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Cuomo still searching for enough ventilators, praises Kushner for cooperation

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

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he’s been working closely with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top White House aide, Jared Kushner, to get New York ventilators as the number of coronavirus cases continues to escalate. 

Cuomo said procuring enough ventilators is “the single greatest challenge” and he said Kushner, who is also a New Yorker, has been “extraordinarily helpful” in assisting with the search. 

The governor estimated that as many as 30,000 ventilators will be needed when the virus peaks in a few weeks. He said the state already had 4,000 in its hospitals. New York has purchased 7,000 more, and the federal government is sending an additional 4,000, for a total of 15,000. 

Cuomo said the U.S. does not need to purchase enough ventilators for the entire country all at once. He said they can be shifted to “hot spots,” like the one in the New York City area, and then moved on to other places as the virus wanes in one region but picks up in another. 

“Once you address that hot spot with that intensity -- intense equipment, intense personnel -- then shift to the next hot spot,” Cuomo said. “And have more of a rolling deployment across the country than a static deployment.”

State health officials are still exploring whether one ventilator can serve two patients, as was done in Italy when the virus overwhelmed that country’s health care system.  

Cuomo said he now believes that the state could need as many 140,000 hospital beds in about three weeks as the number of new cases increases at a steep trajectory. He said so far, he has located 119,000 new beds, as hospitals make more room, the federal government sets up temporary hospitals and dorms at public universities are converted into bed space.

He said right now, every hospital in the state should have enough PPE, or personal protective equipment, as the state has purchased masks, gloves and gowns, and entered contracts with vendors to buy more. But he said the state does not have enough for the expected need in a few weeks, when the virus peaks. 

“Today, no hospital, no nurse, no doctor can say legitimately, ‘I don’t have protective equipment,’ ” Cuomo said. “We do not yet have secured a supply for three weeks from now, four weeks from now, five weeks from now. But we are still shopping.” 

The governor said he’s been asking for a “surge” health care force, and he said 40,000 medical professionals have already signed up. He said 6,000 mental health professionals have also said they’ll help with a telemedicine site to help people cope with stress.

Meanwhile, Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have widely different views on the federal bailout package approved by Congress. Cuomo said the measure would not give New York enough money to make up for the widening multibillion-dollar budget gap. 

Cuomo said the $2 trillion bill would provide New York with $3.8 billion in aid, which he said is far from enough. The state is already facing an estimated $15 billion budget deficit, some of it due to a drop in the stock market. New York gets 17% of its revenues from Wall Street-related taxes. 

“How do you plug a $15 billion hole with $3.8 billion?” Cuomo asked. “You don’t.” 

Cuomo said he’s talking with the state’s congressional delegation, who like the governor, are mostly Democrats, to change it. 

Schumer, who is also the minority leader, said in a statement that New Yorkers will get $40 billion from the aid package, when the $1,200 aid checks for each adult and small business, and extended unemployment are factored in. Schumer said billions of dollars will immediately flow to New York’s hospitals.

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.