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Pregnant women in New York will not have to give birth alone amid coronavirus outbreak, governor says

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Last week, some hospitals in New York said they would ban spouses, partners, birthing coaches and other visitors from labor and delivery rooms as a coronavirus safety measure — sparking fear and outrage from expectant mothers and their families.

At least two New York hospital systems planned to implement this restriction, but on Saturday, the state government stepped in to ensure that hospitals could not force women to give birth alone. "In no hospital in New York will a woman be forced to be alone when she gives birth. Not now, not ever," Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted Saturday.

On March 21, the state had issued guidance advising hospitals to allow at least one person in the delivery room with the woman giving birth, but "some of the hospitals were ignoring that," the governor's secretary, Melissa DeRosa, said at a press conference Saturday. So she said the state decided to take stronger action.

"Yesterday, we updated that guidance to make it a directive so that women do not have to be alone while they're giving birth, and we're going to reinforce that in an executive order," DeRosa said. The executive order will apply to both public and private hospitals.

While NYU hospital was already following the one-visitor guidance, two other major hospital systems, Mount Sinai Health and New York Presbyterian, were not. Both have now updated their policies to allow it. 

Before that reversal, some pregnant women who feared they might have to give birth alone decided to look into alternative birthing plans. "I didn't think it was real," Kristen Hwang, who is about 38 weeks pregnant, told CBS News via email. "We keep hearing that there's a shortage of nurses and that everyone is overworked, so my first thought was, 'How could they oversee these moms in excruciating pain in addition to being overworked and stretched thin already?' It didn't make sense to me."  

Hwang added that she understood it is a global pandemic and "we all got to make sacrifices." However, she and her husband did start looking into new birth plans, including going to a different hospital or having an at-home birth.

"Luckily I am low risk so this is possible for me, but I cannot fathom having to have a c-section or have a high risk pregnancy and be completely alone at the hospital," said Hwang, who is expecting her second child. She was set to give birth at Weill Cornell, which is part of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System that had completely restricted visitors. 

"We never in our life imagined spouses would not be allowed at birth," she said. Even without hospital visitor restrictions, being pregnant during a pandemic is another added stress. 

"The biggest worry is that my baby will contract the coronavirus while at the hospital either by the staff, other moms, or even myself," Hwang said. Infections in newborns have been very rare, but no one is immune from the virus. On Saturday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported the death of an infant younger than one year  old in Chicago, who tested positive for coronavirus. 

With Governor Cuomo's executive order about labor and delivery visitors, at least one coronavirus anxiety has been eased for pregnant women. 

This order will apply to both public and private hospitals, which usually operate separately, but must "work together," Cuomo said Sunday. "It's all hands on deck," he tweeted.

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