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Cuomo seeking more hospital space and supplies and mental health professionals

Gov.Andrew Cuomo gives a daily briefing on the coronavirus at the State Capitol on Saturday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office
Gov.Andrew Cuomo gives a daily briefing on the coronavirus at the State Capitol on Saturday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo spent part of Saturday visiting potential sites to set up temporary hospitals and negotiating with clothing manufactures and ventilator sellers to try to set up temporary hospitals and gather medical supplies in time for the expected increase in patients sick with the coronavirus who may need hospitalization.

Cuomo also planned to visit parks in New York City to determine if reports of younger people congregating too closely together are true.

Cuomo said ending elective surgeries in a few days will increase the state’s hospital bed capacity from 50,000 to 75,000 beds, and he says hospitals are looking at ways to place even more beds into their existing space.

Late Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, issued an emergency declaration that will help New York get more funding to combat the virus. Cuomo is asking the Army Corps of Engineers for four 250-bed temporary field hospitals, where patients would be housed in tents.     

And he said he has a lead on 6,000 ventilators that he hopes the state can purchase. He said health officials are exploring whether one ventilator could be used for two people at a time.

The governor said that health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has given the go-ahead for New York to start testing two medicines, Hydroxychloroquine and Zithromax, that may ease some of the symptoms associated with the virus. The state will receive 10,000 doses.

“In a situation where a person is in dire circumstances, try what you can,” the governor said.  

The New York-based company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is among companies working on a vaccine, and Cuomo has exempted them from the general order for workers to stay home.

The governor made his remarks as remaining nonessential businesses in New York were preparing to shut down. Hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors were to be closed as of 8 p.m. Saturday, and all other businesses except grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores and hardware stores were to be shut down by 8 p.m. Sunday.

A member of the governor’s press staff has tested positive for the coronavirus, and the entire office that deals with media is in precautionary quarantine. A spokesman says the staffer is now feeling better.

Cuomo said he did not come not close contact with that person. He said he has not been tested, and does not currently feel the need to be.

“Because I’ve not been exposed to anyone who is positive, I don’t have a fever. I don’t have any symptoms,” Cuomo said. “And also, I don’t want to waste the test.”

In addition to taking steps to protect New Yorkers’ physical health, the governor said there are concerns about people’s mental health, due to the stress and anxiety the pandemic has created. Cuomo is asking mental health professionals to volunteer their services.

“They’re nervous, they’re anxious, they’re isolated,” said Cuomo. “It can bring all sorts of emotions and feelings to the surface.”

The governor said if enough answer the call, the state will set  up a voluntary network where people can use telemedicine for mental health assistance.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.