Coronavirus cases in Westchester soared by more than 1,200 in one day, although current hospitalizations in the county from the disease have remained low enough for the healthcare system to manage.
County Executive George Latimer said yesterday that positive cases jumped by 1,253, to 5,944, from Wednesday to Thursday but there were only 56 COVID-19-related patients in hospitals. Eight deaths have resulted from the Westchester cases, he said.
Latimer said that the social distancing urged by health experts is still the best strategy to protect the public despite it being unnatural and the toll it’s taking on the economy.
“We are doing these things to prepare for the worst if the worst happens and that is what prudent people do,” he said. “They assume the worst-case scenario could be devastating and you don’t want to be unprepared. We’re doing our best not to be unprepared.”
The county currently has about 3,000 hospital beds and that number would jump to 4,500 once the County Center is retrofitted and other sites are converted, Latimer said.
Although New York City’s hospitals are exploding with patients due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the five boroughs, Latimer said it is uncertain whether the county will be asked by the state to take in some of the city’s patients. It’s possible that the state would ask Westchester hospitals to accept any spillover from Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland and Orange counties, he said.
“These decisions are up to the state, but where there’s an empty bed and a sick person, that’s a match and we’re not going to worry what town they come from, what county they come from, whether they’re tall or short. If there’s an open bed and it’s needed, it’ll be used,” Latimer said.
Currently, there are no plans for a drive-through testing site to be established in the northern end of the county, he said. Following the outbreak in New Rochelle, there has been testing at Glen Island Park.
Should the state deem that a testing site be warranted in Westchester’s northern half, the county has identified FDR Park in Yorktown as a likely location.
Latimer reiterated his intention Thursday to avoid closing any of the county’s 55 parks, although there have been concerns raised from the public that Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla has attracted too many people to maintain comfortable spacing.
“We may have to close these parks if we do not practice social distancing,” Latimer warned. “They become, just as restaurants and bars are, the source of the contagion. I don’t want to close any of these parks. I don’t want us to lose the recreational benefit that we have but it must be understood that we cannot be in close proximity and close quarters with other people and if we do that, we can do damage on the public health side.”
A decision is likely within the next day or two whether to extend the closure of the state’s schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all schools closed through Mar. 29 to give officials time to track the progression of COVID-19.
Downstate schools, including those in New York City, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland are closed at least through Tuesday. Several local districts decided two weeks ago they would remain closed through Apr. 3.
State Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro) said with cases continuing to spiral in the state, it’s a near certainly schools won’t be reopening next week.
“I think it’s safe to say that however it’s done, schools will be closed for a while,” Harckham said.
On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy extended the closure of his state’s schools through Apr. 17.