ALBANY – State health officials had been preparing for the coronavirus in New York even before the first case was detected over the weekend.
That’s from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said it wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when” COVID-19 would appear in the state, especially since New York City is considered a gateway to the world.
As part of the response effort to the coronavirus, the State Senate Monday night also approved $40 million in emergency funding to fight the coronavirus while expanding the Cuomo administration’s ability to respond to the outbreak and other public health emergencies.
The bill passed by a vote of 53 to 4, with Sen. George Borrello (R-Irving, 57th Senate District) being among the four lawmakers to vote against the legislation. Borrello specifically took issue with changes to directives the governor can issue in responding to state disasters and emergencies. Under the proposal, the governor would be granted unlimited authority to rule by executive order — superseding local and agency authority — during any declared state emergency, including instances as vague as a “storm” and infrequent as “volcanic activity.”
“While I fully supported the funding appropriation, I could not support handing the Governor the power to act unilaterally during any event he deems an ‘emergency’,” Borrello said following the vote. “The bill would have given him sweeping and sole authority to suspend and alter any state or local law or rule and issue directives. It unnecessarily added language to allow the Governor to declare a wide spectrum of events as ‘disasters’ – even blight — giving him ultimate authority.”
Supporters of the bill pointed out that negotiations over the weekend provided for a 2021 sunset date and language would allow the Legislature to undo any executive order it deemed an overreach.
“You want to play politics, you go right ahead, vote how you want,” Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris said in response to Republicans’ complaints. “But we’re going to do the right thing to continue to ensure New York is protected.”
The $40 million appropriation will go to the New York State Department of Health so it can hire additional staff, procure equipment and any other resources necessary to respond to the potential novel coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to the funding allocation, Gov. Cuomo also announced a new directive requiring New York health insurers to waive cost sharing associated with testing for novel coronavirus including emergency room, urgent care and office visits. New Yorkers receiving Medicaid coverage would also not be expected to pay a co-pay for any testing related to COVID-19.
The governor also urged state residents to remain calm in the event of a possible outbreak, saying it is important that we don’t allow fear and panic to outpace reason.
Steps to take to avoid any communicable disease – including the flu – include frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding touching eyes; nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding close contact with sick people; staying home when ill; covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue; cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are frequently touched.