Coronavirus Update (March 24): Cuomo: New York is the Canary in the Coal Mine

Pictured Above: Governor Andrew Cuomo at his Tuesday morning press conference at New York City’s Jacob Javits Center, which is being converted into a 1,000-bed hospital by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Update March 26, 11:45 a.m.


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at his Wednesday morning briefing that his staff is seeing hopeful signs that the state’s practice of social distancing is slowing the projected spike in the number of cases in New York, though he did say the state could still need as many as 140,000 hospital beds at the height of the pandemic in the state, which is now anticipated to be in about 21 days.

Mr. Cuomo had pleaded in his Tuesday briefing for more ventilators from the federal government, predicting that peak need could come in as little as 14 days.

He said Wednesday that the state’s figures on Sunday had showed the number of hospitalizations doubling every two days, but that Tuesday’s figures showed the number of hospitalizations doubling just every 4.7 days.

“This is almost too good to be true,” he said, adding that “given the density we’re dealing with, it spreads very quickly but if we reduce the density, we reduce the spread.”

Update March 25, 6:30 p.m.

“Everybody who was in New York should be self-quarantining for the next 14 days to ensure the virus doesn’t spread to others no matter where they have gone, whether it’s Florida, North Carolina or out to far reaches of Long Island,” said White House Coronavirus Task Force Response Coordinator Deborah Birx at a Tuesday evening press briefing. “We’re starting to see new cases across Long Island that suggest people have left the city.”

Updated March 24, 3:15 p.m.:

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the county is working with hospitals here on the “herculean effort” to increase hospital capacity to meet the expected need in his afternoon update to reporters Tuesday.

Mr. Bellone said the county has sent its blue med tent to Stony Brook University Hospital, where it will provide 100 emergency room beds at the hospital to free up space for Covid-19 patients.

Mr. Bellone added that emergency medical service providers have or will soon be receiving a directive from New York State to “initiate viral pandemic triage protocol.”

Mr. Bellone said first responders will now “screen for fever, cough, sore throat, common Covid-19 symptoms, then look at the patient’s age, severity of symptoms and make a determination at the scene whether the patient will need to be transported to the hospital.”

He said that patients who are not deemed qualified to go to the hospital — mostly younger patients with less severe symptoms — will be provided with a hand-out on who to contact if their symptoms worsen.

“Residents shouldn’t be alarmed by this change, but this protocol does indicate we understand the seriousness of this,” he said.

Mr. Bellone added that 17 people have now died from Covid-19 in Suffolk County, and 50 people are currently in intensive care with the disease.

Of the 1,880 confirmed cases in the county as of March 24, 104 were in Southold, 33 were in Riverhead, 24 were in Southampton, 12 were in East Hampton and two were on Shelter Island.

He added that Amneal Pharmaceuticals, which is based in Suffolk County, has donated two million doses of hydroxychloroquine to New York State to be used to treat the virus. Trials of this new treatment were slated to begin in New York today.

“If this is a war, it means we’re all involved, we all have a role to play here,” he said. “Our role is to do everything we can not to transmit this virus.”

“This is why people need to stay home and why they need to isolate,” he added. “The surge that was projected is happening.”

Updated March 24, 2 p.m.:

Vice President Mike Pence said 2,000 ventilators have been shipped to New York by the federal government today, and 2,000 more will be shipped to New York tomorrow in a Fox News town hall forum on the coronavirus Tuesday afternoon.

East End Congressman Lee Zeldin was quick to praise the administration’s efforts, which he said came after he worked with incoming White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on procuring the ventilators.

“As the state hit hardest by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the State of New York desperately needs ventilators to treat its ever-growing number of patients,” said Mr. Zeldin. “This delivery of vital ventilators is incredibly important progress. Throughout this process, the cooperation between the federal, state and local government in New York has served as a model of bipartisan cooperation, and that example continues today.”

Read our ongoing coverage of the coronavirus crisis.

Original Story Follows:

New York’s peak number of Covid-19 cases could be greater and sooner than expected, with a potential need of 140,000 hospital beds in as soon as 14 to 21 days, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his daily press briefing Tuesday morning.

New York had initially believed it would need 110,000 hospital beds at the peak of the crisis, which was already double the state’s capacity.

“New York is the canary in the coal mine. We have the highest and fastest rate of infection,” said Mr. Cuomo, who added that he believes other communities across the United States will face the same difficulties as New York in the upcoming months.

“People in New York do not have a different immune system,” he said. “This started in New York first. We have global travelers, more density, and you will see this in cities across country…. We are just a test case and that’s how the nation should look at it.”

As of Tuesday morning, there were 25,665 positive cases of Covid-19 in New York State, an order of magnitude greater than other hotspots like California, which has 2,800 positive cases, and Washington state, which has 2,200 cases.

Suffolk County had 1,880 of New York’s cases as of Tuesday morning, according to Mr. Cuomo.

Statewide, he said, 3,324 people are currently hospitalized, with 756 in intensive care — 23 percent of the people hospitalized are in intensive care.

Dr. Deborah Leah Birx, who serves as the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said at President Donald Trump’s Monday evening press conference that 28 percent of New Yorkers who were tested for Covid-19 tested positive, while the nationwide average is 8 percent.

Mr. Cuomo said Tuesday morning that the number of positive cases in New York is doubling every three days.

“We’re not flattening the curve. The curve is actually increasing,” he said. “These are troubling and astronomical numbers.”

Mr. Cuomo, who ordered hospitals throughout the state Monday to increase their capacity by 50 percent, said Tuesday that he is encouraging hospitals to attempt to increase their capacity by 100 percent.

He also said the state is looking into using dormitories on SUNY and CUNY campuses to house patients, and could also take over some hotels to meet the demand.

“I will turn this state upside down to get the number of beds we need,” he said.

But, he said, extra beds require extra staffing, and extra equipment, most importantly ventilators required to help patients with severe symptoms breathe.

He said the federal response to New York’s need for ventilators has been “inexplicable,” with FEMA sending 400 ventilators to New York when the state needs 30,000 ventilators, on top of 7,000 the state has already procured.

He urged the administration to release 20,000 ventilators in the federal government’s stockpile, and promised that New York would send the ventilators, equipment and staffing on to other states after New York passes its peak need.

He publicly begged the administration to use the Defense Production Act to require manufacturers to build ventilators now, because they are technical pieces of equipment that take time to build.

“You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you sent us only 400 ventilators,” he said of the federal government. “I don’t need ventilators in six months…. It is now…. As soon as we finish, you move on to the next part of the country with a critical problem.”

Mr. Cuomo was also harshly critical of the federal administration’s desire to reopen the economy, saying that the most intelligent way to start up the economy again would be to test people who may have already had Covid-19 for antibodies that would give them some immunity to the disease, and send those people back to work.

He said this kind of testing is especially critical for health care workers and first responders.

“We believe we’ll find hundreds of thousands of people who have had the coronavirus and resolved,” he said. “We can ramp up the economy with those individuals. [Public health and the economy] can be consistent if done intellegently.”

“But the crisis today is hospital capacity,” he said.

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Read our ongoing coverage of the coronavirus crisis.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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