Some NY Hospitals Start Splitting Ventilators to Buy Time for Coronavirus Patients

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As the sounds of coronavirus patients on ventilators struggling to breathe echo New York City hospitals, doctors have come up with a way to buy some time as the city and state work on getting more breathing machines.

While symptoms for COVID-19 vary, the worst case of the respiratory disease attacks your lungs and you are no longer able to deliver enough oxygen on your own to keep their bodies going. That's when a ventilator comes in, to help move air in and out of the lungs.

While no hospital in the state has run out of ventilators yet, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that emergency rooms and ICUs are overwhelmed but BiPAP machines can be used to run a system that can ventilate two patients.

Last week, Dr. Lorenzo Paladino met with FEMA officials in Washington D.C. to establish a protocol on how to increase capacity for existing ventilators.

UCLA Biodesign Fellow Glen Meyerowitz built the device in a few hours and is hoping it can serve as a proof-of-concept for a low-cost ventilator that could help hospitals with ventilator shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Paladino, along with two other doctors at the Brooklyn hospital now dedicated to only coronavirus patients, say they came up with a technique to share ventilators, but they say it's not a long term cure-all.

“If you’re sick with this virus and you get severe lung disease you’re on a ventilator and you’re not on a ventilator for a couple of days, you’re on a ventilator for a long period of time," Paladino said. "It only helps for a small bridge, like if more ventilators are coming. It’s not a substitute to ventilate people for several days or several weeks."

Currently, there a couple of hundred ventilators in reserve, Cuomo said, and 800 ventilators were sent out to hospitals on Monday.

SUNY Downstate and one other New York hospital have started splitting ventilators, according to Paladino. He says patients usually spend a week, at most, on ventilators but COVID-19 patients can sometimes spend 21 days on one.

"It’s not the ideal way to ventilate people, it’s just the rescue to keep people alive until you get more ventilators," Paladino.

The doctor's message to New Yorkers hoping to avoid getting on the ventilators is to just stay home.

New York City isn't the only place getting creative with how to save lives. Engineers in Berkeley, California, are also working on turning CPAP and BiPAP machines to increase ventilator capacity after the Food and Drug Administration issued guidance in doing so.

Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, told reporters on Monday that she hoped to see Americans follow the CDC guidelines “out of respect for every single healthcare worker that’s on the frontline.”
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