New York’s governor warned Tuesday that the coronavirus could peak in his state of 19.5 million residents in early April – sooner than initially expected.
“The rate of cases, of new infections, is doubling about every three days,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters. “That is a dramatic increase in the rate of infection.”
The U.S. state currently has more than 25,000 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, totaling more than half the cases in the entire United States.
Cuomo said that despite drastic measures to slow the spread of the virus – including virtually shutting down the state to all but essential functions – it is not slowing and is accelerating on its own.
“We were looking at a freight train coming across the country,” is how Cuomo said one expert described it to him. “We are now looking at a bullet train, because the numbers are going up that quickly.”
The governor spoke to reporters at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. The sprawling complex that is normally home to trade shows and annual events such as ComicCon is being converted into four 250-bed hospitals by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Cuomo welcomed the help, but warned that the state will need even more hospital beds than initially projected.
New York has 53,000 regular beds and 3,000 intensive care unit ones. Officials have been saying for the past week that hospital capacity needs to increase to 110,000 beds. Cuomo raised that projection on Tuesday to 140,000 regular beds and approximately 40,000 intensive care unit beds. The ICU beds would be the ones equipped with ventilators.
“Those are troubling and astronomical numbers and … are higher numbers than had been previously projected,” Cuomo said.
On Monday, he signed an order directing hospitals to expand their capacity by 50%, but his goal is 100% where possible.
Appeal for federal assistance
The urgency of the situation was made clear by the governor’s tone.
For the past week, Cuomo has gone out of his way to strike a conciliatory tone with the White House, but on Tuesday he unleashed his anger and frustration with what he sees as a too-slow and ineffective response from the federal government, especially on the state’s request for thousands of ventilators for the sickest patients.
“The federal government has 20,000 ventilators or thereabouts in the federal stockpile,” Cuomo said. “You have 20,000 ventilators in the stockpile; release the ventilators to New York. How can we be in a situation where you can have New Yorkers possibly dying because they can’t get a ventilator, but a federal agency saying, ‘I’m going to leave the ventilators in the stockpile.’ Have we really come to that point?”
Cuomo described New York and its virus response as the test case for the rest of the nation.
“Where we are today, you will be in three weeks or four weeks or five weeks or six weeks,” he said. “We are your future, and what we do here will chart the course for what we do in your city and in your community.”
He said New York would send the federal ventilators to other states as their cases peak and his state stabilizes, as well as deploy health care workers and experts to share the information they have learned in tackling the crisis.
“Let’s help each other,” he said. “After the curve breaks in New York, let’s all rush to whoever is second, and then let’s all rush to whoever is third, and let’s learn from each other and help each other.”
Cuomo also indirectly criticized President Donald Trump’s remarks on Monday about lifting restrictions soon to get the economy moving. While Cuomo has said he is planning for a restart of his own state’s economy, he cautioned that you cannot accelerate the economy at the cost of human life.
“Job One has to be save lives,” he said.
The governor urged refining the public health strategy into one that is also an economic strategy.
He said his team would be looking at testing people to who have recovered from the virus to see if they possess antibodies to make them immune from the illness, as well as young people who are less affected by the virus.
He said those individuals would be the ones to be in the frontline of ramping the state’s economy back up, while protecting vulnerable populations.
“Don’t make us choose between a smart health strategy and a smart economic strategy,” Cuomo said. “We can do both and we must do both.”