New York is scrambling to increase its healthcare capacity before a "wave" of coronavirus patients breaks on the hospital system.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the desperate shortage in hospital beds Monday morning in a press conference. He called on the federal government to provide urgent assistance in increasing capacity, warning that the current trajectory of new cases shows the system is about to be overwhelmed.
"You'll have this influx you can't handle, you overwhelm the hospitals, you have people on gurneys in hallways -- that is what is going to happen now if we do nothing, and that, my friends, will be a tragedy," the governor said. The state of New York has 950 cases as of Monday and nearly 500 of those are in New York City.
Cuomo said New York currently has 5,000 hospital beds and only 3,000 ICU beds, but he predicts the state will need many more. He called on the federal government to deploy the Army Corps of Engineers to work with states to build temporary medical facilities and install back-up beds for inevitable hospital overflow.
However, the state is not waiting on the federal government to move on creating extra beds, he said. Cuomo announced that they would mobilize the National Guard to work with building unions and private developers to find existing facilities that can be easily adapted to become medical facilities. Examples include dormitories, former nursing homes and other facilities that have a basic configuration that can be retro-fitted.
He also called on local governments to help the state identify places in their areas that could easily be converted.
Certain hospital regulations would also be relaxed to allow for more capacity in existing healthcare facilities. Existing hospitals would be allowed to increase their numbers of beds per room, decrease the required space between beds and other measures to maximize their capacity. The state is also actively trying to source more doctors and healthcare workers to deal with an expected surge in new patients.
Meanwhile, the governor also warned private hospitals that non-critical elective surgery may soon be canceled. Elective surgeries currently use about 25 - 35 percent of the available beds, Cuomo said. "We may ask them to plan to cancel non-critical elective surgeries -- we will need that capacity in the hospitals when those numbers peak."