New York Is Still Scrambling to Find Enough Hospital Beds for Its Coronavirus Patients

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is having to get creative.
March 25, 2020, 5:44pm
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference against a backdrop of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Mi

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is scrambling to figure out a way to come up with all the beds that New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, will need to treat the oncoming wave of patients — and he’s got the math to prove it.

Right now, New York has about 53,000 hospital beds and 3,000 beds in intensive care units (ICU). But the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to climb every day: As of Wednesday morning, more than 30,000 people had tested positive for the coronavirus. And by the time the pandemic retreats, Cuomo projects that the state will need as many as 140,000 hospital beds and 40,000 ICU beds.

“In life, you do what you have to do,” Cuomo said. “And that’s what we’re doing on the bed capacity.”

Earlier this week, Cuomo declared that all New York hospitals must increase their bed capacity by 50%, though he urged them to double their capacity entirely. Cuomo had also cancelled all nonessential surgeries and procedures, which will open up some beds that can be dedicated to COVID-19 patients. But simply increasing that capacity won’t be enough to get New York the number of beds it needs — it will only bump up the number of beds to about 80,000.

So Cuomo is getting creative.

  • If some hospitals do double their beds, that will get New York another 5,000 beds.
  • If dormitories, hotels, and nursing homes are converted into hospitals, New York will be able to add at least another 29,000 beds to its total. Though the exact number of beds available in hotels and nursing homes remains a mystery, Cuomo estimates that all of these added beds will amount to at least 119,000 — still far short of the 140,000 benchmark.
  • The federal government is aiding that effort. With the aid of FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, New York state is setting up four new field hospitals, including one in Manhattan’s sprawling Jacob Javits Convention Center. That center alone could hold 1,000 beds, while the other three new hospitals will contribute a total of 3,000 beds.
  • The USNS Comfort, a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship, will be docked in New York City’s harbor.

For the purposes of the pandemic, Cuomo said, any bed that comes with a ventilator counts as an ICU. But New York state is still woefully short on ventilators: Right now, the state has 4,000 ventilators in its system and has purchased 7,000 more.

It needs a total of 30,000 ventilators, according to Cuomo.

But Cuomo also had some good news to share: The rate of hospitalization is declining. On Sunday, it was doubling every two days. By Tuesday, it was doubling only every 4.7 days.

“Now that is almost too good to be true,” Cuomo said. “These projections, I’ve watched them bounce all over the place, and I don’t place a great deal of stock in any one projection.”

“But this is a very good sign and a positive sign.”

Cuomo credited that decline to the severe measures that New York state has taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which include banning all non-essential gatherings, mandating that all non-essential businesses have 100% of their employees work from home, and requiring people to stay six feet away from one another in public.

But while the hospitalization rate remains relatively low — just about 13% of all cases land patients in the hospital — Cuomo revealed in his Tuesday press conference that the rate of cases continues to surge and doubles every two days.

“We haven’t flattened the curve, and the curve is actually increasing,” he told reporters at the time.

A day ago, Cuomo also bashed the federal government for not doing enough to help New York get the ventilators it needs. While President Donald Trump has invoked the federal Defense Production Act (DPA), which allows the feds to tell private companies to prioritize government manufacturing orders — such as an order to make more masks.

On Tuesday, Cuomo had slammed the federal government repeatedly for not taking full advantage of the federal law and demanding that more companies immediately make medical supplies. But by Wednesday, Cuomom had taken a 180-degree turn after apparently speaking with the White House.

“The president and his team, I think, are using the DPA well,” Cuomo said.

“No one has these ventilators and no one ever anticipated a situation where you would need this number of ventilators to deal with a public health emergency,” he added. “So we have purchased everything that can be purchased. We’re now in a situation where we’re trying to accelerate production of these ventilators, and a ventilator is a complicated piece of equipment.”

Cover: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference against a backdrop of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)