NEW YORK — New York’s top leaders sounded the alarm Wednesday as coronavirus continued to strain the state’s health care system and hold life in the Big Apple at a standstill as at least 81 people died of the illness in just 24 hours.

In a grim midday message, Mayor Bill de Blasio predicted that 50% of the city’s population could come down with the deadly disease in the coming weeks as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state now has more than 30,000 cases.

De Blasio said in his first “Message with the Mayor” that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, would be “with us for months.”

“Probably more than half of all New Yorkers will be infected with this disease,” he said, noting most would have less serious symptoms. “But for a lot of other people, it’s going to be really tough — and we’re going to lose some people.”

The city reported 20,011 confirmed cases of coronavirus Wednesday night, with 280 deaths, up from 199 deaths reported Tuesday. Officials said 13 people died Tuesday at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens — one of several city-run hospitals beleaguered by the crisis.

Of the people infected, 55%, or 11,051, were younger than 50, the city said. The median age of those with coronavirus in the city was 46.

Most of the people who have died from coronavirus in the city were older and the vast majority had preexisting conditions like diabetes, lung disease, cancer, immunodeficiency and asthma, the data shows.

Just 15 the 280 fatalities — 5% — were people 44 years old or younger. No one 17 years or younger has died.

Fifty-seven people who died, or 20%, were 45 to 64 years old; 70, or 25%, were 65 to 74 years old; and 138, or 49%, were 75 or older.

An overwhelming majority of those have died — 231, or 96% — had underlying illnesses.

Earlier in the day, the statewide death toll was reported nearing 300 as medical centers across the city are dealing with a deadly dearth of essential equipment and protective gear.

City health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, said the percentage of people sickened by the respiratory illness could be even more staggering by the fall.

“We think 50% by the end of this epidemic, this pandemic, so by the time September rolls around likely 50%, but it could also be much higher,” Barbot said during an evening briefing.

The mayor said April and May, when cases are expected to peak in New York and overwhelm the hospital system, will be “two of the toughest months.”

Cuomo revealed that the state is dealing with more than 30,811 confirmed cases in total, up more than 5,000 since Tuesday morning and a stunning 7% of the worldwide total.

The governor, meanwhile, approved a plan to shutter some already deserted city streets to traffic in an effort to give cramped New Yorkers a chance to get some fresh air.

“The plan is going to pilot closing streets in New York City,” Cuomo said during a press briefing in Albany. “Because we have much less traffic … there are open streets. People want to go out and get some air.”

Cuomo didn’t offer details of the plan, which initially faced some resistance from de Blasio.

The governor also cautioned against close contact in parks and playgrounds, warning he may further close public spaces in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“No close contact sports in a playground. No basketball, for example. You cannot do it,” he said.

De Blasio reiterated the basketball edict and said that scores of basketball hoops will be dismantled across the city because too many people are courting a coronavirus infection with pickup games.

The governor offered a glimmer of hope Wednesday, crediting the state’s widespread shutdowns and social distancing measures with slowing the rate of hospitalization.

Over the weekend, hospitalizations were doubling every two days. Cuomo noted that the rate has somewhat slowed, now doubling every 4.7 days,

“This is a very good sign and a positive sign,” the governor said. “I’m not 100% sure it holds, but the arrows are headed in the right direction.”

Still, the number of people in need of professional medical help has doubled since Sunday, from 1,974 to 3,805. And the number of COVID-19 cases in the ICU statewide are up 82% since the weekend.

Cuomo, who has been working with federal agencies to build out makeshift medical centers across the state, said the worse surge of patients into overburdened hospitals may come in about three week’s time. New York could need an estimated 140,000 beds, triple the current capacity of 53,000.

Hospitals have agreed to dramatically raise their capacity and federal officials are building field hospitals and sending a hospital ship to New York Harbor. The state will use empty dormitories and shuttered nursing homes to meet the coming need.

Some 40,000 health care workers have stepped up from retirement or the private sector to form New York’s coronavirus “surge” force, the governor announced.

Cuomo reiterated that ventilators are still the state’s “single greatest challenge.”

He said he has been in close contact with President Donald Trump and about using the Defense Production Act as a “leveraging tool” to force private companies to step up with providing resources. The state is in need of at least 30,000 ventilators, the governor said.

“We’ve purchased everything that can be purchased,” Cuomo said. “We’re now in a situation where we’re trying to accelerate production of these ventilators.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday his company would reopen its Gigafactory New York in upstate Buffalo “as fast as humanly possible” to begin making the much-needed medical devices.


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