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Gatherings of 50 or more banned across state

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To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut banned gatherings of more than 50 people effective 8 p.m. Monday night, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who tweeted the news Monday morning and quickly followed up with a news conference.

Restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and casinos will be closed. Before Cuomo’s announcement, the Malverne Cinema closed their theater last Sunday due to growing concerns over the virus.

“We look forward to reopening as soon as the situation allows,” the Cinema said in a Facebook post. “Please look at our websites and Facebook pages for any updates. Once bookings and schedules are prepared for opening the usual emails will resume.”

Other venues such as Broadway Tavern in Malverne moved events up before closing time on Monday for “one last hurrah.”

Take-out at restaurants and even bars, distilleries and wineries will be allowed, however. The state's liquor law is being temporarily changed to allow for off-premises sales of alcohol.

The governor said the state is acting aggressively to stem the tide of new coronavirus cases to ensure hospitals and medical centers throughout the state are not overwhelmed. New York now has the most COVID-19 cases of any state in the nation, with 950, he said. In looking to China, South Korea and parts of Western Europe, it is only a matter of time, the governor predicted, before cases here rise exponentially.

The state is ramping up coronavirus testing, with a capacity of 7,000 tests a day expected by the end of the week. As of press time Monday, a little more than 7,000 people had been tested throughout the state. Long Island will soon be a mobile-testing site, though the governor did not say where mobile testing would take place. Jones Beach State Park has been suggested as a location because of its wide-open parking lots.

Cuomo called on the federal government to issue one set of closure guidelines that would apply to states across the nation, instead of the current "national patchwork of density-reduction closings." New York, New Jersey and Connecticut coordinated their closure policies to ensure people do not go "state shopping"; that is, they would not hop from state to state to go out to a restaurant, bar or casino.

Now, though, states are allowed to set their own policies, and they differ in various regions. "It should be one set of rules for the entire nation," Cuomo said.

"If the federal government isn't going to do what it's supposed to do, the states have to do their best," he said.

The state is waiving all park fees at state, county and local parks to enable people to get out in the fresh air and exercise. "You want to get out of the house? Go to a park," the governor said.

He also said all local governments must reduce their in-house workforces by half, allowing "non-essential" personnel to work from home. "It's the same thing I'm asking private businesses to do," he said.

All police officers and emergency medical personnel must be supplied with surgical masks to cover their faces, according to the governor.

All school districts and local governments had to provide plans by the end of Monday to care for children and feed them after downstate school districts closed for two weeks. The governor suggested that parts of closed schools could be used for childcare. He noted that many "essential personnel," including police officers and EMS workers, depend on the schools to provide childcare.

The state is not mandating that grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies and medical facilities stay open after 8 p.m., but is strongly advising them to do so.

The governor urged the federal government, specifically the Army Corps of Engineers, to set up mobile hospitals. If the federal government does not do so, he said, New York could mobilize the National Guard, local building unions and private developers to set up facilities and retrofit existing spaces in places like old nursing homes to increase hospital bed capacity.

Despite measures to reduce coronavirus spread, the number of new cases is expected to rise, and "you must expect a significant inflow" of patients into New York's hospitals, Cuomo said.

Nakeem Grant contributed to this story.