New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sounded a dire alarm for his state on Tuesday, saying coronavirus cases are increasing exponentially and options for flattening the curve have already been exhausted.
As New York continued to be the epicenter of the crisis, with more than half of all national cases, Cuomo said he didn’t agree with suggestions from President Donald Trump and conservative commentators on Monday that the economy might need to be prioritized over the lives of those vulnerable to the flu-like virus.
“My mother is not expendable and your mother is not expendable and our brothers and sisters are not expendable and we’re not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable and we’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life,” he said, adding that the “stay-at-home” order he passed for New York last week was named after his mother, Matilda.
He said he understood Trump’s argument that the economy can’t be shut down indefinitely but a public health strategy could be synonymous with an economic strategy if people were rigorously tested and then recovered individuals and low-risk people were allowed to return to work.
“You can do both but not in a clumsy, ham-handed way. ‘Well, we’ll just sacrifice old people, they’re old people anyway and the old get left behind.’ What is this? Some modern Darwinian theory of natural selection? You can’t keep up so the band is going to leave you behind?”
He said he thought most Americans would not choose the economy over public health. “No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life. Because no American is going to say how much a life is worth. Job One has to be ‘save lives.’”
More than 90,000 tests had been done in New York by Tuesday, resulting in 25,665 positive cases, of which 3,234 were hospitalized. A quarter of those in hospital were in ICUs.
The rate of new infections were increasing two-fold every three days, with an apex predicted to hit in 14 to 21 days, Cuomo said on Tuesday. The predicted apex is both higher and sooner than previously thought.
“That is a dramatic increase,” Cuomo said in a somber briefing, adding that the increases were no longer akin to a freight train but “a bullet train.”
“Those are troubling and astronomical numbers,” he said. “We haven’t flattened the curve, and the curve is actually increasing.”
The governor said every option for flattening the curve—like shutting down non-essential businesses and increasing testing—had been exhausted and the most promising option left was to increase hospital beds.
Despite four temporary hospitals being set up in convention centers and university halls, and existing hospitals being asked to increase capacity by 100 percent, the state would not meet the 140,000 new hospital beds required, he said—a huge increase on the 53,000 current beds. New York is looking at converting SUNY and CUNY dorms and New York hotels into hospitals, too.
“I will turn this state upside down to get the number of beds we need but we need the staff for those beds.”
The governor appeared furious as he accused the federal government of keeping much-needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) in the federal stockpile at the expense of New Yorkers’ lives.
“How can you 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 a stockpile?” he said. “I mean, have we really come to that point?”
New York had procured 7,000 ventilators but needed 30,000, he said. There were no more available on international markets and FEMA had offered to send just 400 out of 20,000 held in the Strategic National Stockpile—a repository of pharmaceuticals and medical products for use in a public-health emergency.
Vice President Mike Pence responded about an hour later on Fox News, saying another 2,000 ventilators had been deployed to New York from the national stockpile on Tuesday morning, and another 2,000 would be deployed on Wednesday.
“We have a ways to go yet,” he said. “It’s the reason why we are marshaling all the resources, not just from the national stockpile but from our existing supply in hospitals, and the equipment that can be converted.”
Trump punched back at Cuomo during a Fox News interview on Tuesday, appearing to reference a report on right-wing opinion site Gateway Pundit that cited claims by former New York Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey that Cuomo declined to buy 16,000 ventilators in 2015.
“He shouldn’t be talking about us. He’s supposed to buying his own ventilators,” Trump said. “We’re gonna help... we’re building him four hospitals, we’re building him four medical centers, we’re working very, very hard for the people of New York... and then I watch him complaining.”
New York hospitals were hooking two people up to one ventilator, which was difficult and experimental, Cuomo said Tuesday, adding that it made sense for ventilators to be sent to the epicenter first, then recycled and sent to other cities as their cases begin to spike.
“New York is the canary in the coalmine,” he said. “What happens to New York is going to wind up happening to California and Washington state and Illinois, it’s just a matter of time... Deal with the issue here first.”
He said hospitals in New York were starting to test the use of hydroxychloroquine and zithromax on Tuesday, an anti-malaria drug touted by Trump as a possible treatment for COVID-19 symptoms.