By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday that the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care units across the state dropped in the last day, offering a glimmer of hope that the surge in critical care hospitalizations might be leveling off.

Cuomo said there were 17 fewer patients in the state’s intensive care units on Thursday than a day prior. This was the first time that group of patients has decreased in a day since the outbreak took hold and a sign that social distancing measures are successfully reducing the virus’ spread.

New York, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, has recorded 7,844 deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, nearly half of the total across the United States.

“What we do will affect, literally, life and death for hundreds of people,” Cuomo said during a media briefing, adding state officials were “cautiously optimistic” because of the lowering of some hospitalization trends.

“Keep doing what we’re doing. Stay home because that works. We are flattening the curve,” he said.

There were 290 new hospital admissions in a day, above the 200 admitted a day earlier but far less than just over a week ago when more than 1,400 New Yorkers were hospitalized for the coronavirus in a day, Cuomo said.

The number of deaths in New York per day from coronavirus continues to hover in the high 700s, with 777 deaths recorded in the last day compared to 799 a day prior.

While New York has tested some 390,000 people for the coronavirus, more than any other state, Cuomo said the limited availability of testing could delay the reopening of businesses and travel.

The federal government should use the Defense Production Act to increase U.S. testing capabilities, he said, adding New York, Connecticut and New Jersey would join any effort to get testing “up to scale.”

“We need an unprecedented mobilization where the government can produce these tests in the millions,” Cuomo said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)