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Cuomo asks for Federal Defense Production Act, says April 28 primary might be mail-in only

Photo courtesy of Governor's Communications Office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is among those calling on the federal government to invoke the Defense Production Act so the Trump Administration can order factories to produce badly needed hospital gear to combat the coronavirus. Cuomo also says he’s looking at ways to allow mail-in balloting for the April 28 presidential primary.

Cuomo says without the federal government stepping in, states are “savaging” each other by competing for desperately-needed gear like surgical masks, gowns and gloves and it’s leading to price gouging. He says masks that used to cost $.85 are now priced at $7.

“I think the federal government should order factories to manufacture  masks, gowns, ventilators,” said Cuomo. “The essential medical equipment that’s going to make a difference between life and death.”

The governor says he is getting cooperation from FEMA, though, and is asking for four 250-bed temporary hospital facilities to be created within the Javits Convention Center on the West Side of Manhattan.

Cuomo is now mandating that all existing hospitals in the state increase their capacity by 50%, and more if at all possible. He says New York hospitals need to double the existing amount of beds in order to meet the anticipated need when the virus peaks in a few weeks. All non-critical elective surgeries will end after Wednesday.

The governor also says he visited some parks in New York City and was dismayed to see that many were not practicing safe social distancing. He’s ordering New York City to come up with a plan by Monday midday to keep people apart.

“I don’t know what I am saying that people don’t get,” the governor said.

The governor says he’s leaving it up to city officials and police to come up with the specifics, but he says perhaps streets could be closed to any remaining traffic to create more space for people.

Starting at 8 p.m. Sunday, there will be some new rules on the New York State Thruway to limit human contact between drivers and toll collectors.

People who don’t have an EZ Pass will no longer take a paper ticket when they enter the roadway. When they exit, it’s up to them to tell the toll collector what exit they got on. They will then give the collector their license plate number, nd will be billed within 30 days.

A spokesman for the Thruway Authority, Jonathan Dougherty, says the entire road is open. Rest stops are also open with bathrooms and gasoline, but only takeout food is available.

As the virus count continues to rise, concerns have arisen over New York’s April 28 presidential primary date. New York Attorney General Tish James is calling for a suspension of in-person voting and that all ballots be mailed in instead.

New York allows absentee voting in very limited cases. Cuomo Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa says they are looking at whether the governor can issue an executive order to expand it or whether the legislature will need to take action.

The state’s constitution says voters can cast absentee ballots for just two reasons: they are sick or out of the area.

There is an attempt underway to change the constitution, to allow absentee voting for any reason, but that requires more action by the legislature, which under law can’t happen until 2021.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.