State COVID-19 cases to reach peak in 2-3 weeks, Cuomo says

Updated: Mar. 24, 2020 at 6:13 PM EDT
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NEW YORK (WWNY) - New York state will reach its peak of COVID-19 cases in two or three weeks and new projections say the need for hospital beds and medical equipment will be much higher than originally thought.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave that grim news at a news conference Tuesday morning at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City, where the Army Corps of Engineers has set up an emergency hospital.

The governor said the rate of cases is doubling about every three days and that puts the peak about 14 to 21 days away.

Despite closing all but essential businesses and restricting the size of gatherings, the rate continues to increase.

“We’re not slowing it and it’s accelerating on its own,” he said.

Originally, the projected need was 110,000 hospital beds, 30,000 of which would be intensive care. The new projection places the need at 140,000 beds overall, 40,000 in ICUs.

The state currently has 53,000 beds, 3,000 of which are in ICUs.

“We are exercising all options as aggressively as we can” to slow the spread, the governor said. “We haven’t flattened the curve and the curve is actually increasing.”

He said state university dormitories and hotels may be pressed into use. But then, he said, comes the challenge of staffing.

“We’re calling and contacting all retirees in the health care field; we’re calling all professionals in the health care field, whether or not they work in a hospital. They can work in an insurance company, a clinic or whatever. But we want to enlist as many staff as we can and as many backup staff,” said Cuomo.

Along with the need for space is the need for equipment, especially ventilators.

Cuomo says the federal government has yet to enact the Defense Production Act, which could force companies to manufacture products that are needed.

“Only the federal government has that power and not to exercise that power is inexplicable to me,” Cuomo said.

But even if ventilator production starts right now, it could be too late.

“If we don’t have the ventilators in 14 days,” he said, “it does us no good.”

The governor said the state has found 7,000 ventilators, well short of the 40,000 it’s projected to need.

He noted that the federal government has stockpiled 20,000 units, which could be sent to each state as its need arises.

At this point, he said, New York – with nearly 10 times the confirmed cases as any other state – has the greatest need.

“Deploy the ventilators here in New York for our apex and then, after the apex passes here, once we’re past that critical point, deploy the ventilators to the other parts of the country where they are needed," said Cuomo.

Some reports Tuesday quoted Vice President Mike Pence as saying the federal government planned to send 4,000 ventilators to New York state in the next two days.

The state now has more than 25,000 confirmed cases, compared with 2,800 in California, and 2,200 in Washington, the next two highest states.

The governor has mandated that hospitals increase their capacity by 50 percent and has asked them to try for 100 percent. But even doubling their capacity won’t be enough, he said.

The emergency hospital at the Javits Center and ones under construction at Westbury, Stony Brook, and the Westchester Convention Center “will be helpful,” he said, “but they’re nowhere near the number of beds that we’re going to need.”

He said he is also looking at placing beds in state university dormitories and is talking to hotel owners taking over their facilities.

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

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