Health and Science

New York orders thousands of manually operated pump ventilators as coronavirus cases surge: 'This is the alternative'

Key Points
  • The Empire State anticipates requiring 140,000 hospital beds and 30,000 ventilators when the outbreak reaches its peak in 14 to 21 days, Cuomo said in a Saturday press conference.
  • If the state is short on ventilators, COVID-19 patients will need to use bag valve masks, which must be manually operated by health-care professionals.
  • Cuomo is reporting 728 deaths in New York as of Saturday, which is 209 more than he reported during a conference on Friday.
  • The state will also be adding four more temporary emergency medical facilities, which have been approved by President Donald Trump, the governor said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo demonstrates how a "bag valve mask" works at a press conference Saturday, March 28.
Governor's office, press conference

Coronavirus patients in New York will have to resort to using bag valve masks if the Empire State doesn't have enough ventilators, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference on Saturday.

The state anticipates it will need 140,000 hospital beds and 30,000 ventilators at its "highest point of need" – that is, when coronavirus infections are projected to hit their apex in 14 to 21 days, Cuomo said.

Failure to obtain these ventilators means that patients will need to have air pumped manually into their lungs with a bag valve mask, he said.

"It's a manual ventilator and someone squeezes the bag continuously," Cuomo said. "This looks easy, but if you do this for any length of time, you see how difficult it winds up being."

"This is the alternative if you don't have a ventilator," he said.

New York has already purchased about 3,000 bag valve masks and ordered 4,000 more, according to Cuomo.

"We're even talking about training National Guard people to learn how to operate this device, which is relatively simple to operate, but you need a lot of people to operate this 24 hours a day for each patient," he said.

One person uses a bag valve mask while another alternates with CPR.
BSIP | UIG | Getty Images

"The short answer is 'no, thank you,'" Cuomo said. "If we have to turn to this device on a large-scale basis, that's not an acceptable situation."

The federal government has sent 4,000 ventilators thus far, according to the governor. Though they aren't currently in use, the state is holding them in anticipation of an increase in cases.

"We're planning for the apex and waiting for the critical need," Cuomo said.

Cuomo added that each ventilator costs between $25,000 to $45,000, and the state doesn't want to pay to buy more ventilators than what will be needed at the apex of the outbreak.

"You're talking about a state government that's already, from a position of revenues, in a terrible position because we're not collecting any revenues," Cuomo said. "On a very parochial basis, I don't want to pay for them," he said. 

Hospitals in the state have been experimenting with using one ventilator split between two patients because of the lack of rapidly available ventilators. 

Four more temporary hospitals 

The state will also be adding four more temporary emergency medical facilities, which have been approved by President Donald Trump, the governor said.

One will be located in Brooklyn at the Port Authority Terminal, another at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, a third at the City University of New York's Staten Island campus, and a fourth at the New York Expo Center in the Bronx.

New York has been the epicenter for the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. On Friday, the number of deaths related to COVID-19 topped 500, a dramatic jump from only a day prior. 

The number of fatalities due to coronavirus hit 728 in the Empire State on Saturday, up by more than 200 in a day.

Coronavirus cases are "still doubling, and that's still bad news," Cuomo said at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is setting up a temporary hospital, in New York City on Friday. 

On Friday, Cuomo ordered New York schools to remain closed for an additional two weeks until April 15 as the number of cases continues to rise.