New York bans gatherings, nonessential workers to stay home

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced sweeping orders Friday that will severely restrict gatherings of any size for New York state’s more than 19 million state residents and will require workers in nonessential businesses to stay home.

No more play dates. No more pickup basketball. No more subway rides except if absolutely necessary.

The Democratic governor said the “drastic action” was needed to check the rapid spread of the coronavirus virus in a state with more than 7,000 confirmed cases, the most in the nation. New York’s restrictions, effective 8 p.m. Sunday, come a day after California decided to all but confine its population in the biggest lockdown in the U.S.

“No, this is not life as usual,” Cuomo said at a news conference. “Accept it, and realize it, and deal with it.”

New York officials said more than 1,200 people have already been hospitalized since the outbreak, and new restrictions are needed to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed. Johns Hopkins University put the state’s fatality count at 38.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.

Cuomo wants New Yorkers to remain indoors to the “greatest extent.” Nonessential gatherings of people of any size or for any reason are canceled or postponed, including parties and celebrations. Essential workers will be able to gather, and people will be able to walk outside or take part in non-contact activities, but should not be “playing basketball with five other people,” Cuomo said.

The restrictions will ban parents from bringing kids to play dates at friends’ houses or to potentially crowded playgrounds.

Public transit will keep running, but people besides essential workers should only use it when absolutely necessary, under the state’s new rules.

People will need to stay at least 6 feet away from others when they are out in public, Cuomo said.

Local officials could help enforce the rules and break up gatherings, according to Cuomo senior advisor Richard Azzopardi, though individuals won’t face fines.

The new restrictions were met with resignation by people across the state, where museums, clubs and restaurants are already shuttered and big gatherings were already prohibited.

“There’s a season for everything. And right now, the season is to just lay low, stop spreading this viral thing around,” said Eddy Dobosiewicz, of Buffalo, who just got a haircut before barbers close this weekend. “And then once that’s under control, I promise all we’re going to have a party.”

Edjo Wheeler, 49, who runs an art center in New York City, said he knows a couple of people who are already flat on their back with what feels like an awful flu.

“That makes me walk around with my hands in my pocket to make sure I’m not touching things. I might have it, and I might be able to pass it on to somebody else,” Wheeler said. “It’s not about me getting it. I’m not really the in-danger population, but we all have to cooperate.”

Stricter rules are in place for people over 70, people with compromised immune systems and those with underlying illness. They should prescreen all visitors and aides by taking temperatures and avoid visiting houses with multiple people. All vulnerable people should wear a mask when around others, and everyone in their presence should wear a mask.

Additionally, only essential businesses can have workers commuting to their jobs or in their offices, Cuomo said. The order tightens previous work-from-home restrictions and exempts a long list of businesses as essential, including health facilities, utilities, airports, food makers, grocery stores, farms, convenience stores, laundromats, funeral homes and banks.

Cuomo said there will be fines and mandatory closure for any business not in compliance.

“These provisions will be enforced” he said. “These are not helpful hints.”

Cuomo’s decision won strong backing from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s infectious disease chief and member of the White House coronavirus task force. Fauci also issued a direct appeal to his fellow New Yorkers to obey Cuomo’s orders.

“We’re tough. I was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, and I know what the New Yorkers can do,” said Fauci. “So please, cooperate with your governor, cooperate with your mayor. It’s very important.”

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Associated Press writers Karen Matthews and AP photographer John Minchillo contributed from New York. AP writer Carolyn Thompson contributed from Buffalo, N.Y., and AP writer Darlene Superville contributed from Washington.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

A MTA conductor stands in a light beam at Grand Center Terminal that is sparsely populated during rush hour due to COVID-19 concerns, Friday, March 20, 2020, in New York. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ordering all workers in non-essential businesses to stay home and banning gatherings statewide. “Only essential businesses can have workers commuting to the job or on the job,” Cuomo said of an executive order he will sign Friday. Nonessential gatherings of individuals of any size or for any reason are canceled or postponed. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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