Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to criticism on Sunday over a new executive order that will shift unused, excess ventilators from health care facilities in upstate New York to the COVID-19 epicenter in New York City, saying no locality will be left defenseless to the disease.
The executive order, announced last week, was met with severe backlash from local officials outside New York City, who feared they would need the machines for their own residents.
“I guarantee the people of this state that as long as I’m governor of this state, we won't lose a life if we can prevent it, and we’re not going to lose a life because we didn’t share resources among ourselves,” Cuomo said.
He first announced the executive order last week after the state’s stockpile of ventilators was projected to run out within a matter of days. As of Thursday, that stockpile was expected to be depleted by this coming Wednesday, though it’s unclear if that’s still the case.
New York announced a major donation of 1,140 ventilators from the Chinese government and the state of Oregon on Saturday, which has helped replenish the state’s stockpile for the time being.
Cuomo said the state hasn’t, as of yet, taken action to shift any ventilators from health care facilities upstate to New York City. The state has the authority to do so, per his executive order, but that need hasn’t yet presented itself, Cuomo said Sunday.
“All we’re asking for is ventilators that you aren't using now, and you don't foresee using in the foreseeable future,” Cuomo said. “I just want to know where they are if we need them.”
The order, Cuomo said, would not deplete health care facilities of their entire supply of unused, excess ventilators. The state would only be looking to borrow 20%, meaning if a facility has 10 excess ventilators, the state would shift two of them to New York City.
A coalition of Republican lawmakers from upstate New York, including Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, State Sen. Rob Ortt, and others, said in a statement last week that they were opposed to any order from the state to shift ventilators downstate.
“We have been watching the situation in New York City and we have an increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in other parts of New York," they said. “Taking our ventilators by force leaves our people without protection and our hospitals unable to save lives today or respond to a coming surge.”
Cuomo said Sunday that, when the number of cases outside New York City begins to overwhelm the state’s health care system, he’ll redeploy ventilators from downstate to areas of upstate where they’re needed.
“You cannot do this any other way,” Cuomo said. “New York City — the apex is either very,very soon, or we’re on a plateau. Do what you can then, and then you redeploy.”
It’s unclear when New York City will reach its apex, or the point where the number of cases exceeds the current capacity of the state’s health care system. Cuomo said Saturday that it could come in a matter of days.
But Cuomo said Sunday that New York City may already be at its COVID-19 apex, just in a different way than was envisioned.
The apex could happen at a high point, and then trail off, Cuomo said. But it could also be a period during which the number of deaths, and new cases, plateaus for a while, then slowly begins to decrease.
On Sunday, Cuomo said the number of deaths related to COVID-19 in New York had dropped slightly over the last few days. That could just be a blip in the data, Cuomo said, but it could also mean the number of deaths will remain relatively constant for an unknown period of time.
“You could argue you’re seeing a slight plateauing in the data, which would be good news because it means you plateau for a period of time, and then you come down,” Cuomo said.
The total number of deaths related to COVID-19 in New York reached 4,159 Sunday, which is an increase from 3,565 Saturday. But in terms of the number of new deaths per day, that amount has decreased each day since Friday, Cuomo said.
It’s still too early to tell whether those numbers have any significance in the long term, Cuomo said.
As of Sunday morning, 122,031 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in New York, with 16,479 people currently hospitalized. Of those, 4,376 patients have required care in the intensive care unit.
New York is still facing a shortage of health care workers, Cuomo said, but will receive help from the federal government in that area.
The Trump administration has agreed to deploy 1,000 health care workers to New York immediately, Cuomo said, with 325 expected to arrive as early as Sunday.