A pedestrian wearing scarf walks along a street in New York, the United States, March 16, 2020. The number of COVID-19 cases in United States has topped 4,600 as of Monday night, an increase of more than 1,000 in the past 24 hours, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)
A pedestrian wearing scarf walks along a street in New York, the United States, March 16, 2020. The number of COVID-19 cases in United States has topped 4,600 as of Monday night, an increase of more than 1,000 in the past 24 hours, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

New York is still the state hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, with 308,314 confirmed cases and 24,039 deaths, as the country’s total cases reached above 1.1 million on Friday, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

New hospitalizations remained flat at around 1,000, and Cuomo said new targeted efforts will be made to further reduce the number by analyzing specific information regarding those patients’ careers and other demographics.

The daily death toll continued to decline, reaching 289 on Thursday, Cuomo said.

However, the situations in nursing homes, where those most vulnerable to the virus are clustered, remain severe. A local news channel reported on Thursday that 98 residents of a New York City (NYC) nursing home are believed to have died from COVID-19.

Local news channel NY1 reported that it has been confirmed that 46 residents of the Isabella Geriatric Center in upper Manhattan have died of the disease, while 52 others have died of suspected cases through Wednesday.

At Friday’s news briefing, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio called the number of deaths “horrifying.”

“This is a staggering toll we’re hearing about now and I’m shocked,” the mayor said. “It’s an inestimable loss, and it’s just impossible to imagine so many people lost in one place.”

“I think the one thing we now know about the nursing homes is the status quo cannot continue, to say the least, and something very different has to happen,” he added.

However, an official state tally of nursing home deaths showed the center with 705 beds only had 13 deaths as of Thursday, raising doubts about whether it was attempting to conceal the real death toll.

A spokesperson for the nursing home told the Associated Press (AP) in an email on Friday that it “truthfully and accurately reported” its death toll to the state.

“Isabella, like all other nursing homes in New York City, initially had limited access to widespread and consistent in-house testing to quickly diagnose our residents and staff. This hampered our ability to identify those who were infected and asymptomatic, despite our efforts to swiftly separate anyone who presented symptoms,” the AP quoted the spokesperson as saying in the email.

Meanwhile, a total of 4.2 million students in New York State will continue with remote learning as all schools and colleges statewide, regardless of public or private, will remain closed through the rest of the academic year to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, said Cuomo on Friday.

“It’s critical that we protect our students from this virus, and given the current circumstances we are in, we do not think it is possible to put the necessary precautions in place that would allow us to re-open schools this academic year,” said Cuomo.

Further decisions on summer school programs and whether to reopen schools in fall will be made later, said Cuomo.

Meanwhile, all schools should come up with a plan regarding the situation after reopening on how to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and how to protect students’ safety as well as ensure their mental health, among other considerations. All plans will be reviewed and approved by the state, the governor said.

Also on Friday, which is also May Day, thousands of NYC tenants staged a strike to demand rent cancellation as unemployment soars and people are required to stay inside during the pandemic.

In a special way of protesting during the special times, some tenants hanged banners from their windows, while some others took to Twitter with self-made placards, calling on the government to provide direct relief for those who cannot afford the rent in the city with the highest expenses of living.

A video circulating online showed four tenants unfurling a banner that read “Cancel Rent, Cuomo!” from their window in the neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York, while a logo of “Cancel rent” was seen hanging on the city’s Queens Borough Bridge on Friday.

A recent survey conducted by real estate group PropertyNest with 1,002 NYC renters showed that 44 percent of them were struggling to meet the May 1 rent deadline. Among them, renters aged 18-24 make up the largest age group.

“No one should be displaced or go into debt because they can’t pay their rent or their mortgage,” Housing Justice For All, a coalition of tenants’ rights groups which is also the lead organizer of the strike, said in an open letter on its website.

“Landlords must not use this moment to price-gouge or displace ANY tenant who cannot pay the rent (commercial or residential.) All existing rents should be frozen at their current level, and all tenants should have the right to renew their leases,” said the letter, which has collected over 92,000 signatures. Enditem

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