New York has nowhere near the number of hospital beds, ventilators or health care professionals needed to meet the demand created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s governor said Tuesday.
As cases there passed 25,000 and new diagnoses were projected to continue accelerating, the COVID-19 footprint in New York is roughly 10 times the next most-impacted states of New Jersey, California and Washington. And the rate is “doubling about every three days,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press briefing.
“We’re not slowing it, and it is accelerating on its own,” he said.
Flanked by Gens. Raymond Shields of the New York National Guard and Patrick Murphy, commissioner of the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Cuomo’s war footing for the COVID-19 response reflected a crisis in the state that was growing by the hour.
Cuomo spoke from the Javits Center, which was being transformed into an emergency hospital to accommodate the swelling sick population, as doctors and nurses in the city were instructed to re-use personal protective equipment amid a dire shortage. Several New York hospitals on Tuesday, in an attempt to stem the spread, prohibited even birthing partners from being present during labor.
While state experts had previously projected that New York would need 110,000 hospital beds at the disease’s apex in the state — already more than double the capacity of existing hospitals in the state — the accelerating rate of diagnoses had pushed that number higher still.
“The new projection suggests that the number of hospital beds needed could be as high as 140,000,” Cuomo said, of which 40,000 would need to be intensive care beds with ventilators.
“Those are troubling and astronomical numbers.”
State experts also now estimated the disease would peak in New York sometime between two and three weeks from Tuesday — sooner than previously thought.
In other words, the governor said, efforts to “flatten the curve” through social distancing — that is, to distribute hospitalizations from the disease over a longer timeline, in order to avoid overwhelming hospitals — were failing.
There’s also a shortage of health care workers in New York, even as the state reaches out to those who might help fill the void.
“We’re contacting all retirees in the health care field, we’re calling all professionals in the health care field, whether or not they work in a hospital,” Cuomo said.
“They can work in an insurance company, a clinic, or whatever, but we want to enlist as many staff as we can and as many back-up staff.”
The state’s stock of equipment, and especially ventilators, is also far too low to accommodate the breaking wave of serious COVID-19 cases. There were 3,000-4,000 existing machines in the state and New York has acquired roughly 7,000 more Cuomo said — and still, roughly 30,000 more are needed.
Citing news reports — and, though he didn’t say so, a tweet from President Donald Trump Tuesday morning — Cuomo referenced the 400 ventilators that the federal government said Tuesday it was making available to New York.
“Four hundred ventilators? I need 30,000 ventilators!” he said.
“You’re missing the magnitude of the problem, and the problem is defined by the magnitude.”
To beef up New York’s supply, Cuomo urged the feds to dig deeper into the national stockpile and use the Defense Production Act to force private industry to produce the machines.
While volunteerism from corporations is nice, he said, only the federal government had the authority to compel — and quickly fund — the manufacturing necessary.
So far, Trump has only used the wartime law to bolster the nation’s supply of test kits, an action FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor announced Tuesday morning.
At one point Tuesday, Cuomo addressed Trump’s (and plenty of others’) argument that the American economy couldn’t sustain the plummet it had entered as a result of COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Or as Trump put it Sunday night, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”
“I understand what the President is saying,” Cuomo said. “This is unsustainable that we close down the economy and we continue to spend money.”
He suggested that once widespread testing for COVID-19 antibodies was available, those who’d survived the disease and had developed an immunity to it should be allowed to go back to work.
“But if you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it’s no contest,” he said.
“No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life, because no American is going to say how much a life is worth.”