A woman wearing a protective face mask takes a photo Wednesday in West New York, N.J., across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
April 23 (UPI) -- The state of New York will crack down on nursing home owners who fail to notify family members about coronavirus infections at their facilities, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
Calling nursing homes "ground zero" of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo said he has ordered state officials to aggressively enforce laws under which nursing homes must notify all family members within 24 hours if a resident tests positive for COVID-19 or dies from infection.
Almost a quarter of the state's death toll of nearly 16,000 have come from long-term care facilities.
Nationally, about 47,000 death from COVID-19 were confirmed as of mid-day Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The total U.S. caseload was around 843,000. More than 76,000 have recovered.
Cuomo also said he will crack down on nursing homes that don't provide personal protective equipment and fail to carry out temperature checks for staff as required by law.
While acknowledging that nursing homes are under extreme pressure due to the pandemic, he said they still have to do their jobs.
"The nursing home is responsible for providing appropriate care," the governor said. "If they cannot provide that care, then they have to transfer the person to another facility. Those are the rules. They get paid to take care of a resident."
State heath officials and the attorney general will lead a probe of the nursing homes, with those found in violation subjected to fines or a loss of license.
Cuomo also harshly criticized U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who led the opposition to Democrats' efforts to include $150 billion in funding for state and local governments in the coronavirus relief bill passed this week.
McConnell suggested in a radio interview Tuesday that states facing financial hardship due to the pandemic could "use the bankruptcy route" instead of receiving assistance from the federal government.
McConnell's office also termed the push for more state funding "blue state bailouts."
"Just think of what he's saying," Cuomo said. "'Fifteen thousand people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democratic, so why should we help them?' If there's ever a time for humanity and decency, now's the time. How irresponsible and reckless."
If states declared bankruptcy, he warned, the national economy would quickly collapse while vital healthcare workers, police, firefighters and teachers would go unpaid.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a "surge" of medical supplies and staffers into the city's hard-hit nursing homes.
Under the plan, the levels of weekly shipments of surgical gowns, N95 and surgical face masks, gloves and other medical supplies to New York's 169 nursing homes will be increased by at least 50 percent.
The level of clinical staff volunteers will be doubled from 210 to 420.
"Our city's nursing homes are home to some of those most at risk for COVID-19," de Blasio said during his daily press briefing. "They need our support more than ever, which is why we are stepping in and sending more staff and support to assist those who protect and care for our most vulnerable."
City heath officials reported 2,519 new coronavirus cases and 320 new deaths Thursday. while the number of new hospital admissions and ICU patients continued a slow decline.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz announced a $35 million program to expand coronavirus testing in partnership with the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota and care provider HealthPartners.
Calling it the "most aggressive COVID-19 testing program in the nation," Walz said the effort will build capacity for processing 20,000 samples per day and will play a big role in helping determine when lockdown restrictions can be eased.
The funding will allow Mayo and the U of M to create a central lab for the expanded testing and set up a "virtual command center" to monitor emerging disease hotspots and coordinate rapid responses.
Walz said its goal is to provide testing for every person in the state with symptoms of COVID-19.
In California, heath officials on Wednesday reported the deadliest single day yet during the pandemic, recording a record high of 117 new deaths. The state's overall death toll rose to 1,433.
New cases rose by nearly 1,900 to more than 37,000, marking a 20 percent surge since the beginning of the week. Even so, officials noted, the velocity of the increases in deaths and new cases has slowed slightly since.
Los Angeles County was the hardest-hit area of California with 66 new deaths.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said there is still no firm timetable for easing stay-at-home restrictions despite calls for more flexibility from cities and counties.
"I wish I could prescribe a specific date to say, well, we can turn up the light switch and go back to normalcy," he said in a press briefing Wednesday. "We have tried to make it crystal clear that there is no light switch. And there is no date in terms of our capacity to provide the kind of clarity that I know so many of you demand and deserve."
A pedestrian walks past a bar established in 1933 after Los Angeles County officials closed it for the second time following a spike in COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles on August 10. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo