Health and Science

'Troubling and astronomical' coronavirus cases increase urgency for hospital beds, New York Gov. Cuomo says

Key Points
  • Cases across New York are doubling about every three days — standing at 25,665 as of Tuesday.
  • That's about 10 times the number of cases in California, Cuomo said.
  • Some 3,234 people have been hospitalized in New York state, he said.
New York Gov. Cuomo: 'Troubling and astronomical' coronavirus cases increase urgency for hospital beds
New York Gov. Cuomo: Astronomical coronavirus cases increase urgency for hospital beds

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday a "troubling and astronomical" number of coronavirus cases has increased the urgency across the state for more hospital beds as the outbreak spreads "unabated."

He also lashed out at the federal government for not sending in more ventilators. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending the state 400 ventilators, Cuomo said at a news conference.

"Four hundred ventilators? I need 30,000 ventilators. You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators?" Cuomo said, adding that he needs the ventilators in 14 days.

"We're not slowing it and it is accelerating on its own," Cuomo added.

He said the state is now projecting it will need more hospital beds a lot sooner than thought. The state estimates it will need 140,000 hospital beds in as little as 14 to 21 days. The state previously said it would need 110,000 beds for COVID-19 patients by early to mid-May. 

"The inescapable conclusion is that the rate of infection is going up. It is spiking. The apex is higher than we thought and the apex is sooner than we thought. That is a bad combination of facts," Cuomo said.

Cases across the state are doubling about every three days — standing at 25,665 as of Tuesday — 10 times the number of cases in California, Cuomo said. Some 3,234 people have been hospitalized, he said.

National Guards are seen inside the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.
Rod Adar | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

"New York is the canary in the coal mine. New York is going first. We have the highest and fastest rate of infection," he said, adding that what's happening in New York will spread to California, Washington and other states from there. 

Cuomo said the state has about 3,000 to 4,000 ventilators and has purchased about 7,000 more, but it needs a minimum of 30,000 additional ventilators.

"This is a critical and desperate need for ventilators," he said, adding that the state is experimenting with using one ventilator split between two patients. "We don't have any other options. There's no other way for us to get these ventilators. We've tried everything else."

He called on President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to secure more medical equipment and asked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to release the 20,000 ventilators in the U.S. stockpile to New York.

"How can you be in a situation where you have New Yorkers possibly dying because they can't get a ventilator, but a federal agency is saying 'I'm going to leave the ventilators in the stockpile,'" Cuomo said. "I mean, have we really come to that point."

Cuomo criticized Trump for pushing to lift state restrictions that have effectively placed almost half of the nation under some sort of quarantine.

Medical equipment stands at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, U.S., on Monday, March 23, 2020.
Angus Mordant | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"I understand what the president is saying that this is unsustainable that we close down the economy and we continue to spend money. There is no doubt about that," Cuomo said. "But if you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it's no contest. No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life."

The priority has to be to save lives, he said. New York is currently the hardest-hit state in the country, ahead of New Jersey, California and Washington state.

Cuomo was speaking at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, where the Army Corps of Engineers is building four FEMA hospitals with 250 beds each for coronavirus patients. Temporary hospitals will also be built in Stony Brook, Westbury and Westchester. The state is also considering converting university dormitories and hotels into makeshift hospitals, he said.

New York state is also running a clinical trial beginning Tuesday of a treatment regimen of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, two drugs that doctors in Africa and elsewhere say they've seen anecdotal evidence it may help fight the virus. The state health department will also be running a clinical trial using the blood plasma of recovered patients to treat new infections, he said.

The New York metro area, which includes New Jersey, Long Island and southern Connecticut, has the highest "attack rate" in the country with nearly 1 in 1,000 people in the region contracting the virus — at least five times higher than the rest of the country. The attack rate is the portion of the population that gets infected.

"To all of my friends and colleagues in New York, this is the group that actually needs to social distance and self-isolate," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said at the press briefing. "Clearly, the virus had been circulating there for a number of weeks to have this level of penetrance into the general community."