Gov. Andrew Cuomo is among those calling on the federal government to invoke the Defense Production Act so the Trump administration can order factories to produce badly needed hospital gear to combat the coronavirus. Cuomo also said he’s looking at ways to allow mail in balloting for the April 28 presidential primary.
Cuomo said without the federal government stepping in, states are “savaging” each other by competing for desperately needed gear like surgical masks, gowns and gloves and it’s leading to price-gouging. He says masks that used to cost 85 cents are now priced at $7.
“I think the federal government should order factories to manufacture masks, gowns, ventilators,” said Cuomo. “The essential medical equipment that’s going to make a difference between life and death.”
The governor say he is getting cooperation from FEMA, though, and is asking for four, 250-bed temporary hospital facilities to be created within the Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan.
Cuomo is now mandating that all existing hospitals in the state increase their capacity by 50%, and more if at all possible. He says New York hospitals need to double the existing amount of beds to meet the anticipated need when the virus peaks in a few weeks. All non-critical elective surgeries will end after Wednesday.
The governor also said he visited some parks in New York City and was dismayed to see that many people were not practicing safe social distancing. He’s ordering New York City to come up with a plan by Monday midday to keep people apart.
“I don’t know what I am saying that people don’t get,” Cuomo said.
The governor said he’s leaving it up to city officials and police to come up with the specifics, but he said perhaps streets could be closed to any remaining traffic to create more space for people.
Starting at 8 p.m. Sunday, there will be some new rules on the New York State Thruway to limit human contact between drivers and toll collectors. People who don’t have an E-ZPass will no longer take a paper ticket when they enter the roadway. When they exit, it’s up to them to tell the toll collector what exit they got on. They will then give the collector their license plate number, and will be billed within 30 days.
A spokesman for the Thruway, Jonathan Dougherty, said the entire road is open. Rest stops are also open with bathrooms and gasoline, but only takeout food is available.
As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, concerns have arisen over New York’s April 28 presidential primary date. New York Attorney General Tish James is calling for a suspension of in-person voting, saying that all ballots be mailed in instead.
New York allows absentee voting in very limited cases. Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s chief of staff, said they are looking at whether the governor can issue an executive order to expand it, or whether the Legislature will need to take action.
The state’s constitution says voters can cast absentee ballots for just two reasons -- if they are sick, or out of the area.
There is an attempt underway to change the constitution to allow absentee voting for any reason. But that requires more action by the Legislature, which under law can’t happen until 2021.