NYC subway will halt overnight service due to virus

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The USS Naval Hospital Ship Comfort sits docked before departing, Thursday, April 30, 2020, in the Manhattan borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

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NEW YORK (AP) — New York City will shut down its subway system each day from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to increase cleaning of trains and stations during the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo anounced Thursday.

Subway trains, which had been disinfected at least once every 72 hours, will be cleaned once every 24 hours starting May 6.

Cuomo said buses, vans and other alternative transportation will be provided at no charge for essential workers to get around while the subway system is closed.

Cuomo said the increased cleaning is a “daunting challenge,” but vital to keeping the system safe because it continues to be a place of high density. Images posted on social media in recent weeks have showed packed subway cars, leading police to increase social distancing enforcement.

“You have to disinfect every place a hand could touch on a subway car. Every rail, every pole, every door,” Cuomo said. “Or, coughing, sneezing, wherever droplets could land.”

Dozens of transit employees have died of the coronavirus and the system has become a haven for homeless people during the crisis.

Ridership plunged by 92% since the start of the pandemic, Cuomo said, and most of the people commuting are health care workers, first responders and other front-line workers who’ve been keeping the city running.

The shutdown affects the slowest part of the day for the subway system, in terms of ridership. Around 10,000 people ride the system overall during that period of time, Cuomo said.

Commuter trains serving Long Island and the city’s northern suburbs will also be disinfected every 24 hours, he said.

“Think about it, the entire public transit system in downstate New York will be disinfected every 24 hours,” Cuomo said. “We’re doing a lot of things here that we’ve never done before.”

Here are the latest coronavirus-related developments in New York:

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NAVY SHIP SAILS OFF

A Navy hospital ship left New York City on Thursday, a month after it was sent to relieve stress on hospitals at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

After arriving to great fanfare, the USNS Comfort treated just 182 people as a surge in cases in the hard-hit city fell short of the worst-case projections. The last dozen patients on the ship were discharged or transferred to other hospitals over the weekend.

Eleven people that were treated on the ship died from coronavirus, the Defense Department said. Several ship personnel came down with coronavirus while deployed to New York.

A Pentagon spokesman called the ship’s departure “a sure sign of modest progress in mitigating the virus in the nation’s hardest hit city and is a welcome sign.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week that he and President Donald Trump agreed the Comfort was no longer needed in New York City.

“I believe Comfort not only brought comfort but also saved lives,” Cuomo said.

The Comfort and its 620 doctors, nurses and other crew members will return to the homeport in Norfolk, Virginia, where the ship will be restocked and be readied for another possible assignment. It’s due to depart New York around noon Thursday.

Trump said he asked Cuomo if “we could bring the Comfort back to its base in Virginia so that we could have it in other locations.”

The president sent the Comfort to his home state last month as projections showed it would need to double hospital capacity to 110,000 beds by the end of April. Disease-related hospitalizations peaked far below that — at 18,825 on April 12 — and have ticked down considerably since then. The number of new hospital admissions is holding at around 950 people a day.

More than 18,000 people in the state have died from coronavirus, most of them in New York City. That total doesn’t include more than 5,300 deaths in the city that were attributed to the virus on death certificates but weren’t confirmed by a lab test.

The Defense Department said it did not have information on how much the Comfort’s mission to New York cost.

The Comfort has a capacity of up to 1,000 hospital beds, but according to New York City’s Office of Emergency Management, it had 427 set up for the coronavirus crisis — and all of those weren’t needed.

Originally deployed to care for patients without coronavirus, the Comfort switched gears days after arriving to a Manhattan pier March 30 and started accepting them as the city’s hospitals became overrun with people suffering from the disease.

That came after hospital administrators, relaying concerns of doctors and other emergency room staff, practically begged the government to open the hospital.

“I understand the intention maybe of being helpful, but if you open up these facilities and you create all these beds, and then you decide that you don’t want to take sick patients, it’s a pretty useless proposition,” Michael Dowling, president and CEO of hospital operator Northwell Health, said in an interview early April.

“This is the Department of Defense. We are in a war today with a virus. I assume that they’re used to dealing in wartime battlefields. This is a wartime battlefield right now,” Dowling added.

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CITY TO DISTRIBUTE FREE MASKS

More than 1,000 New York City employees will be assigned to patrol parks and other public spaces to ensure people are adhering to social distancing guidelines as the city prepares to battle the coronavirus pandemic into the summer months, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

The city workers will also pass out 275,000 face coverings, de Blasio said.

De Blasio said the city is ramping up testing for the coronavirus as well as production of surgical gowns for health care workers treating patients infected with the virus. He said 11 coronavirus testing sites set up around the city will perform 14,000 tests this week, and the capacity will expand to 43,000 tests at 30 sites by the week of May 18.

Local businesses in the city are now making 125,000 surgical gowns a week, de Blasio said, up from zero before the pandemic. City officials arranged for millions more gowns to be produced at a factory in Vietnam and air-freighted to New York. “We are now confident we will have enough surgical gowns to get us through the middle of May,” de Blasio said.

Asked about the federal government’s guidance for battling the virus, de Blasio called President Donald Trump’s White House briefings “sad” and “incoherent.”

“Here’s what we know in New York City: We have not beaten this disease yet, and we’re going to take a tough line,” he said.

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