NEW YORK - New York's governor said Monday that it is possible his state is seeing a flattening of the curve of coronavirus cases, but it is still too early to be certain.
Andrew Cuomo noted that the number of deaths has remained flat for two days, as have the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Sickened patients requiring hospitalization have also remained steady for about three days, and the number of patients requiring ventilators in intensive care units has also significantly dropped.
"While none of this is good news, the possible flattening of the curve is better than the increases we have seen," Cuomo told reporters in the state capital, Albany.
But he noted that New York is still by far the most impacted U.S. state, with more than 130,000 confirmed virus infections and 4,758 deaths.
While projections have varied on when the peak number of cases will hit the northeast state of 19.5 million, Cuomo aide, Jim Malatras, said data suggests the state could be potentially at the beginning of or hitting the peak number of cases right now, towards the earlier end of what the models had predicted.
"It can still go any way; we could still see an increase," Cuomo quickly cautioned Monday. "It is hopeful, but it is also inconclusive and it still depends on what we do."
To that end, the governor announced that he will extend the closure of non-essential business and of schools through April 30. He also expressed frustration with groups and individuals who are not respecting social distancing guidelines and announced he is raising the maximum penalty for violating those rules to $1,000.
"There is also a real danger in getting over-confident too quickly," Governor Cuomo said of extending these actions. "This is an enemy we have underestimated from day one and we have paid the price dearly."
He said some governments in Asia made the mistake of relaxing measures too soon and are seeing a resurgence of the virus, and that New York does not want to repeat their error.
Nearly 17,000 people are hospitalized in New York State with the coronavirus. The governor said he would call President Donald Trump today and ask him to allow the U.S. naval hospital ship Comfort to be converted from a non-COVID-19 facility to one that could take virus patients. The ship is docked in New York harbor.
He said the Comfort's 1,000 beds, plus 2,500 more beds managed by the federal government at a field hospital inside New York City's convention center, would act as a major "relief valve" for the city's hospitals which are overwhelmed with the majority of the state's virus cases.
Two weeks ago, New York started trials of a malaria drug - hydroxychloroquine - combined with an antibiotic -- Zithromax - that have shown promise in treating COVID-19 patients in a French study.
President Trump has also touted the possibility that this therapy could be a "game changer" in the fight against the virus.
Governor Cuomo said hospitals are using the combination of drugs "at their discretion." He said it is too early for a scientific report, but there is anecdotal evidence that it is promising.
"There are some people who have pre-existing conditions where it does not work or they are taking medication that is not consistent with this treatment," he said. "But anecdotally it has been positive."