A doctor walks outside the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center during the outbreak of the coronavirus, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, April 10, 2020.
People wear face masks for protection against the coronavirus as the walk their dog on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, April 10, 2020.

NEW YORK - New York's governor said Friday that he is "cautiously optimistic" that the hardest hit U.S. state is starting to see a flattening in the number of new coronavirus infections, even as the death rate continues to remain dramatically high.

"To use an overused term, we are cautiously optimistic that we are slowing the infection rate," Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters in the state capital, Albany. "That is what the numbers say, that is what the data suggest to us."

He said the three-day average of patients requiring hospitalization is down significantly. The number of those requiring intensive care treatment is also dropping, and for the first time fewer people are in the state's ICUs.

"The bad news is we continue to lose a tremendous number of lives and endure great pain as a state – 777 lives lost," he said. Friday is the fourth consecutive day the death toll has been well over 700.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio speaks to the media during a press conference in temporary hospital located at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the Queens borough of New York City, New York, April 10, 2020.

New York State's population of 19.5 million has been badly hit by the virus, with more than 160,000 confirmed cases, putting it ahead of Spain and Italy.

Cuomo compared the current situation with the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed 2,753 people in New York. So far, 7,844 New Yorkers have been recorded as coronavirus deaths.

"I believed 9/11 was the worst situation that I was going to deal with in my lifetime," Cuomo said. "In terms of lives lost, that this situation should exceed 9/11 is still beyond my capacity to fully appreciate."

The governor expressed relief that the state appears to be defying statisticians' predictions of how many people could require hospitalization – numbers that would have completely collapsed the state's health care system.

But he said this is not the moment to relax and ease up on social distancing and other measures that have contributed to bending the curve.

Commuters wear face masks for protection against the coronavirus as they ride the M train in New York, April 10, 2020.

"What we do today will determine the infection rate two or three days from now," he reminded residents.

Cuomo said the key to reopening New York state and getting people back to work will be wide-scale testing both to see who has the virus and who is immune to it. He said millions of test kits will be required, and he urged the federal government to invoke the Defense Production Act in order to manufacture them within weeks, not months.

"If I had a New York State Defense Production Act, I would use it," Cuomo said. "I don't."

He also said it would be wise to study what other countries, especially in Asia, have done to restart their economies to see what has worked and what hasn't.

"Let's make sure we study the waters ahead and proceed with caution before we set off on the next journey," the governor said. 

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