More people in New York State have died in the last 24 hours than in most of March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday—but the Empire State, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., is still struggling to find enough medical equipment to combat the pandemic.
“The curve continues to go up,” Cuomo said at a Friday briefing in Albany, adding that, in the last day, the state saw its “highest single increase in the number of deaths since we started.” “New York is in crisis," he said. "Help New York.”
More than 2,935 people have died and 102,863 people have been infected with the virus in New York State, marking 562 deaths in a single day on Thursday. The state’s death toll has almost doubled in just three days, Cuomo said. In the 27 days after the state's first coronavirus case was confirmed on March 1, 366 New Yorkers died.
New York accounts for almost 50 percent of 6,069 virus-related deaths nationwide. At least 245,658 individuals across the country have been infected with COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker.
The daily surge speaks to a nationwide problem: while state governments are working to get ahead of the virus, hospitals across the nation are overwhelmed, understaffed, and short on supplies necessary to combat the flu-like virus.
The shortage has caused several states to bid against each other for purchase supplies from China. In New York, projections state that the apex of infections could come anytime between one week and a month from now. Those same projections suggest the virus could continue to plague New York until August, Cuomo said.
“No state can get the supplies they need. No state can get the PPE they need. No state can get the ventilators they need,” Cuomo said. “The market has literally collapsed.”
Cuomo begged on Friday for New York manufacturers to start making gowns, gloves, and N95 masks. In an attempt to combat the shortage, Cuomo said Friday he will authorize the National Guard to borrow and redistribute ventilators and other personal protective equipment (PPE) from hospitals across the state—an attempt to put a band-aid on medical facilities hemorrhaging with too many patients. The equipment, which Cuomo said he would pay for as well, will be eventually given back to the hospitals.
The executive order comes one day after Cuomo said the state stockpile of supplies only had enough ventilators to last six days at the “current burn rate.” Over the last 24 hours, the trajectory of daily hospitalizations hit a new record, with 1,427 more people admitted and 335 new ICU patients.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also said Friday the city is expected to run out of ventilators by Tuesday.
“I’m not going to let people die,” Cuomo said. “I’m not going to get into a situation where I know we are running out of ventilators and we could have people dying because there are no ventilators, but there are hospitals in other parts of the state that have ventilators that they’re not using.”
Cuomo said he’d asked the federal government for help in obtaining more ventilators, stating that it was unacceptable for doctors to be forced to split one ventilator between two patients or use other machines as short-term fixes.
So far, state officials have already taken extraordinary steps to combat the pandemic. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, originally converted into a makeshift, 3,000-bed overflow hospital facility to alleviate overcrowding, will now be fully dedicated to COVID-19 patients, Cuomo said.
The USNS Comfort—a naval ship with 1,000 beds, 12 operating rooms, a medical laboratory, and over 1,000 officers—docked in Manhattan on Monday and is now the only facility meant to relieve hospitals of non-coronavirus patients. As of Thursday, Cuomo said the converted supertank once used after 9/11 has only treated 20 patients.
“I’m going to speak to the secretary of defense,” Cuomo said when asked about the ship’s low admission rate. “I know they’re not taking COVID-positive patients. But they said that from day one, to be fair.”
Central Park has also been transformed into a field hospital to help house COVID-19 patients, and construction has begun on a 350-bed facility at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens for patients without the virus.
City officials have also increased the number of mobile morgues. As of Thursday, 45 refrigerated trucks have been set up across the five boroughs, some of which are already full, as morgues and funeral homes struggle to find space and time to keep up with the mounting bodies.
New York doctors and nurses on the frontlines of the pandemic have previously told The Daily Beast they are “constantly stressed” about working for an overwhelmed hospital system without the proper supplies to protect themselves and those around them.
On Friday, several terrified city nurses protested outside Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan to demand more supplies to help them combat the daily surge of cases.
“Here we are, against the worst enemy, because this one we can’t see,” Diana Torres, a nurse, told the New York Daily News. “We can’t touch it. It’s killing us all. And we have nothing to fight with.” Sasha Winslow, a 9-year nursing veteran, stood next to Torres outside the entrance with a sign states: “We won’t be your bodybags.”
And New Yorkers may still be confused about what precautionary steps to take against the coronavirus on Friday after New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said no data suggests that wearing masks, scarves, or bandanas while outside will protect people against infection.
The statement directly contradicts guidance from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—and expected guidance from President Donald Trump—that all residents should wear masks to prevent contracting and spreading the highly contagious virus.
“The masks couldn’t hurt unless they gave a wearer a false sense of security,” Cuomo said.