NEW YORK — The official death toll from the coronavirus soared in New York City on Tuesday after health authorities began including people who probably had COVID-19, but died without ever being tested.
Officials reported 3,778 “probable” deaths, where doctors were certain enough of the cause of death to list it on the death certificate, and 6,589 confirmed by a lab test. Combined, that would put the total fatalities in the city over 10,000.
The change in the city’s accounting of deaths came after officials acknowledged that statistics based only on laboratory-confirmed tests were failing to account for many people dying at home before they reached a hospital or even sought treatment.
“Behind every death is a friend, a family member, a loved one. We are focused on ensuring that every New Yorker who died because of COVID-19 gets counted,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “While these data reflect the tragic impact that the virus has had on our city, they will also help us to determine the scale and scope of the epidemic and guide us in our decisions.”
New Yorkers continue to die at an unnerving pace even as the number of patients in hospitals has leveled off.
Earlier Tuesday, officials said 778 deaths were recorded statewide Monday, bringing New York’s total to more than 10,800. That figure, though, did not factor in the probable deaths now being counted in New York City.
The total number of people hospitalized in New York on Monday was down slightly to 18,697, the first decrease since mid-March. Total hospitalizations have been flat recently, and Governor Andrew Cuomo believes the state could be inching past the peak of the crisis.
Still, more than 1,600 new COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Monday.
Meanwhile, New York City’s once-overwhelmed 911 system is now seeing a more normal volume of medical calls, another sign the crisis could be ebbing.
The fire department, which runs the city’s system, said it received 3,932 calls requesting ambulances Sunday, down from a record high of 6,527 on March 30. The average volume last March and April was just over 4,000 calls.
Sunday was the sixth straight day that the city’s medical call volume was lower than the previous day.
The fire department said it’s too early to know exactly why volume has dropped.
Cuomo on Tuesday sparred with US President Donald Trump, after Trump claimed he had “total” authority to reopen the nation’s virus-stalled economy.
The Democratic governor criticized Trump’s assertion Monday that “when somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total.”
“His proclamation is that he would be king, that’s what a king is,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing. “A king has total authority. That statement cannot stand.”
The Republican president made his comments after Cuomo and governors on both coasts announced multi-state pacts to coordinate reopening society amid the pandemic.
Cuomo said restarting the economy must be done cautiously, or the hard-won gains of the past month could be quickly lost.
In a tweet Tuesday, Trump appeared to liken the governors to mutinous crew members in the movie “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
Cuomo said the president was “clearly unhappy.” But after taking aim at the president’s comments Tuesday in multiple TV appearances and during his state Capitol briefing, Cuomo said he would not engage in a fight with him.
“The president is clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue,” Cuomo said. “This is too important for anyone to play politics.”
In addition to Cuomo, other Democratic and Republican governors sounded the alarm after Trump’s assertion of authority, which went against clear constitutional limitations on federal powers.
Later Tuesday, Trump appeared to back off his claims, saying he was open to some states “reopening” before federal social distancing guidelines expire at the end of month.
Trump said he would leave it to governors to determine the right time and manner to reopen activity in their states. Trump said he would be speaking with governors, probably on Thursday, to discuss his plans.
Trump said he would be “authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening — and a very powerful reopening — plan of their state at a time and in a matter as most appropriate.”
Trump added he would support moves by states that haven’t been hit hard by the outbreak to ease restrictions even before his own guidelines expire April 30.
“The governors are responsible,” Trump said. “They have to take charge.” Still, he insisted, “The governors will be very, very respectful of the presidency.”
It’s unclear if any states are actively considering reopening their economies before May 1.
The US had 605,193 confirmed virus cases as of Tuesday evening, by far the most of any country, and 21,662 fatalities, slightly more than Italy, which has the second highest death toll.