NEW YORK — The state started using experimental drugs Tuesday to combat the coronavirus as Gov. Andrew Cuomo implored the federal government to send New York ventilators as the virus peak could hit the state within the next two weeks.
The state’s COVID-19’s apex could hit within the next 14 to 21 days, or sooner than anticipated. Officials said on March 17 the peak was 45 days away.
“We’re doing everything we can on every level to slow the spread, flatten the curve,” Cuomo said during a briefing late Tuesday morning. “We have increased testing to the highest level in the United States, and the highest per capita level on the globe. No one is testing more than we are testing. So, in many ways we have exhausted every option available to us.”
Originally detected in Wuhan, China, in December, the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 has symptoms of cough, fever and shortness of breath. The state had 25,665 positive cases of COVID-19 as of press time Tuesday afternoon, with 210 deaths and 3,234 requiring hospitalization, or about 13%. Of those in the hospital Tuesday, about 23%, or 756 patients are in the intensive care unit.
As the apex approaches, Cuomo said the state is scrambling to fill hospitals with thousands more beds, staff, equipment and ventilators.
The state has 53,000 hospital beds and 3,000 Intensive Care Unit beds. The state will need 140,000 total beds and 40,000 ICU beds to not fall short of expert health projections, Cuomo said, adding hospitals must increase their existing capacity by 100%. All regulations on space have been waived to enable hospitals to meet the goal.
The state is constructing emergency hospitals at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, in Westbury, Stony Brook and the Westchester Convention Center, which will help, Cuomo said, but the state’s biggest need is ventilators.
New York procured 7,000 ventilators as of Tuesday, but needs 30,000 total, Cuomo said. The governor requested Trump invoke the Defense Production Act, which would force companies to produce medical equipment and oversee a fair distribution of supplies.
“The people who will have acute needs, these are people who are under respiratory distress.... They need a ventilator,” Cuomo explained. “The ventilators will make the difference between life and death for these people. We have been working around the clock scouring the globe.”
Officials are experimenting ways to stop the spread of and treat COVID-19, including splitting ventilators so two patients could use one machine. Cuomo called on the federal government to fill in the ventilator and hospital equipment gap to save as many lives as possible before the peak hits.
FEMA is set to give the state 400 additional ventilators, Cuomo said, but that number is not enough.
“The only way we can obtain these ventilators is from the federal government, period,” the governor said. “If we don’t have the ventilators in 14 days it does us no good. I do not for the life of me understand the reluctance to use the federal Defense Production Act... We need the federal help, and we need the federal help now.”
The federal government must prioritize resources to New York, Cuomo said, which has the nation’s largest number of positive COVID-19 cases — about 10 times the infection rate of Washington, New Jersey and California — and the highest number of virus-related deaths to date at 210.
After the apex subsides and the curve flattens, Cuomo said the state will send the ventilators to the state that needs them next.
“Let’s learn from each other and help each other,” Cuomo said. “We get past the apex, we get over that curve, that curve starts to come down... I’ll send ventilators. I’ll send health care workers. I’ll send out professionals who’ve dealt with it and who know, all around the country.”
State hospitals started drug therapy Tuesday to treat the virus. The state Department of Health received the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and antibiotic zithromax accelerated from the federal government, Cuomo said, adding patients will receive the experimental drug therapy immediately.
“The president speaks about and is optimistic about it,” the governor said. “We hope for optimistic results, also.”
The state department of health is also experimenting with taking plasma from previously infected people who have antibodies and injecting it into currently infected patients, and developing a new test to detect COVID-19 antibodies, or to identify people who have had the virus and recovered.
The state will distribute additional medical supplies and equipment to hospitals across New York City, Long Island and Westchester to help front-line health care workers combat COVID-19, according to a statement from Cuomo’s office. The disbursement is in addition to the 1.5 million N-95 masks the state purchased and sent to New York City and Long Island last week.
New York City will receive 169,000 N-95 masks, 430,850 surgical masks, 176,750 gloves, 72,561 gowns and 39,364 face shields. Westchester County will receive 16,988 N-95 masks, 301,595 surgical masks, 17,675 gloves, 72,561 gowns and 3,926 face shields. Long Island will receive 33,976 N-95 masks, 86,170 surgical masks, 35,350 gloves, 14,512 gowns and 7,853 face shields.
The rest of the state will receive 118,916 N-95 masks, 301,595 surgical masks, 123,735 gloves, 50,793 gowns and 27,485 face shields, according to Cuomo’s office.
Greene County had six positive cases of COVID-19, as of Tuesday afternoon. None of the infected people have required hospitalization, according to a statement from Greene County Public Health. As of Tuesday, Columbia County reported 18 positive cases, according to the Columbia County health department’s website, with 82 under mandatory quarantine and 76 under precautionary isolation. Five residents have suspected, but not tested cases of the virus.
To date, the virus has been detected in 48 counties and New York City. New York City has 14,904 cases; Westchester County, 3,891; Nassau County, 2,869; Suffolk County, 1,880; Rockland County, 671; Orange County, 498; Albany County, 146; Dutchess County, 124; Erie County, 107; Monroe County, 96; Saratoga County, 53; Onondaga County, 52; Putnam County, 45; Schenectady County, 44; Ulster County, 35; Sullivan County, 23; Rensselaer County, 29; Columbia County, 18; Tompkins County, 15; Niagara County, 10; Broome and Oneida counties, 7; Clinton, Ontario, Greene and Wayne counties, 6; Herkimer, Madison, Steuben and Wyoming counties, 4; 3 cases each in Chenango, Delaware, Essex, Livingston, Montgomery and Washington counties; Allegany, Cayuga, Cortland, Hamilton, Jefferson and Warren counties, 2; and 1 each in Fulton, Genesee, Otsego, Oswego, Schoharie, St. Lawrence and Tioga counties.
Albany County has 136 confirmed cases of COVID-19, County Executive Dan McCoy said in an updated statement Tuesday — up from 122 positive cases Tuesday. The cases span a range of ages and professions, McCoy said, including a 7-year-old and an Albany County Sheriff’s deputy.
State agencies continue to work with local and federal officials to slow the spread of the illness by ensuring non-essential businesses remain closed, reducing density of people on the street and increasing testing, Cuomo said.
The governor reiterated that the virus continues to target the nation’s high-risk population: The elderly and those with compromised immune systems or underlying conditions.
“Eighty-percent are going to self-resolve... It’s 1% or 2% of the population, but it’s not about that,” Cuomo said. “It’s lives — it’s grandmothers and grandfathers and sisters and brothers. And they’re precious.”