Cuomo: Virus catastrophe looms without more gear

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a media conference Tuesday in front of a stack of medical supplies at the Jacob K.  Javits Convention Center, which will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.Associated Press 

ALBANY — With the rate of COVID-19 infections accelerating and more than 25,000 New Yorkers infected, Gov. Cuomo warned the state will soon run out of ventilators for intensive care patients.

New York now has 3,325 people hospitalized after testing positive for the virus, with a death toll that has hit 210, Cuomo told reporters Tuesday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.

“The apex is higher than we thought and the apex is sooner than we thought,” Cuomo said. “And that is a bad combination of facts. We’re not slowing it, and it is accelerating on its own.”

The peak number of infections is expected to hit the state in 14 to 21 days, Cuomo said. He urged the Trump administration to respond immediately to New York’s urgent need for more ventilators.

While New York has just acquired 7,000 more ventilators, it needs an additional 30,000 of the devices used by intensive care patients, the governor said. Cuomo said New Yorkers will die if a federal government stockpile of 20,000 ventilators is not made available to New York health care facilities.

He called on President Donald Trump to use his powers under the Defense Production Act to order companies to make the ventilators, though he acknowledged the production of new machines could take weeks.

“If we don’t have the ventilators in 14 days, it does us no good,” Cuomo said. “Not to exercise that power is inexplicable to me.”

About an hour after Cuomo offered his criticisms, Vice President Mike Pence assured a Fox News interviewer New York was getting 2,000 ventilators from the government later Tuesday, with another 2,000 slated to arrive Wednesday.

In Washington, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, urged anyone who has left the New York City region recently to quarantine for 14 day as a way to curb the spread, “no matter where they have gone.” Her announcement marked the first time Americans traveling within the country were told to put themselves in quarantine.

Cuomo, in recent days, has urged the public to remain calm, offering reassurances that business closures are a temporary inconvenience and suggesting social distancing mandates offer an opportunity for people to walk in state parks. He has also President Trump’s leadership during the crisis.

But New York’s desperate need for ventilators and equipment set the stage for a more insistent tone from the governor Tuesday.

“The president said it’s a war,” Cuomo said, emphatically adding: “Well, then act like it.”

He said should New York’s plea for more ventilators go unmet, the state’s message to the federal government is: “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die.”

Based on the current trajectory, New York will need 140,000 hospital beds to deal with the “wave” of infections, he said. New York hospitals now have 53,000 beds but are facing a Cuomo mandate to increase their capacity by at least 50 percent. The governor had earlier estimated the state would need 110,000 hospital beds

Javits is one of the sites where state and federal officials are installing a makeshift hospital unit. Cuomo said the Javits site will be designed to treat 1,000 people.

While the health crisis overshadowing all legislative action in Albany, the weakening of the state’s economy drew attention from leaders of business groups.

“Businesses are closing their doors, unemployment is rising and local communities are hurting,” said Michael Kracker, director of Unshackle Upstate, a business advocacy group.

Kracker called on state leaders to block a prevailing wage proposal that he said would increase the cost of private construction projects by 30%. The prevailing wage refers to the basic hourly rate paid on public works projects to a majority of workers engaged in a particular craft.

With New York now the nation’s unrivaled epicenter of the outbreak, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-North Country co-sponsored legislation that criticized the Chinese government for what she called an “elaborate coverup” of the initial outbreak of the virus and require China to pay compensation to other nations harmed by the pandemic.

“Simply put, China must and will be held accountable,” Stefanik said.

Officials in at least four upstate counties, meanwhile, have issued declarations discouraging people from outside of their regions from traveling to their counties. While Cuomo has told New Yorkers to stay home unless they have jobs with employers deemed essential, a curfew has not been imposed.

The counties that say they don’t want outside visitors now include Essex, Delaware, Sullivan and Greene. Greene County also urged property owners to immediately remove listings on Airbnb and VRBO for real estate rental listings amid reports some New York City area residents escaping the nucleus of the contagion by heading upstate.

To cushion New Yorkers from financial hardships triggered by the outbreak, the state has directed lenders to suspend mortgage payment collections from 90 days of their due date for consumers and businesses facing hardships due to the virus. Banks have also been instructed to refrain from notifying credit agencies of late payments.

The banks have also been temporarily prohibited from charging fees for ATMs, late credit card payments and checking account overdrafts.

Utility companies have been directed to refrain from shutting off service for customers harmed by COVID-19.

As the spread rapidly in the state, Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, R-Oswego County, said the New York presidential primary election should be moved from April 28 to June 23. Primary elections for state legislative and congressional offices will be held on the latter date.

“Pushing these elections to a later date would allow for a more orderly and reliable process, to a time when, hopefully, our citizens are out of harm’s way,” Barclay said.

All New York businesses deemed non-essential remain closed under an executive order issued by Cuomo.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at

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