Gov. Andrew Cuomo has dropped a bombshell on New Yorkers: the entire state could run out of ventilators within the next six days.
Cuomo made the announcement Thursday after dispatching 400 of the life-saving machines to New York City hospitals, as well as 200 more to hospitals and facilities in suburban counties.
“Right now, we have a burn rate of about six days in the stockpile,” Cuomo said during the press conference. “We have extraordinary measures in place that can make a difference if we run into a real ventilator shortage,” Cuomo added.
According to Cuomo, only 2,200 ventilators remain in the state’s stockpile, and that an additional 350 of the life-saving machines a day are needed to save critically ill coronavirus-stricken patients.
“If that rate continues, in our stockpile we have about six days,” Cuomo said, adding that once the apex increases, New York will have an issue with ventilators.
“If a person comes in and needs a ventilator and you don’t have one, the person dies. That’s the blunt equation here.”
Cuomo added that he and the rest of the state’s officials are working on “extraordinary measures” to handle the ventilator problem before the state’s stockpile burns out, such as looking for more ventilators around the world that the state government can purchase.
“I can say with confidence we have researched every possibility, every idea,” Cuomo said. “Every measure you can possibly take to find ventilators, this state has done. That I can promise you.”
State officials are also looking into the possibility of using anesthesia machines as ventilators, as well as the “splitting” of hospitals’ existing ventilator tubes so two patients can use one machine at once. In addition, the state is looking to convert Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure, or BiPAP machines, into ventilators. BiPAP machines are normally used to help people with sleep apnea and are not considered as critical-care machines.
Cuomo also implored those in the manufacturing sector to pivot to producing medical equipment like gowns for PPEs. “We will pay a premium,” the governor assured business owners.
In his address, Cuomo noted one other thing: New York is on its own.
“The federal government is very aware of our situation. I don’t think the federal government is in the position to provide ventilators to the extent needed by the nation,” he stated, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if the White House didn’t have enough of the machines in their stockpile to provide for the communities that need them.
Medical practitioners are starting to feel the pressure as they are forced to make life-and-death decisions, Art Fougner, a medical doctor and president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, said in a statement addressing New York’s glaring ventilator shortage.
According to Fougner, if the pandemic does not let up, and if New York’s stock of ventilators doesn’t get replenished, its current crop of doctors might end up with grave cases of depression and other mental health issues.
“For sure, we will be seeing increasing depression and PTSD that will eclipse today’s physician burnout,” Fougner said, in reference to stories of physicians being told to use their judgment in deciding who should be hooked up to a ventilator.
In addition, Fougner advised medical centers and their physicians that in the absence of clear orders from the state health department, they should refer to the state Department of Health’s 2015 guidelines on ventilator allocation, which were written to help hospitals decide who should get ventilators in the event of an influenza pandemic.
As per the guidelines, doctors should prioritize patients for whom ventilator therapy would most likely be lifesaving.
“At this point, the most difficult decisions facing physicians will have to be made,” Fougner explained. “Already, some emergency physicians are reporting being told the equivalent of ‘Use your best judgment. You’re on your own.'”
Addressing the lack of vital machinery in both state and city levels, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked New Yorkers to wear masks or even just a simple homemade face covering when they go outside, in a bid to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
“When you put on that face covering, you’re protecting everyone else,” he urged the public at a meeting, Thursday.
According to de Blasio, these face coverings could be a scarf or a bandanna or anything homemade, but it should not be a surgical mask, as these are badly needed by frontline medical workers.
“When you think of masks, you think of what our health care workers and first responders need and those precious supplies that we’re bringing in, those PPEs, that’s for them and all those people at the front line who need it,” de Blasio explained.
De Blasio’s recommendation was backed up by New York City health officials.
Oxiris Barbot, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Health, said that cloth coverings and face masks would work for the general population, just as long as they cover the face and mouth.
Barbot stressed, however, that masks are not, in any way, a replacement for social distancing.
The city government’s new recommendation came after the CDC published a report that looked at how presymptomatic or asymptomatic carriers could spread SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
As detailed in the report, the researchers found that asymptomatic carriers, despite feeling healthy, could pose a threat to disease control.
“These findings also suggest that to control the pandemic it might not be enough for only persons with symptoms to limit their contact with others because persons without symptoms might transmit infection,” the CDC researchers wrote on their report.
As of press time, COVID-19 has claimed over 8,000 lives and infected more than 300,000 people in the United States.