NEW YORK CITY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo voiced alarm and frustration with the Trump administration’s response to the growing coronavirus crisis Tuesday, estimating that New York is just two weeks away from hitting the apex of its outbreak.
Cuomo was careful not to call out President Donald Trump by name, but said in stark terms that if U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar doesn’t release the 20,000 ventilators in the federal stockpile and the president doesn’t demand U.S. companies manufacture more, thousands of New Yorkers will die as a result.
“The president said it’s a war … then act like it,” Cuomo said, raising his voice during a morning news conference at the Javits Center in Manhattan. “They’re doing the supplies? Here’s my question: Where are they?”
If more ventilators aren’t sent within weeks, Cuomo told the feds, “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die.”
New York has procured just 7,000 of the 30,000 ventilators required to treat the expected surge in hospitalized Covid-19 patients.
Later on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox News that the federal government would be sending an additional 2,000 ventilators with another 2,000 on the way Wednesday. Half are going to New York City, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Trump also rebuked Cuomo, saying that the governor’s administration chose not to order additional ventilators as part of pandemic planning in 2015.
But that 2015 report did not recommend purchasing additional ventilators because there would not be enough staffing to operate them. It estimated only 16,000 additional ventilators would be needed — far less than the projected 30,000 New York now needs.
“I’m not blaming him or anything else. But he shouldn’t be talking about us. He’s supposed to be buying his own ventilators,” Trump said. “We are going to help … We are working very, very hard for the people of New York. We are working a lot with him. Then I watch him on this show complaining.”
Cuomo repeated his call for the Trump administration to use the federal Defense Production Act to contract with American companies so more of the vital machines can be manufactured in the coming weeks.
“There is no other way for us to get these ventilators, we’ve tried everything else,” he said. “The only way we can obtain these ventilators is from the federal government, period. … If we don’t have the ventilators in 14 days it does us no good.”
He added that for the president “not to exercise that power is inexplicable.”
With nearly 26,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, New York is the epicenter of the crisis, nationally. The governor said the state is now expected to need 140,000 hospital beds when the virus reaches its peak — which he estimates will occur in the next 14 to 21 days.
Cuomo has ordered New York hospitals to increase their total capacity from 53,000 beds to at least 75,000 — with the goal of creating 110,000 beds.
The governor said he “will turn this state upside down to get the number of beds we need.” He said he’s in touch with hotel owners to take over their locations and has no problem turning dorms at state colleges into makeshift hospitals.
But, Cuomo argued, that means nothing if New York does not have the staff or equipment needed to treat those beds.
“This is a critical and desperate need for ventilators,” he said, adding that New York is now experimenting with splitting ventilators between two patients as a potential solution to the shortage. “At this point we have no alternative so we’re working on this experimental application.”
FEMA has sent just 400 ventilators to New York — an amount which Cuomo said misses “the magnitude of the problem.”
The federal government could use its authority to provide businesses start-up capital and guaranteed contracts to build more ventilators in 14 days. Companies volunteering services — something the president has pointed to in recent days — is not enough, Cuomo said.
He compared the current push to World War II when the U.S. contracted directly for military supplies.
“When we went to war we didn’t say, ‘Any company out there want to build a battleship?'” he said, mocking the federal government’s current stance.
He argued business would welcome such an order.
“You know what business wants? They want to make money … let them open their factory and make money, help them do that by ordering the supplies you need,” Cuomo said. “That’s what the Defense [Production] Act was all about and at the rate they are going — it is not happening. FEMA says we’re sending 400 ventilators. Really? What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?”
The Trump administration has thus far used its procurement authority only once during the crisis, announcing Tuesday that it would use it in limited fashion to secure 6,000 testing kits.
The governor also directly addressed the rest of the nation. He said he would not hold onto the ventilators in New York once the need passes and he pleaded for unity for amid a national crisis.
“I’m asking you to help New York to help yourselves,” Cuomo said. “Let’s learn how to act as one nation here. We learn the lesson here and we will save lives in your community.”