ALBANY — In some of his sternest words yet, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday called on the federal government to bring order to the medical supply market by ordering companies to manufacture critical supplies.
He urged President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to compel companies to manufacture much needed masks, gowns and ventilators so hospital staffs can be protected while treating those affected with the the novel coronavirus and those with the virus can be cared for with life-saving devices.
"The federal government should nationalize medical supply acquisition," he said.
As it stands now, the competitive market is producing inflationary pressures on supplies, driving up the price of masks, for instance, from 85 cents apiece to $7. Cuomo said the federal government is the only authority that can bring order to what has developed into a chaotic marketplace.
"It's a race that's raising prices higher and higher," Cuomo said at his late Sunday morning briefing. "We need these materials now and only the federal government can make that happen."
New York coronavirus cases continue to grow at an alarming rate.
As of Sunday, 15,168 people in the state have been diagnosed with the virus, up from 10,356 on Saturday. As of Sunday, 1,974 of those cases — or 13% — had resulted in hospitalization.
There have been 114 recorded deaths as a result of the pandemic, according to Melissa numbers presented Sunday.
The age profile of fatalities, according to Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor:
90+: 15 people;
80-89: 36 people;
70-79: 29 people;
60-69: 18 people;
50-59: 11 people;
40-49: 5 people
More than 61,000 people in the state have been tested since swabs were first initiated, a rate higher than any other state, Cuomo said. Only a handful of counties, including Cattaraugus and Chautauqua, across the state have yet to record a single virus case.
Cuomo further ordered New York City officials to develop a plan to thin the density that has been observed at some city parks. That may mean the closing of streets to create new pedestrian malls throughout the city. He wants city authorities to present a plan to him within the next 24 hours.
"We have a density level in New York City that is wholly inappropriate," Cuomo said, while displaying a picture that appeared to show a large cluster of people in a downtown park, ignoring recommended social distancing advisories.
"This is not life as usual," Cuomo said. "It's insensitive. It's arrogant. It's destructive," Cuomo said of Saturday scenes in New York City parks.
Group activities must be stopped, he said, noting that pickup basketball games in city parks are inappropriate.
"This is not a joke and I am not kidding," he said.
In further moves to prepare for what he expects to be a rise in virus hospitalizations, Cuomo ordered hospitals across the state to increase their capacity by at least 50 percent and up to 100 percent.
If the virus progresses as predicted, the state will need to more than double its capacity of 53,000 beds to 110,000, the governor said, and intensive care facilities must expand at a rapid rate to treat those with serious respiratory conditions.
"This is just an impossible situation to manage," he said
In a step he acknowledged would receive push back from the administrators, the state's Department of Health ordered the hospitals to cancel all elective surgeries effective Wednesday. Canceling elective surgeries alone will increase hospital capacity by 25% to 35%, he said.
Also, he is working to convert the midtown Manhattan Javits Center into a 1,000-bed hospital with the assistance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with converting SUNY campus facilities into make-shift hospitals to combat the growing pandemic and possibly repurpose empty hotel rooms for medical treatment with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Another site available would be the Westchester County Center in White Plains, he said.
"Time matters. Minutes count." Cuomo said. "This is a matter of life and death. If we don't do it we will lose lives."
In a bow to President Trump's initiative to bring in untested treatments for the afflicted, Cuomo announced the state has secured 70,000 doses of Hydroxychloroquine and 10,000 of Zithromax and 750,000 of Chloroquine, drugs used for malaria and other viruses. Trails on the drugs will begin Tuesday, he said, where "we all hope for a good outcome."
Initiatives to address the virus outbreak will stretch the finances of a state already operating on the edge to the precipice.
When a federal aid package is considered, Cuomo said he hopes parochial bickering will be set aside as legislators battle for their share of the pie, and the state's most in need and with the greatest number of cases receive an equitable amount.
"This is about addressing a need," Cuomo said. "Money follows the need."
Vigilance is necessary because the virus won't end soon, with as much as 40% to 80% of the population afflicted, Cuomo predicted.
"This is not a short-term situation," he said, and it will take an emotional toll on society.
No doubt, a generation will be defined by this enormous challenge society now faces, Cuomo said.
"It will be hard, but it will be OK," he said. "There's not going to be chaos. There's not going to be anarchy. Life will go on.
"The toilet paper is going to be there tomorrow. Take a deep breath...We are going to overcome this and we will be greater for it."