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Mayor tells New York City to prepare to shelter in place

A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask is reflected in a rain puddle, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in New York. New York state entered a new phase in the coronavirus pandemic this week, as New York City closed its public schools, and officials said schools statewide would close by Wednesday. New York joined with Connecticut and New Jersey to close bars, restaurants and movie theaters along with setting limits on social gatherings. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(CNN) — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers on Tuesday afternoon to prepare for the possibility that there could be a shelter in place order within the next two days, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose approval would be required for such a move, downplayed the possibility.

“I think New Yorkers should be prepared right now for the possibility of a shelter in place order,” de Blasio, a Democrat, said during a press briefing about coronavirus. “It has not happened yet but it is definitely a possibility at this point. I believe that decision should be made in the next 48 hours, and it’s a very, a very difficult decision.”

De Blasio acknowledged that such a step would be Cuomo’s call but said, “I think it’s gotten to the point where a decision has to be made very soon.”

“There has been a variety of conversations at the staff level, constantly,” he said. “I look forward to talking to the governor directly about it. But it’s a very serious, complex decision.”

De Blasio emphasized that he thinks New York state has “handled this crisis, very, very well” but called it “decision time” for more aggressive steps.

Such a drastic move would follow a similar order issued in Northern California that affects nearly 7 million people. But Cuomo, who is also a Democrat, dismissed that possibility in a statement issued shortly after de Blasio’s remarks.

“The emergency policies that have been issued are of statewide impact, and the governor is making every effort to coordinate these policies with our surrounding states,” Cuomo’s office said in a news release shortly after the mayor’s remarks. “Any blanket quarantine or shelter in place policy would require state action and as the governor has said, there is no consideration of that for any locality at this time.”

Earlier on CNN’s “New Day,” de Blasio told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota “we’re absolutely considering that” when asked if New York was considering a measure similar to California’s order.

“I mean, right now we have taken a series of steps to reduce the number of people who are circulating around. But we’re going to look at all other options and it could get to that for sure. It could get to that for the whole country,” de Blasio said.

In response, Cuomo said later Tuesday morning, “We hear ‘New York City is going to quarantine itself.’ That is not true. That cannot happen. It cannot happen legally. No city in the state can quarantine itself without state approval. And I have no interest whatsoever and no plan whatsoever to quarantine any city.”

Listen to the CNN Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction podcast with chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta here.

De Blasio also used his press conference Tuesday to call on health care professionals to step forward — seeking those with appropriate training to mobilize on a voluntary basis.

He said there are approximately 9,000 licensed and retired health care workers registered in the medical reserve corps and the city is asking anyone who isn’t already registered or connected to a large institution to sign up.

“We’re the biggest city in the country. The numbers are growing rapidly,” he said. “We’re going to get our hands on every medical facility, every — if we can get — former nursing home, a nursing home that hasn’t opened, anything like that. We’re going to be looking at hotels. Anything we can get our hands on for buildings. Every form of equipment and supply. Every professional that’s willing to come in our service.”

“We will need it all,” he continued.

Health officials in Northern California have ordered residents to stay home. Health services, grocery stores, gas stations, banks and food delivery services will remain open, as will mass transit for travel to and from essential services.

New York state has taken several moves to address the spiraling crisis. Cuomo has issued an executive order to increase hospital capacity in the state and called the federal government to use the Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary medical facilities. The state is producing its own hand sanitizer to deal with commercial shortages.

On Monday, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people to slow the spread of the virus.