As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus continues to surge in New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is demanding that New York hospitals increase their bed capacity by 50% and that all registered nurses in the state sign up to treat COVID-19 patients.
Right now, New York state has 53,000 available hospital beds, but they’re expected to need up to 110,00. Currently, the state has just 3,000 beds available in intensive care units, when patients may need as many as 18,000.
“Find more beds, use more rooms,” Cuomo urged hospitals, during a Monday press conference. “You must increase your capacity 50%.”
He also urged hospitals to double their bed capacity entirely, though he acknowledged that such a goal may be out of reach. Still, he said, “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say, ‘Try.’”
There are now 20,875 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York state, the majority of which are now in New York City. More than 5,700 new coronavirus cases were confirmed since Cuomo’s Sunday press conference.
Those numbers are far higher than in any other state: New Jersey, the state with the next highest number of cases, has just over 1,000. However, Cuomo cautioned that many of those new cases are due to New York’s extensive testing effort, which now makes up a quarter of all testing being done in the United States.
“I see it as a wave that will break at one point. And the question is, ‘What is the point of the break?’” Cuomo said. “When the wave breaks, does it crash over the health care system?”
“We cannot handle the wave at the high point,” he added. “The wave has to come down.”
So far, about 13% of those COVID-19 patients have landed in the hospital. Of those, 24% — or roughly 600 people — ended up in the ICU. To treat the oncoming onslaught of patients, Cuomo is asking the federal government to help build four field hospitals. One will run out of Manhattan’s sprawling Jacob Javits Convention Center, which will hold 1,000 beds.
Hospitals in New York City have already reported that they are overwhelmed by COVID-19 and are now facing shortages of the personal protective equipment they need to safely treat patients. Some have started resorting to desperate measures: Though face masks are typically meant to be used just once, New York City hospital workers told the New York Times that they’ve started reusing their masks for up to a week, in the hopes that a generous coating of sanitizer will keep them safe.
Fearing that hospital personnel will also start to dwindle as the coronavirus spreads, New York City issued guidance last week urging health care providers to come to work as long as they’re not sick. Previously, providers had been quarantining themselves if they’d been exposed to the coronavirus. Research suggests that the coronavirus can be spread even if someone is asymptomatic.
Cuomo has asked all licensed and registered health care providers to “enlist” to help treat COVID-19 patients, though his executive order will potentially cement that requirement for nurses.
So far, roughly 30,000 providers have responded to his call to enlist, Cuomo said Monday.
Providers across New York state can also expect to start receiving new supplies of personal protective equipment, including N95 and surgical masks, gowns, and gloves, Cuomo said. More than 339,000 N95 masks, which filter out airborne particulates, and 861,000 surgical masks will be delivered.
“There is no one in this state today who can say legitimately, ‘I cannot get a mask,” Cuomo said. “We can get masks to anyone who needs them and gowns. I can’t promise you next week or the week thereafter.”
Cover: A medical worker speaks with patients at a COVID-19 testing station at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Monday, March 23, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)