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New York tops 40,000 COVID-19 deaths, the first state to do so, says Johns Hopkins

Joseph Spector
New York State Team

ALBANY - New York this week became the first state in the nation to have more than 40,000 deaths due to COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Fueled by more than as many as 800 deaths a day in the early weeks of the pandemic last spring, New York has had the most fatalities in the nation throughout the virus' wrath — topping even the three more populous states of California, Texas and Florida.

New York officials blamed the virus' initial scourge on the federal government's immediate failure to block flights from Europe, where COVID struck early, for bringing it to the Northeast states.

So the majority of the deaths in New York, nearly 26,000 of them, were in New York City.

"We were ambushed by COVID and waged a war of life and death," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a State of the State address Tuesday.

"But we are New Yorkers, so we faced it head-on and we faced it together. The war isn't over, the virus still rages, but we will overcome. That's what New Yorkers do."

Johns Hopkins' Coronavirus Resource Center tracks deaths differently than the state Health Department does by including both confirmed and probable deaths.

So the state puts its total death count at topping 32,000.

In Johns Hopkins count, it lists New York has having 40,020 deaths as of Tuesday, followed by 30,989 in California, 30,895 in Texas and 23,227 in Florida.

The nation has had 380,000 deaths.

In total number of cases, New York ranks fourth with 1.2 million out of it 19 million population, behind the three largest states.

Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx have had the most deaths in the state.

After its spring surge, New York was able to largely get the death toll and number of new cases under control through shutting down businesses, invoking a mask mandate and toughening restrictions for stores and restaurants and in-house gatherings.

But the cases and deaths have grown in recent months around the holiday season and as most activities moved indoors.

Now, New York since Dec. 30 has ended each week of reported cases higher than its worst week of the spring, in part because of the most robust testing program in the nation that tests more than 200,000 people a day.

Still, since Dec. 30, New York's reported cases in a week have risen 52%, and deaths reported in a week have risen 32% to 1,277 last week.

Overall, about one quarter of the deaths in the state data have been reported at nursing homes. But that figure is likely underreported.

The state only lists those who died in nursing homes; people who resided in the homes but died in a hospital are largely not counted as nursing home deaths.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address virtually from The War Room at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Albany, N.Y.

In a series of State of the State addresses this week, Cuomo is laying out ways the state will race to get the COVID vaccine out to as many people as possible and try to beat back the virus' spread.

"The vaccine is the weapon that will end the war — but it won't hit critical mass until June, September, or even December," Cuomo warned Tuesday.

"If we float along relying solely on the vaccine, the way many states are, we are looking at months of shutdowns and the economic, mental, and spiritual hardship they bring."

Instead, Cuomo on Tuesday proposed a robust and expanded rapid testing program to allow businesses to expand occupancy, such at restaurants, or reopen all together, such as at theaters that have been closed since March.

"We have always understood the COVID reality: that the options for the economy are not to fully open or fully close, but rather to strike a new model of balance where we use science and technology to re-open the economy intelligently," he said.

More:US coronavirus map: Tracking the outbreak

More:'We will win this war': Andrew Cuomo vows defeat of COVID in State of the State address

Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network's Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany

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