By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Mayor Bill de Blasio and health officials provided updates about the city’s response and approach to the coronavirus at Bellevue Hospital on Tuesday, with the mayor noting that the city is working to keep the public informed but emphasizing that information has been changing rapidly.
“I think we can all say with coronavirus we have rarely seen a situation that started with people not even understanding the disease to begin with because it was brand new – that’s been the whole international community, the medical community,” de Blasio said. “We’ve all had to learn by doing and our understanding of the best approaches keeps evolving, so you will hear change because the information is changing. But we are still in the middle of a fight right now.”
The mayor also emphasized that while the government is working to protect New Yorkers and prevent the spread of the virus, residents can help with their own actions.
“Everyone has to participate from those basic things, washing your hands, hand sanitizer, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze onto the kinds of decisions we make in our life, starting with being very sensitive to the vulnerable people,” he said. “We have seen this over and over again. It’s very consistent all over the world.”
De Blasio said that the city is referring to this stage of the response as “phase two,” during which the government has issued specific guidance about how to make adjustments to their lives. The mayor continued to encourage workers to telecommute where they can and stagger work hours if not, in order to avoid the rush hour and prevent overcrowding on the subway. He also emphasized the importance of staying home while sick.
“A show of hands – even these health care providers – you ever been sick and powered through? Raise your hand. Raise your hand. Okay, stop doing that,” he said, after some in attendance for the press conference at Bellevue admitted to doing so.
The mayor said that especially those with cold and flu symptoms should avoid people over the age of 50 who have pre-existing conditions, some of which include heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes and a weakened immune system. He also noted that smoking and vaping make it harder for a person to handle coronavirus.
Responding to a question about potential adverse impacts on the economy as a result of the virus, the mayor said that one of the issues that the City Council is working on right now is relief for small businesses, including two initiatives that will be added into the budget.
The Flatiron BID sent out information in their newsletter this week about how New Yorkers can support local businesses when it is safe and possible to do so. One recommendation includes a “staycation” at a local hotel since travel restrictions and the cancelation of conferences has left hotel rooms unexpectedly empty. Retailers, spas and salons have also faced less business recently because of slowing tourism and interruptions to international supply chains.
Locally, various organizations have canceled gatherings and events out of concern for the virus. The Madison Square Park Conservancy said in an email on Wednesday that in support of the Mayor’s office guidelines, all public programming, events and volunteer days have been canceled for the remainder of March and the conservancy has requested that staff work remotely when possible. Community Board 6 has also canceled recent upcoming meetings in response to concerns about the virus.
Mitchell Katz, the president and CEO of Health+ Hospitals, cited Bellevue’s expertise and importance during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as well as the more recent Ebola crisis during the press conference this week.
“In the Ebola outbreak, this hospital was the only hospital in New York State to successfully take care of somebody with Ebola who fully recovered and to do that without any other infections occurring to health care personnel,” Katz said. “This is a hospital that knows how and knows how to do it with compassion, with love, with competence.”
Katz noted that Intensive Care Units throughout the city are already reportedly crowded, and that Bellevue and NYC Health+ Hospitals will be changing how they operate because of the emergency situation.
“We would rapidly discharge those patients who are in the hospital now and do not need to be in the hospital because they can be safely cared for at home,” he said. “We would cancel all elective surgeries, so there is a lot of incredibly valuable work that a hospital like this does – we remove gallbladders, we fix hernias, we fix bones, we do arthroscopy, we do bariatric surgery – all very worthwhile. All that stops in an emergency.”
Katz also emphasized that New Yorkers shouldn’t worry about their immigration status or lack of insurance when considering treatment since Bellevue is a public hospital.
“People who are undocumented, people without insurance, they know that they can come here, they can come to Bellevue, they don’t have to worry that they’re going to get a bill that they can’t pay, that they’re going to be treated as unwelcome,” he said. “With all of the negative anti-immigrant spirit coming out of Washington, how great that that’s not true in New York City, it’s not true at Bellevue.”
New Yorkers should visit nyc.gov/coronavirus and can text COVID to 692-692 for more information.