Coronavirus Update: New York governor warns hospitals could become overwhelmed, calls for fed help

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020
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Dan Krauth has more on the impact of COVID-19 on our hospital systems.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- "The next war is going to be overwhelming our hospital systems," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned on 'Good Morning America' even as the state and New York City took action to curb the spread of novel coronavirus.

Cuomo suggested mobilizing the Army Corps of Engineers to turn facilities such as military bases or college dorms into temporary medical centers.

"You look at any of these projections and you see that coming. When you see that chart of the curve, I see it as a wave and the wave is going to break on the hospital system," he said. "We don't have the capacity to build more hospitals quickly. The only way would be if the Army Corps of Engineers came in, worked with the states to retrofit existing buildings. Take my college dorms. Take my surplus property and retrofit it for more hospital beds, because that is going to be in need."

Cuomo said New York has 50,000 hospital beds and only 3,000 intensive care unit beds.

"These people are going to need the intensive care unit beds. The only hope we have now at this late date, retrofit existing facilities. Get some of the people from the hospitals into those new medical facilities and then back fill the hospital beds with the coronavirus," Cuomo said.

The governor said it's up to the federal government to build and they need to do it quickly.

"This federal government has to get more engaged. There's been no country that has handled this that has not nationalized it," he said. "This patchwork quilt of policies doesn't work. It makes no sense for me to do something in New York and New Jersey to do something else."

Later Monday, President Trump wrote on Twitter that his teleconference call with governors "went very well" but he then quickly turned to attacking NY Gov. Cuomo, saying he has to "do more."

According to the New York Times, President Trump told the governors that they should not wait for the federal government to fill the growing demand for respirators needed to help people diagnosed with coronavirus. Mr. Trump confirmed the report during an afternoon news conference.

"If they can get them faster by getting them on their own -- in other words, go through a supply chain that they may have because, you know, the governors during normal times, the governors buy a lot of things -- not necessarily through federal government, if they are able to give ventilators, respirators -- if they are able to get certain things without having to go through the longer process of federal government," he said. "We have stockpiles now or we're ordering tremendous numbers of ventilators, respirators, masks."

Government and hospital leaders are increasingly sounding the alarm about the hospital system in the U.S. and its readiness to absorb waves of patients in the worst-case scenario involving the new coronavirus outbreak.

Authorities nationwide already are taking major steps to expand capacity with each passing day, building tents and outfitting unused spaces to house patients. They are also urging people to postpone elective surgeries, dental work and even veterinarian care.

Among the biggest concerns is whether there will be enough beds, equipment and staff to handle several large outbreaks simultaneously in multiple cities.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health's infectious diseases chief, said it's critical that steps be taken now to prevent the virus from spreading quickly.

"The job is to put a full-court press on not allowing the worst-case scenario to occur," said Fauci, who appeared Sunday on 'This Week.'

While he does not expect massive outbreaks in the U.S. like those in Italy, he said there is the possibility if it reaches that point that an overwhelming influx of patients could lead to a lack of supplies, including ventilators.

"And that's when you're going to have to make some very tough decisions," Fauci said.


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