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New York's Coronavirus Death Toll Reaches 1,000

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

New York has surpassed a grim milestone. The state is now reporting more than a thousand deaths from the coronavirus. And with this pandemic engulfing the region, the mayor of New York City is warning that the city is running low on critical medical supplies.

NPR's Joel Rose is following all of this. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: I guess talk us through how we have arrived at this milestone.

ROSE: Well, New York state reported more than 200 deaths from the coronavirus just yesterday alone. That was by far the biggest one-day jump so far. But even that number is likely to look small in the coming days. Here's a pretty grim assessment from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ANDREW CUOMO: I don't see how you look at those numbers and conclude anything less than thousands of people will pass away - 'cause remember who it's attacking. It's attacking the vulnerable.

GREENE: And Joel, I mean, hospitals in New York, it sounds like, just under unimaginable stress.

ROSE: Yeah, especially in New York City, which now has more than 30,000 confirmed cases. Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city and its hospitals have enough protective medical equipment on hand for only about the next week and that the need for ventilators is even more acute. Here is de Blasio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL DE BLASIO: This is a race against time. Yesterday, we sent 1,400 ventilators out to our hospitals. That is a huge step forward, but we have a long, long way to go.

ROSE: New York City is getting help from a wide range of sources. For example, the nonprofit Samaritan's Purse set up a 68-bed tent hospital in Central Park. FEMA set up thousands of temporary hospital beds inside the Javits convention center. The Navy hospital ship is on its way to help relieve some of the pressure on city hospitals. But there is still this concern that this may all not be enough and that the city's health system may still be overwhelmed when the number of critically ill people peaks over the coming weeks.

GREENE: Well - and another institution that is under duress is correctional facilities, right? I mean, I know prisons, jails around the United States are starting to see cases spread. And that includes - significantly in New York.

ROSE: That's right. There are more than 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus among the staff and inmates in New York City jails, including the infamous Rikers Island complex. And this is a big concern for public health experts because they say that once the virus gets into an environment like that, it is very hard to contain because it's almost impossible to do social distancing or even wash your hands adequately.

So there is a lot of pressure to get the jail population down by releasing inmates who don't pose a threat to public safety. New York City has released more than 600 inmates so far, according to the mayor, but the city is facing calls to release even more as this virus continues to spread.

GREENE: Well, what about another place where social distancing is all but impossible? I mean, detention facilities - immigration detention facilities, I mean, there are those in the region as well.

ROSE: That's right. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement has confirmed two cases of detainees testing positive for coronavirus, both of them at detention facilities in New Jersey, just outside New York. There are many lawsuits now across the country calling for ICE to release people in detention, particularly those who have underlying health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable. ICE currently holds about 38,000 people in detention. Almost half have not been accused of a crime other than immigration violations.

The agency says it is taking steps to protect the immigrants in its custody, for example, suspending social visits. Lawyers are still allowed to visit, but they have to supply their own protective masks and equipment, which they despise. And court hearings for detained immigrants are still happening despite weeks of criticism now from lawyers and judges.

GREENE: All right. That is NPR's Joel Rose talking to us about that dire situation in New York state. Thanks for the reporting, Joel.

ROSE: Hey, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.