New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday issued a heartfelt plea to health-care workers across the United States, asking them to help the Empire State fight the worst coronavirus outbreak in the nation.
“Help New York. We’re the ones who are hit right now,” Cuomo said during a Monday press conference at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, which has been converted into a makeshift hospital. “This virus does not discriminate. It doesn’t discriminate by age. It doesn’t discriminate by party. It affects all Americans, and what you’re seeing in New York is going to spread across this country.”
“This is a war,” he added.
As the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak in the United States, New York is fighting the pandemic in already overwhelmed hospitals that are facing a shortage of staff and supplies.
To date, more than 1,218 people have died and 66,500 individuals have been infected with the virus in New York, less than a month after the first known infection in the state. Cuomo said Monday that over the last 24 hours, 253 people died across New York State.
“We’ve been behind this virus from day one,” he conceded.
While the COVID-19 cases still account for fewer than 1 percent of the city’s population of 8.6 million, hospitals across the five boroughs have been struggling over the last week to keep up with the influx of patients.
On Monday, Cuomo asked for help to keep up with the staggering numbers of infected patients, promising the Empire State would return the favor whenever it’s over the “bell curve.”
“In this battle, the troops are our healthcare professionals,” Cuomo said. “We need relief. We need relief for nurses working 12-hour shifts. We need relief for doctors. Help us now and we will return the favor.”
“There are no red states or blue states. There are only red, white, and blue states,” he added. “There is no American who is immune to this virus.”
When asked about recent inflammatory comments made by Donald Trump, Cuomo said he’s unafraid to “tangle” with the president but would prefer to put politics aside. He urged Trump to simply “tell the truth” during this life-threatening situation.
“I am not engaging the president in politics, my only goal is to engage the president in partnership,” the governor said. “This is no time for politics.”
He said he thanked Trump on Monday for one piece of desperately needed federal aid: the USNS Comfort—a white naval hospital ship currently equipped with 1,000 beds, 12 operating rooms, a medical laboratory, and over 1,000 officers.
The ship will remain docked in the Hudson River and is expected to treat patients who are not infected by the coronavirus, allowing hospitals already inundated with infected patients to shift their focus to the tidal wave of new cases they receive daily.
The converted supertanker that arrived in Manhattan from Virginia was previously used as a floating base for rescue workers after 9/11—which had a death toll that many medical officials believe will be eclipsed by the pandemic in the coming weeks.
“This is like adding another hospital here in New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday, thanking the federal government and the Navy for working alongside state officials in this “war-time atmosphere.” “It’s such a boost to see the military arrive to help us out. We needed the boost, we needed this hope that’s being created by our brothers and sisters in the U.S. Navy.”
“It’s also about boosting the morale of New Yorkers. Our nation has heard our plea for help, here in New York,” the mayor added.
But at least one NYC doctor on the frontlines is not optimistic the USNS Comfort will be enough to relieve city hospitals overrun with coronavirus cases.
“It’s like putting a band-aid on a firehose,” one NYU Langone doctor told The Daily Beast on Monday. “Doctors, nurses, and hospital staff are all overworked, we all don’t have medical supplies, but we have never experienced anything like this before. We need a lot more than a ship.”
De Blasio reiterated the doctor’s skepticism, stating that while the federal government has finally answered local and state officials’ demands for assistance, the city needs “to triple our hospital bed capacity” by May in order to keep up with the “horrible increase” in deaths, which is expected to reach its peak in May.
“To date, I still fear the worst is not going to be April but actually the beginning of May,” de Blasio said. “I guarantee you that April is going to be exceedingly tough and we have to understand that any projection of things being all OK by Easter, there’s just no way that’s true for New York City.”
The mayor also slammed Donald Trump on Monday, after the president suggested New York medical workers are stealing face masks, calling the suggestion “insulting” and “incredibly insensitive to people right now who are giving their all.”
Cuomo further addressed Trump’s Sunday allegations of “backdoor” funneling, confirming the state is “stockpiling” some medical equipment in order to prepare for the impending peak of the pandemic in New York.
“If you are not preparing for the apex, for the highpoint, then you are missing the whole point of the operation,” Cuomo said, adding it is a “fundamental blunder” to not prepare for the future. “If he wants to make an accusation, then let him make an accusation, but I don’t know what he’s trying to say in inference.”
The push for more equipment is the latest in a series of efforts Cuomo and de Blasio have made to support hospitals across New York City. In addition, Cuomo has extended the state-wide stay-at-home order until at least April 15, and de Blasio has authorized law enforcement to issue fines to those who do not follow social distancing guidelines.
“If you leave the house you are exposing yourself to danger. If you leave the house, you’re exposing others to danger, so stay at home,” Cuomo said Monday. “The public has to be responsible.”
To combat the lack of space, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center has been repurposed as a makeshift 3,000-bed overflow hospital facility and is expected to be opened on Monday. Cuomo has previously said officials are considering transforming dorms and hotels into emergency medical wards.
A section of Central Park is even being used as a field hospital to help house the influx of patients. Mount Sinai Hospital in New York is working with an evangelical Christian aid organization to set up tents in the park that will house 70 regular hospital beds, along with 10 ICU beds, the hospital said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
“Samaritan’s Purse, in partnership with Mount Sinai Health System and intergovernmental agencies, are constructing an Emergency Field Hospital in East Meadow in Central Park to provide care for patients seriously ill with COVID-19,” a hospital spokesperson said in a statement.
Despite these extraordinary measures, hospitals across the city are getting slammed with patients. In one viral video released over the weekend, health-care workers can be seen using forklifts to load patients who died from the virus into refrigerated trucks that have been deployed across the five boroughs.
“This is for real. This is Brooklyn,” one man says in the five-minute clip outside Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene, according to the New York Post. “They’re putting the bodies in the 18-wheeler… this is no joke… this is Brooklyn Hospital.”
The refrigerated trucks have also been placed at Bellevue Hospital, where medical examiner workers are scrambling to construct a makeshift white-tent morgue outside the facility. Elmhurst Hospital Center, a 545-bed public facility in Queens that lost 13 patients within 24 hours last week, also has an “active” refrigerator truck in case of “any overflow,” a city spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Monday more refrigerator trucks are on their way to New York City and the military has deployed 42 additional people to the Manhattan Medical Examiner’s office to help the “desperate need” across the city.
“We are sending refrigeration trucks to New York to help with some of the problems on a temporary basis,” FEMA regional administrator Thomas Von Essen said at a Monday press conference with de Blasio, noting that the agency has not ruled out the idea of turning Madison Square Garden into a temporary mortuary.
Those on the frontlines of this highly infectious virus are suffering crippling anxiety as they help patients without adequate protective equipment. At least two nurses in city hospitals have died after contracting the coronavirus during their shifts.
“We’re putting ourselves in danger, our patients in danger, and our families in danger just by coming to work with the same mask that we used yesterday,” one emergency room nurse told The Daily Beast. “All the guidance we seem to get from our hospitals is ‘wash your hands’ and ‘be safe.’”