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City preps for coronavirus: not enough masks, plenty of beds, says de Blasio

CDC still not allowing New York City to do its own testing for coronavirus

February 26, 2020 Mary Frost
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Mayor Bill de Blasio and city health officials said New York City has distributed 1.5 million surgical masks to hospitals and first responders, but that falls short of what would be needed to manage an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The city has requested 300,000 additional masks from the federal government and other localities, but the waiting list is long, the mayor said at a press conference at City Hall on Wednesday.

“Everyone is competing for masks,” de Blasio said. “If the normal private sector can’t get them to us, the federal government will have to step in.”

Commissioner of Emergency Management Deanne Criswell said, if necessary, the federal government could enact the Defense Production Act to require manufacturers to produce masks for medical professionals and first responders. The act allows such a move if deemed necessary for national defense.

Surge capacity: 1,200 beds

De Blasio said that the city’s public and private hospitals could free up 1,200 hospital beds immediately if they are needed, “without compromising other health care services.”

“We have the capacity to put people in quarantine in hospitals, and a hotel for observation,” de Blasio added.

National policy calls for hospitals to accommodate surges of 500 new patients per million population in a catastrophe.

“If you have symptoms and a nexus to an affected country or have been near someone who has visited an affected country, get health care immediately,” he said. If an affected person can’t speak English or can’t get to a doctor, call 311, de Blasio said. “We will get a doctor to them.”

“Better be safe than sorry. If you may have it, act like you do have it,” he added.


See: What to do if you think you have coronavirus


Affected countries now include not only China and Hong Kong, but Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand, he said.

There are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city yet, and seven suspected cases tested negative, de Blasio said. But the city is in a “state of high vigilance, high readiness.”

The press conference followed a CDC warning on Tuesday to expect cases locally, and de Blasio said the city was preparing for the possibility of person-to-person transmission. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” he said.

A health professional explains how a medical mask must fit in order to be protective. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Health officials say it is not necessary at the moment for New Yorkers to wear protective masks. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

CDC still not allowing NYC to do testing for coronavirus

The mayor and NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said they were frustrated that the Centers for Disease Control would not authorize the city to use its facilities to do testing for the novel coronavirus. “We have the facilities; they are underutilized by the CDC,” de Blasio said.

Barbot said this was due to the city’s inability to carry out a final validation step in the testing sequence. “There are specific procedures in place so every time the test is run, it’s valid,” she said. However, “issues were found with the third component.”

“There has been an honest effort between CDC and city, state to try and speed up our ability to do this local testing, but more can and should be done immediately,” de Blasio said. “I give full credit to the CDC. But we believe in a crisis of this magnitude they should allow a locality with vast capacity” to conduct the test.

“The CDC’s posture is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. They need to be a little more creative. It’s been held a little too close, a little too business-as-usual,” he said.

This scanning electron microscope image shows the virus that causes novel coronavirus (COVID-19), isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink). Photo: NIAID-RML
This scanning electron microscope image shows the virus that causes novel coronavirus (COVID-19), isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink). Photo: NIAID-RML

“We also call upon the CDC to add to its testing regimen for travelers. Right now it is too narrowly focused on travelers coming out of China. We think that has to be expanded to any traveler coming from a country that’s seen a major surge in cases,” he added.

While de Blasio applauded the federal government’s initial steps to restrict travel, he panned the administration’s suggestion “that the end is in sight. There’s no cure, no vaccine, and it’s not responsible to suggest an end date to a brand new crisis. There are a lot of mixed messages. This is going to be with us a long time, and we have to work together.”

De Blasio applauded New Yorkers for following advice handed out five weeks ago to wash hands frequently and cough into elbows. “Every New Yorker is part of this,” he said. “This is not the Nanny State. This is every single person doing their job.”

He also said the administration was skimping by asking for only $2.5 billion to fund a response to the crisis. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer has released a proposal for $8.5 billion in emergency funding to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $40 million appropriation for the New York State DOH to hire additional staff, procure equipment and any other resources necessary to respond to the potential pandemic. The governor will also propose legislation to grant authority to DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to ensure local health departments and public and private hospitals statewide take necessary measures as needed.

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