Ventilators Top Fear With N.Y. Deaths at 385, N.J. Cases Up 56%

Keshia Clukey and Christian Berthelsen
Ventilators Top Fear With N.Y. Deaths at 385, N.J. Cases Up 56%

(Bloomberg) --

Some New York coronavirus patients are staying on ventilators as long as 30 days, dimming hopes for their recovery and hastening the expected shortage of the lifesaving machines in the state, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Cuomo reported 100 more fatalities, for a total of 385, as hospitals brace for more. New York City is even deploying refrigerated trailers for use as temporary morgues.

“This is the really bad news,” Cuomo said at a news conference Thursday.

Cuomo expressed alarm over the 35% rise in deaths in one day. On Wednesday, he sounded a more hopeful tone, citing data showing that the health system was holding up under current demand and that only 3% of infections had required intensive care. But intensive-care cases have surged since then, increasing 45% to almost 1,300.

Ventilators remain New York’s top need, Cuomo said. The state is scouring the nation to buy them and resorting to so-called splitting, so the devices could serve two patients at once, he said. It’s also converting anesthesia machines.

An emerging problem is that patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are remaining on ventilators far longer than is typical. Covid-19 patients who need ventilation usually use the machines to breathe for an average of 11 to 21 days, compared with three to four days for other ailments.

“That’s what we’re dealing with, the high number of Covid patients and the long period of time they need to be on one,” the governor said.

“The longer they’re on, the more likely they’re not going to come off,” he said. “That is what has happened. We do have people who have been on for quite a period of time, and those are the people we’re losing.”

Still, he said the state hasn’t adopted plans to prioritize patients if hospitals run short.

Cuomo’s daily live-streamed briefings from the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus outbreak have become must-watch events. On Thursday, though, the New York State Nurses Association took issue with the governor’s claim during the previous day’s briefing that “Today, no hospital, no nurse, no doctor can say — legitimately — I don’t have protective equipment.”

“Governor Cuomo’s information is wrong,” Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, the president of the group and a registered nurse, said in a written statement. She said that protective gear like disposable gowns, face shields and N95 masks were “clearly not being made available in any meaningful way to front line caregivers.”

“Those nurses fortunate enough to even be offered a disposable N95 mask are being told to reuse that same mask for up to a week,” she said, adding that “We have an ethical obligation to share accurate information with the public in this time of public health crisis.”

Late Thursday, the nurses’ group said it had spoken with the governor’s office about the need to protect front-line medical workers.

Then a Cuomo spokesman, Rich Azzopardi, issued a statement saying: “Nurses are heroically on the front lines of fighting this ‎pandemic, and we’re working around the clock to make sure they have the tools and they need to do so.”

Until the outbreak is under control, Cuomo said officials are focused on reducing not the number of cases but the rate of increase, so hospitals don’t run out of beds.

“This is all about getting that curve down and not overwhelming the hospital system,” he said.

New York added almost 6,500 new confirmed coronavirus cases, for a total of more than 37,000. More than 5,000 patients are hospitalized, with roughly 1,300 in intensive care.

More than 21,000 of the state’s infections are in New York City, up around 3,500 from a day earlier.

Confirmed cases are rising even faster in neighboring New Jersey. Officials there reported a 56% jump in new cases, to almost 7,000. Deaths climbed to 81, from 62 a day ago.

With new infections throughout the city and the nearby suburbs, the state is trying to add at least one 1,000-bed overflow facility in each of the New York’s five boroughs and the surrounding counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland.

The region is the most populous in the state and has been hit hardest by the pandemic. As a last resort, Cuomo said the state might consider shifting downstate patients to upstate hospitals that serve smaller populations and are less overrun.

On the stimulus bill approved by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Cuomo, a Democrat, said New York state government will receive $5 billion, only for coronavirus expenses, “which is nice, but the bigger problem is on the lost revenues.” He estimated that at $10 billion to $15 billion.

The measure negotiated among lawmakers and the White House “did not help local governments, or state governments, and it did not address the governmental loss,” Cuomo said.

Testing for the coronavirus continues to increase, with almost 19,000 conducted in the last day, Cuomo said. That compares with more than 12,000 a day earlier. Roughly 122,000 people have been tested in all.

Cuomo encouraged New Yorkers to be community-minded during this crisis. “This is going to form a new generation, and it will transform who we are and how we think.,” he said. “But you’re not alone, nobody’s alone. We’re all in the same situation.”

(Updates with statement from governor’s spokesman)

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