Brooklyn Boro

Cuomo warns coronavirus ‘wave’ threatens hospitals, calls for federal help

The state has just 3,000 ICU beds. Cuomo wants the Army Corps of Engineers to build more.

March 15, 2020 Mary Frost
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Saying that the number of novel coronavirus cases would soon “crash like a wave” on hospitals lacking the capacity to handle them, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Trump administration to throw the full powers of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers into converting SUNY university dorms and government facilities into hospitals with thousands of additional beds.

Only the federal government has the capacity for such a massive construction job, Cuomo said.

“We are looking at a new war that no one has seen before. We have never fought a virus like this, with this potential consequence,” he told reporters at the Sunday press conference, who were seated more than six feet apart from each other to reduce their chances of spreading the coronavirus.

Cuomo said the government must “assume you can’t reduce the size of the wave, and assume the wave breaks at a higher level than hospitals can accommodate.

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“If you have too high a number of people sick at the same time, when they descend on the hospital system, they will overwhelm the hospital system,” he said. “That’s the issue here, overwhelming the hospital system. And that, my friends, is important.”

New York State has roughly 53,000 hospital beds, with only just over 3,000 of them being intensive care unit beds. These ICU beds are presently 80 percent occupied, Cuomo said, leaving only several hundred ICU beds available for the whole state.

“People who come in, they need the ICU bed, they need the ventilators … the overwhelming crush is going to be on the ICU beds. Three thousand goes very quickly,” he warned.

There has also been “a global run on ventilators,” he said. “You can’t find them no matter how much you’re willing to pay right now.”

New York State, which has the highest number of confirmed cases in the country, has only several weeks to increase its hospital capacity, Cuomo estimated. The administration is reaching out to medical schools — like SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn — and seeking retired workers to build up a reserve staff.

In New York State, 729 people have tested positive as of Sunday morning, and 65 of them are in ICUs already, the governor said. Of these, 46 have been intubated. Three people have died in the state, the latest a 79-year-old woman who lived in New York City who had other pre-existing medical conditions, Cuomo said.

There were 269 confirmed cases of the virus in New York City as of noon Sunday, an increase of 83 cases since 10 a.m. Saturday. 

The numbers jump not only every day, but twice a day, in part because of rapid spread and in part because of increased testing. On Saturday, two state Assemblymembers from Brooklyn, Helene Weinstein and Charles Barron, said they had tested positive for the virus.

A growing number of officials are calling for a citywide shutdown of all non-essential services, such as bars and restaurants, in response to the continued rise of confirmed cases.

The Army Corp of Engineers “can construct or retrofit any building, acquire thousands of pieces of equipment like this — snap, snap, snap!” Cuomo said, snapping his fingers. “The state can’t do that. I don’t have the physical capacity to turn SUNY dorms into hospitals in three weeks. The Army Corp of Engineers, they build bridges, camps, have tens of thousands of personnel … Their capacity is amazing. And what better time to use these resources, as a massive military machine to save lives.”

Cuomo said the state is trying to “flatten the curve” so the health care system doesn’t get slammed all at once. He is asking businesses and individuals to use social distancing, has banned large gatherings, ordered restaurants and bars to operate at half capacity, and is encouraging all who can to work from home.

He is also pushing for more automated coronavirus testing. “It can’t just be a couple of companies. We need more.”

Cuomo said he wrote an open letter to President Donald Trump, saying, “We know what’s going to happen, look at China, South Korea, Italy, and plot the numbers. We are now looking at a wave … that at any projection will overwhelm us.

“We will be sitting here in nine or ten weeks seeing the health care system overrun, saying, “We knew this was going to happen, why didn’t we do everything we need to make this a reality?” he said.

“I hope he takes me up on it,” Cuomo added.

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