During a COVID-19  briefing Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the state will institute limits on mass gatherings, directing events with 500 or more individuals in attendance to be canceled or postponed.

Events, gatherings or places of business with less than 500 individuals in attendance will be required to cut capacity by 50 percent, with exceptions being made for spaces where individuals do not make sustained close contact, such as schools, hospitals, public buildings, mass transit, grocery stores and retail stores.

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The new regulations will go into effect Friday at 5 p.m., except for Broadway theaters where the limits went into effect Thursday at 5 p.m.

"The spread of this Coronavirus is not going to stop on its own, and we know that mass gatherings have been hotspots for the virus to infect large numbers of people quickly," Cuomo said. "To help contain it, we are instituting limits on large events as well as new measures to protect our most vulnerable populations — including people in nursing homes — and preparing our healthcare system to be able to deal with any future capacity issues. While the context is key and the anxiety is outpacing the facts of this situation, we will continue taking aggressive action to protect public health and prepare for any future spread of this virus."  

In an effort to protect some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, Cuomo also announced only medically necessary visits will be allowed at nursing homes. This policy will be effective Friday at 5 p.m. The state is also asking nursing homes to set up Skyping and other online communication capacity so families can televisit their loved ones. Additionally, the state will require health screenings for all nursing home workers each day when they enter a facility and require them to wear surgical masks to guard against any potential asymptomatic spread.

In order to increase testing capacity, the state is contracting with BioReference Laboratories to run an additional 5,000 tests per day on top of what the state is already doing. These additional 5,000 tests per day will come online next week. This additional testing capacity is on top of that of the 28 private labs the governor announced are partnering with the state in the coming days and weeks.

"Our number one priority is protecting the public health and every action the Governor and the State of New York have taken thus far have been in furtherance of that goal," State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. "Public health experts have been clear that limiting large public gatherings where there is potential for close contact is a critical way to slow the spread of this virus. This regulation will help keep people healthy and safe."

The governor also announced that the state is taking measures to create a reserve workforce of health care professionals in the event of a staffing shortage and identify state facilities that can be used as temporary hospitals. The state is asking former doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to reconnect with their former employers and offer to work on an on-call basis in the cases of a staffing shortage.

The state is also identifying National Guard medics for reserved staffing and contacting medical schools to identify possible reserve health care professionals. Additionally, the health department is accelerating regulations to get more health care personnel trained to work in other areas.

For all schools in communities with the highest rates of positive cases, the state will be taking proactive steps to implement protocols that limit mass contact.

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