Plan generates push-back from local officials
ALBANY — New York is getting 1,000 lifesaving ventilators from China to aid in its battle against the new coronavirus threatening to overwhelm New York City hospitals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.
Another 500 of the breathing machines will be moved from upstate New York to downstate hospitals being hit hardest by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Cuomo said during a press briefing.
“We are aware of the executive order and certainly willing to comply,” said St. James Hospital President and CEO Bryan O’Donovan. “From our understanding of this order we will be receiving these vents back from NYS when Steuben County reaches its apex.”
The state of Oregon is also sending 140 ventilators to New York where thousands of new COVID-19 infections are confirmed daily.
"This is a big deal, and it's going to make a significant difference," Cuomo said, calling the redistribution of ventilators a key to saving more lives in New York and across the globe.
"We’re all in the same battle here, and the battle is stopping the spread of the virus," he said.
The 1,000 ventilators from China were expected to arrive Saturday at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. The Chinese government facilitated the effort connected to Alibaba, the massive online retailer in China, Cuomo said.
The news came as the coronavirus death toll in New York mounted, hitting 3,565 as of Saturday morning, up from 2,935 the day before. The state had 113,704 confirmed cases, up about 10,000 from Friday.
How New York plans to move ventilators from upstate to downstate
Cuomo said he will sign an executive order that will allow the National Guard to go to hospitals and health-care facilities to take unused ventilators and other medical supplies so they can be used downstate.
"I’m not going to let people die because we didn’t redistribute ventilators," Cuomo said Friday.
The plan involves taking 20% of the unused ventilators from upstate, meaning about 500 breathing machines will be heading downtstate.
It's unclear which facilities upstate will be providing the 500 ventilators. Cuomo said he planned to meet with hospital leaders Saturday to discuss details of the effort.
Cuomo said the state will either bring the ventilators back when they are finished being used or the state will pay the facilities for new ones.
The goal is not to leave other facilities without any equipment, just no excess equipment, he said.
Officials push back on plan
Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic political leaders in upstate communities voiced concerns about the the strategy to move ventilators downstate.
Republican congressmen, state assemblymen and senators issued a joint statement opposing the plan. The group included Rep. Tom Reed, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Marjorie Byrnes, and State Senators George Borrello and Tom O’Mara.
"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," the group 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. We stand together opposing the Governor's very dangerous and reckless action. He is leaving our communities in a terrible position which will cost lives."
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, a Democrat, addressed Cuomo's plan in a statement Friday.
“The health and safety of the residents of Monroe County is, and will always be, my number one priority," Bello said. "While it’s reasonable to share resources across communities when available, the reality is that Monroe County’s positive cases, hospitalizations, and ventilator usage increase daily. We do not have excess capacity to send supplies out of the region,” he added.
U.S. Congressman Joseph Morelle, D-Rochester, echoed and expanded upon Bello's comments.
“My primary and immediate concern is ensuring our region has the resources it needs to serve the growing number of critical COVID-19 patients in our community,” Morelle said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, our regional health systems have repeatedly indicated that excess ventilator capacity does not exist at this time,” he added.
Morelle also addressed the ongoing debate over President Donald Trump’s approach to using wartime powers to force U.S. companies to produce more ventilators and other medical supplies.
“I am deeply distressed that President Trump’s failure to invoke the Defense Production Act in a timely manner, provide adequate testing, and supply our communities with personal protective equipment has put New York State in this extraordinarily difficult position.”
In the Buffalo area, Kaleida Health came out against the redistribution plan.
“Hoping for no surge here or a promise of reimbursement for ventilators in the future - at time of great uncertainty - would be irresponsible. I cannot jeopardize our workforce and the very patients that we are responsible to care for,” said Jody L. Lomeo, President and CEO. “As I have said and will continue to say, we are always willing to help our neighbors, but not at the expense of the community that we are accountable for.
“So today I stand shoulder to shoulder with our physicians, nurses and staff to oppose this executive order that is designed to pit upstate versus downstate. In a time of crisis, we do not have the luxury of spending time on public fights and mandates like this.
“Instead, I would welcome and encourage us all to develop a more collaborative plan that doesn’t jeopardize lives and result in further chaos and panic.”
How New York is turning to China for ventilators to fight COVID-19
Despite obtaining 1,000 ventilators from China on Saturday, Cuomo said a previously announced deal in which New York would have obtained 17,000 of the breathing machines from China largely fell through amid global competition for the equipment.
Instead, New York was able to purchase about 2,500 ventilators through that prior deal, Cuomo said.
The newly announced delivery of 1,000 was achieved in part through the efforts of Alibaba co-founders Jack Ma and Joe Tsai, who is also owner of the Brooklyn Nets, according to Cuomo.
It is all part of the race to secure the roughly 30,000 ventilators that New York is expected to need if COVID-19 cases continue to surge in coming days, Cuomo said, adding the apex of the outbreak in New York City is expected within the next seven to 21 days.
Cuomo, a Democrat, warned Thursday that the state could run out of ventilators within six days and as projections have estimated New York might have 16,000 deaths by the time the virus runs its course.
"Part of me would like to be at the apex and let’s do it...but we're not yet ready for the apex yet," Cuomo said Saturday. "We’re still working on the capacity of the system."
Oregon's state officials announced they would send 140 ventilators to New York without being asked, Cuomo said, calling it an "astonishing and unexpected" show of support between the two states.
He added the move underscored Oregon officials understanding that New York would return the favor if and when the virus hits Oregon, which is projected to see its peak sometime in May.
"They see the fire spreading," he said, referring to the virus and Oregon's efforts to stop its spread "before it gets to (their) home."