NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Getting the New York City subways clean and safe topped the focus of officials' update on the state of coronavirus in the state Saturday morning.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo was joined by transit leaders at the MTA maintenance facility in Corona, Queens, to address the planned cleaning shutdown of the MTA subways overnight from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., which will also remove hundreds of homeless who have taken to the system as a sort of mobile shelter.
When asked about using FEMA money or emergency aid from HUD to house the homeless during the interim, Cuomo said local governments would have to "decide the best strategy."
"You've always had a certain number of people who were homeless for one reason or another going back decades," the governor said. "You help as many people as you can... I think this actually poses an opportunity to engage homeless men and women who have been sleeping on trains, some of them for years.
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"I know there's a lot of politics about helping the homeless," Cuomo said. "You do not help the homeless by letting them stay on a subway car, and sleep on a subway car in the middle of a global pandemic when they could expose themselves or others to a virus. It is common sense that these people need a safe, clean decent place and shelter."
Cuomo also noted such homeless people need more support services for underlying mental health issues, substance abuse problems and job training, adding that New York provides "an unprecedented amount in housing and services for the homeless. Part of what the problem has been connecting a homeless individual with those services."
New York City subways have operated 24/7 for the last 115 years, other than blackouts, strikes and severe weather. Under the new plan, subways will be closed every night starting Wednesday.
In addition, buses and trains will be cleaned every 24 hours to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Some 900 train and station cleaners get help from additional contract workers for what the governor called a monumental task.
Cuomo says this is being done to protect essential workers.
"We want people to know that they're safe," he said.
The MTA says currently in this crisis, between 10,000-11,000 people ride the subways during the early morning hours. It is estimated this effort will cancel more than 100 train trips per day.
Subway service will be replaced with connecting bus routes, and cabs and for-hire vehicles will be provided for free to essential workers.
"We're not going to leave behind the folks who need to use the system overnight to go to hospitals, to go to medical centers, to go to their jobs," said Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of the New York City Transit Authority. "We're going to make sure we take care of them."
Feinberg said all riders will see improvements.
"For those who are riding the system during the day, they are going to see an uptick and a lot of cleaners that they probably did not see before," she said.
But for Angel Quiero, who lives in Linden, New Jersey, and works as a security guard in Midtown at night, this will complicate his commute.
"It's gonna be hard. I'm probably gonna have to drive, which, I don't want to drive to the city," he told CBS2's Dave Carlin.
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In terms of coronavirus numbers, Cuomo noted in the past 24 hours the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was 831, down slightly from the average of 900 a day the state was seen recently, to a total of 309,145.
Deaths related to COVID-19 illness saw an overnight rise was 299 people - 276 in hospitals, 23 in nursing homes - to a statewide total of 18,909.
"That number has remained up obnoxiously and terrifyingly high, and it's still not dropping at the rate we would like to see a drop," Cuomo said.
To help drop the infection rate further, Cuomo announced the state would be giving out 7 million cloth masks to nursing homes and people in people living in New York City Housing Authority buildings.
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