A 'bullet train' of COVID-19 headed for New York, governor warns

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sounded his most dire warning yet about the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, saying the infection rate in his state is accelerating and the state could be as close as two weeks away from a crisis that sees 40,000 people in intensive care.

Such a surge would overwhelm hospitals, which now have just 3,000 intensive care unit beds statewide.

The rate of new infections, Cuomo said, is doubling about every three days. While officials once projected the peak in New York would come in early May, they now say it could come in two to three weeks.

“We are not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own,” he said, during a briefing at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. “One of the forecasters said to me we were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We’re now looking at a bullet train.”

New York officials have been racing to essentially double their hospital capacity to up to 110,000 beds. Cuomo now said there could be a peak need of 140,000 beds.

There were more than 25,000 positive cases in New York state and at least 210 deaths, according to state figures. Most of the cases and deaths have been in New York City, an emerging worldwide hotspot in the outbreak.

‘Nowhere near’ enough beds

New York officials are planning to add at least 1,000 temporary hospital beds at the Javits Center for non-COVID-19 patients and thousands of beds elsewhere. But Cuomo said “they’re nowhere near” the number that will be needed. The state also faces shortages of ventilators and protective equipment for medical workers.

New York has 7,000 ventilators. Cuomo called for a national push to send ventilators to New York now, saying the city alone needs 20,000 of them in a matter of weeks. He said the equipment could then be redeployed to different areas once the peak passes in New York.

Cages of ventilators, part of a shipment of 400, arrived Tuesday at the New York City Emergency Management Warehouse. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

“I will take personal responsibility for transporting the 20,000 ventilators anywhere in this country that they want, once we are passed our apex,” Cuomo said. “But don’t leave them sitting in a stockpile.”

Cuomo was referring to the Strategic National Stockpile — a repository of billions of dollars worth of medical supplies overseen by the federal government, to assist states in the event of a mass public health emergency. The Trump administration has been doling out some supplies, but states including New York have complained the shipments have fallen far short of the need.

Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and president of the New York-based Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said that ventilators — about the size of two old VCR machines — are certainly portable. But he said there would need to be a regional or national co-ordinator of medical products “to make sure that the goods needed are where they need to be.”

Cuomo balked at President Donald Trump’s call to loosen COVID-19 restrictions like social distancing and get people back to work and everyday activities soon — possibly in a few weeks.

A view of a nearly empty Times Square, which is usually very crowded on a weekday morning, on Monday. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump said from the Rose Garden on Tuesday. Easter falls on April 12 this year.

Cuomo said the American people would choose public health over the economy.

“No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,” he said.

Cuomo has also called on the administration to nationalize the medical supply chain and use the Defense Production Act to force private companies to produce needed supplies.

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