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Gov. Cuomo declares a state of emergency in New York as coronavirus cases rise

The number of confirmed cases rose from 44 to 76 overnight.

People wear face masks in Times Square, New York, on March 03, 2020.
Eduardo Munoz / VIEWpress via Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on Saturday as the state’s number of confirmed Covid-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — cases jumped to 76.

The decision came as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases more than doubled from five to 11 in New York City overnight. Most of the state’s cases — 57 — are in an area north of the city, Westchester County. Despite the spike in cases, Cuomo assured residents the uptick had more to do with advancements in the state’s testing capacity than with person-to-person transmission.

“That’s good news because we can put them in isolation,” he said. “The more positives you find, the better because you can isolate them and slow the spread. ... We say, ‘That’s good news,’ that we know who the people are.”

The governor also stressed that the overall health risk of Covid-19 remains low. His main concern lies with vulnerable populations, such as those with weak immune systems, he said.

By declaring a state of emergency, the state will now have access to $30 million in emergency funds, which will be used for further testing and to purchase protective equipment for health care professionals, according to the New York Post. The money will also allow for the hiring of additional personnel and the monitoring of businesses to fight against price gouging as citizens begin to buy additional supplies in preparation for a pandemic, per Department of Homeland Security guidelines.

Cuomo also took time during his press conference to express frustration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New York state and city officials — like Raul Perea-Henze, the New York City deputy mayor for health and human services — have been complaining about a shortage of testing kits for some time, and Cuomo added to those critiques.

“I believe the CDC was caught flat-footed,” Cuomo said during the press conference. “I believe the CDC was slow in their response, and I believe they’re slowing down the state.”

But the governor promised faster action in the weeks to come, noting that the CDC is now allowing the state to contract with commercial laboratories for testing, a change in policy that should ease overburdened state laboratories.

New York isn’t the first to declare a state of emergency. Here’s what it does.

The governors of California, Washington, Florida, Kentucky, and Maryland have already declared states of emergency as cases of Covid-19 have popped up in their states.

The effect such declarations have varies by state, but in general it allows state governments to access emergency funds in order to speed up responses to crises. These responses often take the form of working to protect consumers from price gouging, allowing more flexibility for out-of-state health care workers, and allowing the state to bypass purchasing regulations.

In some cases, states of emergency can even allow access to emergency federal funding, as was the case in California when it declared a state of emergency Wednesday.

“The state of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “This emergency proclamation will help the state further prepare our communities and our health care system in the event it spreads more broadly.”

Several more cities and counties have also declared public health emergencies — including San Francisco and San Diego in California as well as Austin, Texas — to receive similar funding benefits and flexibility while handling the disease.

Although the number of states, cities, and counties declaring some form of state of emergency is increasing, there’s no need to panic as of yet. These declarations are not admissions that things are out of control — instead, they mean officials are being cautious and doing everything in their power to prevent Covid-19 from spreading further.

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