Politics

New York hospitals battle coronavirus as hundreds of patients flood in: 'We must not break'

Key Points
  • New York City hospitals are dealing with a flood of more than 2,800 patients with the coronavirus, and that flood is increasing.
  • New York state is the center of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, with more than 30,000 cases.
  • "This coronavirus pandemic is worse than working in West Africa during Ebola because I never once worried about my personal protective equipment in West Africa," said one doctor.
People line up to get a test at Elmhurst Hospital due to coronavirus outbreak on March 24, 2020 in Queens, New York, United States. There are now more than 35,000 cases of COVID-19 in the United States as governments scramble to contain the spread.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | Getty Images

The top surgeon of a major New York City hospital dealing with a flood of hundreds of patients infected with the coronavirus rallied his staff with a letter that compared the pandemic to a typhoon, and urged them to stand strong in its face.

"A forest of bamboo bends to the ground in a typhoon but rarely breaks," wrote Dr. Craig Smith, surgeon in chief at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in upper Manhattan.

"We are that forest and we must not break," Smith wrote. "By the people, for the people."

Hospitals in New York City now have more than 2,800 patients with the coronavirus, straining their existing capacity.

Many of those patients are at Smith's hospital or in other New York-Presbyterian facilities around the Big Apple.

Smith said in his letter that admissions of patients for COVID-19 to his hospital system have continued increasing by about 10% percent each day.

A nurse at Columbia University Medical Center in upper Manhattan said several hundreds of patients there alone had the coronavirus.

About 20% of the hospital's coronavirus patients are in intensive care units, according to Smith's letter.

And 80% of ICU patients require ventilators, which are in extremely short supply in New York state, the epicenter for the pandemic in the United States.

"Consult a compound-interest calculator to get a sense how quickly we are approaching infrastructure capacity limits," Smith wrote.

"We are scheduling very urgent cases in 3 ORs (operating rooms) each day, with 2 rooms for true emergencies."

New York state has more than 30,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 5,000 more cases reported Tuesday. New York City alone has more than 17,850 cases, although most of those people are not hospitalized.

Dr. Craig Spencer, who works as an emergency room doctor at Columbia University Medical Center, warned that patient "case numbers are increasing on a daily basis and soon our hospitals are going to be overwhelmed."

"At the rate that we're putting people on ventilators, at some hospitals one to two per hour, the simple math shows it's only a matter of time until we run out," Spencer said during an interview on NBC's "TODAY Show."

Dr. Craig Spencer on the "Today" show
Source: NBC

Spencer compared the experience at Columbia-Presbyterian to working in West Africa in 2014, when he contracted the disease Ebola.

"This coronavirus pandemic is worse than working in West Africa during Ebola because I never once worried about my personal protective equipment in West Africa," Spencer said.

"This virus unfortunately is perfect in the sense that it spreads really really well, it hits all age groups," Spencer said. "It's really scary the potential this virus has."

Spencer has posted a dramatic Twitter thread about his experience working amid the crisis.

Tens of thousands of Twitter users, including former President Barack Obama, have retweeted Spencer's thread.