NYC Hospital Chair Warns Staff of ‘Alarming' Conditions, Supply Shortage

"The next month or two is a horror to imagine if we're underestimating the threat," Dr. Smith said

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What to Know

  • Medical and state officials continue to raise the alarm over a shortage of supplies need to treat COVID-19 patients
  • The chief of surgery at New York Presbyterian addressed a letter to staff warning of the "alarming" conditions ahead
  • Gov. Cuomo said the state has already hospitalized 1,600 patients since the start of the outbreak

New York is scouring the globe for desperately needed medical supplies and scouting field hospital locations in New York City and its suburbs as confirmed coronavirus cases soared above 10,000 statewide, Cuomo said Saturday.

The goal is to quickly boost the state’s hospital capacity from around 50,000 beds to 75,000 beds, Cuomo said at a news briefing. The state has already hospitalized 1,600 people.

In a letter to staff, obtained by NBC News, the chief of surgery at New York Presbyterian warned his doctors of the "alarming" conditions currently stretching hospital staff and supplies thin, as well as the "horror" that still awaits.

Dr. Craig Smith says data projections predict the hospital will see its peak in COVID-19 volume "within 22-32 days," somewhere in the middle of April. Smith says the hospital will need 700-934 ICU beds, which even at the lower end of estimates, will exceed the ICU's capacity. 

"Nothing would give me grater pleasure than to apologize profusely in a few weeks for having overestimated the threat. That would mean we never exceeded capacity, and that mortalities and morbidities rarely seen in non-pandemic circumstances were avoided," Dr. Smith said.

In addition to a shortage in beds, Smith said hospital staff will now be issued one mask in a drastic effort to preserve the stockpile of masks.

"The next month or two is a horror to imagine if we're underestimating the threat," Dr. Smith said.

The governor said the state is looking to see if Manhattan’s spacious Javits Center could be suitable for 1,000 requested beds supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in a “tent configuration” with equipment and staff.

Possible locations for temporary hospital structures built by the Army Corps of Engineers include Stony Brook University and SUNY College at Old Westbury on Long Island, and the Westchester County Center north of the city. Sites will be reviewed Saturday, he said.

“Everything that can be done is being done,” Cuomo said.

Officials have identified 2 million face masks that can be sent to hot spots, Cuomo said, and apparel companies are pivoting to make masks. One million masks are being sent to New York City hospitals Saturday, and 500,000 to Long Island. And with hospital gowns in short supply, the state is trying to obtain gown material for apparel makers, he said.

The state is also rounding up critically needed ventilators from around the state and purchasing 6,000 to deploy to the most critical areas, Cuomo said. And they are investigating whether multiple patients can be served by a single ventilator.

“We are literally scouring the globe looking for medical supplies,” Cuomo said.

The state also will immediately conduct trials of an experimental treatment with hydroxychloroquine and Zithromax. The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has been touted by President Donald Trump as a possible answer-in-waiting to the outbreak, though many experts caution more testing needs to be done. Cuomo said the Food and Drug Administration is sending 10,000 doses to the state.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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