information on what now feels like an hourly basis so we’re constantly making adjustments,” de Blasio said.

The mayor told New Yorkers to expect “major changes” from day-to-day because there’s a pattern of “extraordinary information” coming in every day that’s it forcing city officials to make tough new decisions every day.

De Blasio authorized 10% of the city’s workforce, 35,000 people, to work from home “in short order.” Another 20% of the city’s employees will be working on a staggered schedule. 

Earlier in the day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned gatherings of 500 or more people across the state “for the foreseeable future.” 

He said the state is likely to see a similar spread of COVID-19 as China, South Korea and Italy, where the new coronavirus has millions of people under lockdown and has shuttered commerce.

“What makes you think that the virus in China, the virus in South Korea, the virus in Italy wasn’t going to react any differently than the virus here?” he said. “You are going to see the same trajectory that you saw in China, South Korea and Italy, and it is going to happen here as the virus spreads because of the way it is actually contagious.”

Both Cuomo and de Blasio pleaded for the federal government to help. De Blasio said he was very concerned about keeping people employed. “A number of business will be cutting back or shutting down,” he said.

De Blasio urged the federal government to approve automated COVID-19 testing, which would allow labs to process thousands of cases a day rather than a few hundred. 

“I think this is bluntly the last chance. If the president of the United States and FDA won’t give approval, I frankly don’t blame any” municipality for taking matters into their own hands, de Blasio said. The steps President Donald Trump outlined last night “showed much more connection to reality,” but still don’t give cities and states what they need to manage the outbreak, he said.

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