ALBANY — The state will take ventilators and personal protective equipment from private institutions, including hospitals, that are not using the supplies and redistribute them across New York to hospitals with the highest need to combat the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared in an executive order Friday.
The National Guard will transport the ventilators and PPE across the state to hospitals and medical centers that need them. The equipment will be returned or the hospital or institution will be reimbursed for the equipment after the pandemic.
“Am I ‘seizing’ ventilators? No — I’m taking excess equipment to save lives,” Cuomo said Friday during a COVID-19 briefing in the state Capitol. “I won’t be in a position where people are dying and we have several hundred ventilators in our state somewhere else. I apologize about the hardships to those institutions. I’m not going to let people die because we didn’t redistribute ventilators.”
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said in a statement Friday that local, rural hospitals have limited resources and need to be prepared themselves for a potential surge of coronavirus patients.
“I am truly alarmed about today’s announcement that an Executive Order will be issued to force hospitals across the state to turn over ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) currently not being used,” she said. “Under the order, the National Guard will be deployed to collect the equipment — which I believe will only heighten the anxiety of a population already on edge due to this crisis.”
Congresswoman Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said she is similarly concerned about the plans to shift ventilators from upstate to downstate.
“The North Country comprises the largest number of seniors of any Congressional District in New York State, the most vulnerable age group to COVID-19,” she said in a statement. “Our critical needs and vulnerabilities must be considered. North Country hospitals reached out to my office with this specific concern earlier this week – our rural hospitals are already very limited in resources and we must ensure Upstate New York’s needs for testing supplies and ventilators are fully met.”
The state’s virus-related deaths climbed to 2,935 by Friday afternoon, up from 2,373 Thursday. At 102,863 positive cases, just over 14.4% of positively infected New Yorkers are hospitalized, or 14,810 people, with 3,731 patients in the intensive care unit. To date, 8,886 infected patients have been discharged.
State officials study various expert models to determine a moderate projection for the number of hospital beds, ventilators, gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment the state will need. From projections earlier this week, Cuomo said the state could need 37,000 total ventilators to combat the virus at its apex, or height, of the curve.
Cuomo said Thursday that at its current rate, the state’s ventilator stockpile will be depleted in six days as about 300 COVID-19 patients enter intensive care every day. It’s unclear how many ventilators will be redeployed to downstate hospitals. All elective surgeries have ended in the state to free up ventilators. The state has developed several other measures in case of a ventilator shortage, including splitting ventilator tubes for two patients per machine, using anesthesia machine ventilators and converting BiPAP machines to ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
“Several hundred ventilators doesn’t fix the problem, but it’s a significant number,” Cuomo said. “If you find 300 excess ventilators, you’ve found another day. Several hundred could represent several hundred lives. So, am I willing to deploy the National Guard and inconvenience people for several hundred lives? You’re damn right I am.”
The state’s first temporary medical center at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, which has 2,500 beds, opened Monday. Javits will accept and treat COVID-19 patients. Initially, the facility was reserved for patients not infected with the virus.
“We don’t have any non-COVID people to any great extent in the hospitals,” Cuomo said, thanking President Donald Trump for approving Javits to treat people with the virus. “Hospitals have turned into ICU hospitals for COVID-19 patients.”
The 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, which is docked at Pier 88 in the New York Harbor continues to be for non-COVID-19 patient overflow. Patients infected with the virus will not be treated on the ship, Cuomo said, because it would be too difficult to disinfect.
The governor called for a national deployment of ventilators and resources from other states as rolling COVID-19 peaks hit the United States.
“The federal government does not have enough material to say, ‘Whatever you need, I can get you,’” Cuomo said Friday. “Each state has to help every other state as we go along...When our curve is over, New Yorkers are going to take what we’ve amassed: our equipment, personnel. We’re going to take our knowledge to any community that needs help. New York will be there for any community that needs us.”
The House of Representatives passed a historic $2.2 trillion emergency COVID-19 bill March 27 that cuts financial-assistance checks to middle-class and lower-income Americans and increases unemployment benefits to more workers to be paid for four months. The governor was displeased with the bill and called it “terrible” last week because he said it provided inadequate relief to state governments.
Cuomo pleaded for more funding to help close the expected 10 to $15 billion revenue shortfall in the executive budget caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor spoke to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday about the fourth anticipated federal relief bill and said she pledged to make sure New York receives more federal assistance.
The fight against COVID-19 is projected to continue through the spring and early summer. Working against the virus every day but seeing the death toll and positive cases continue to rise is difficult, Cuomo said.
“It’s hard knowing you’re in charge of the ship at this time,” the governor said. “Eventually, you go through the darkness and find the light, and we’re going to find the light.”
The state’s most dense virus hot spots have remained downstate and in New York City. Positive cases of the virus have been detected in 57 counties in the state, with 57,159 cases in New York City, 12,351 cases in Westchester County, 12,024 in Nassau County, 10,154 cases in Suffolk County, 4,289 in Rockland County and 267 in Albany County.