With virus cases expected to peak soon, NY looks to double available hospital beds

Photo by Darren McGee, Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces that state officials are making plans to drastically increase the number of available hospital beds, necessary amid the coronavirus outbreak that has hit New York the hardest in the country.

State officials are making plans to drastically increase the number of available hospital beds in New York and recruit more medical professionals to prepare for the coming peak of coronavirus cases, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.

The Governor’s Office is working with FEMA, the National Guard, the Army Corp of Engineers, and building trades unions to identify and modify existing buildings that can be converted to medical facilities amid the rising coronavirus outbreak. 

Additionally, former doctors and nurses will be recruited to help, and recruiters will be looking to medical schools and nursing schools to find additional personnel.

Right now the hospitalization rate for those with the coronavirus is 15 to 19 percent, or 264 out of 1,374 cases. Cuomo said the state will need to double the number of available hospital beds currently available — from 53,000 to an estimated 110,000 within 45 days.

“Everyone has talked about the height and the speed of the curve and flattening the curve,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “I said that the curve is going to turn into a wave, and the wave is going to crash on the hospital system.”

Statewide, there are 3,000 intensive care beds equipped with ventilators and additional equipment needed to treat those with COVID-19. Eighty percent of those are already occupied. Officials estimate New York will need to increase the number of ICU beds to between 18,000 and 37,000 beds.

“Our main priority right now is reducing the rate of spread of this virus so it can be managed by our health care system,” Cuomo said. “I am taking executive action to reconfigure and increase capacity at hospitals across the state to ensure our healthcare facilities can handle a potentially massive surge of patients.”

Existing buildings such as dormitories and former nursing homes, for example, will be modified to be temporary hospitals. This would potentially allow for 9,000 additional beds in the state. The governor has asked local governments to assist in identifying buildings that are capable of being converted into medical facilities. 

President of the Greater New York Hospital Association, Ken Raske, and President of Northwell Health, Michael Dowling, will lead a committee to develop new hospital surge capacity limits while normal regulations are suspended, which was ordered by the State Department of Health. This will allow for more space in current hospitals. 

“This is not about how you normally do business; frankly, forget the economics,” Cuomo said. “What is the maximum number of people we can get into your hospital?”

Cuomo also announced the need for more hospital staff. Retired staff and medical students are being asked to step up during the hospital capacity surge.

After the success of the New Rochelle mobile testing center, which opened on March 13, Cuomo authorized Staten Island, Rockland County, Nassau County and Suffolk County to open drive-through facilities as well. The drive-through centers will help test more people per day and keep those who are sick out of healthcare facilities where they could infect other people.

“It’s critical to expand testing in a manner that doesn’t overwhelm our hospitals and healthcare providers,” said Congressman Max Rose, D-Staten Island. “Drive-through testing is a proven way to do that and I thank the Governor working with us to make Staten Island be the first site in the city.”

Cuomo has taken several other measures to help New York state deal with the outbreak appropriately. On Monday, the governor directed that nonessential employees from across the state work from home starting today, March 17. Along with this, local governments should reduce their overall workforce by 50 percent.

Counties where schools are closed by the governor’s order (Westchester, New York City, Nassau and Suffolk) were required to submit childcare and meal plans for state approval to ensure that no child is suffering amid the outbreak.

Last night all restaurants and bars were mandated to temporarily suspend on-premise services and a 50 person crowd capacity limit was announced, although now it is advised to not congregate with more than ten people.

New containment measures are expected to keep evolving over the next few days and weeks.

New York state is the most impacted state in the country. As of March 17, 10,049 people have been tested in the state with 1,374 positive cases, 432 of those cases are new. Clinton and Rensselaer counties are seeing their first cases on Tuesday. 

He stressed that New York state and the federal government need to work together to get through the crisis, adding that President Trump and members of his administration have been in regular contact over the last several days.  

“We’re not Democrats, we’re not Republicans,” said Cuomo in this unprecedented time. “We are Americans at the end of the day. That is who we are. That is who we are when we are at our best.”