'Bullet train': NY COVID-19 peak may come soon, swamp hospitals

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issues stark warning, says state could see 40,000 people in intensive care in two weeks.

    'Bullet train': NY COVID-19 peak may come soon, swamp hospitals
    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks in front of stacks of medical protective supplies during a news conference at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center which will be partially converted into a temporary hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, [Mike Segar/Reuters]

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sounded his most dire warning yet about the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, saying the infection rate is accelerating in the state, which could be as close as two weeks away from a crisis that sees 40,000 people in intensive care.

    Such a surge would overwhelm hospitals, which now have just 3,000 intensive care unit beds across New York, the fourth most populous state in the United States.

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    The rate of new infections, Cuomo said, is doubling about every three days. While officials once projected the peak in New York would come in early May, they now say it could come in two to three weeks.

    "We are not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own," he said during a briefing. "One of the forecasters said to me we were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We're now looking at a bullet train."

    New York officials have been racing to essentially double their hospital capacity to up to 110,000 beds. Cuomo now said there could be a peak need of 140,000 beds.

    New York Coronavirus
    A paramedic wheels a patient into hospital following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York [Carlo Allegri/Reuters] 

    There have been more than 25,000 positive cases in New York state and at least 210 deaths, according to state figures. Most of the cases and deaths have been in New York City, an emerging worldwide hot spot in the outbreak.

    New York officials are planning to add at least 1,000 temporary hospital beds at the Jacob K Javits Convention Center for non-COVID-19 patients and thousands of beds elsewhere. But Cuomo said "they're nowhere near" the number that will be needed. The state also faces shortages of ventilators and protective equipment for medical workers.

    New York has 7,000 ventilators. Cuomo called for a national push to send ventilators to New York now, saying the city needs 20,000 of them in a matter of weeks. He said the equipment could then be redeployed to different areas once the peak passes in New York.

    "I will take personal responsibility for transporting the 20,000 ventilators anywhere in this country that they want, once we are passed our apex," Cuomo said. "But don't leave them sitting in a stockpile."

    New York coronavirus
    Medical equipment is seen inside the Jacob K Javits Convention Center after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the site will be partially converted into a hospital for patients affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan in New York City [Mike Segar/Reuters] [Daylife]

    Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner at the US Food and Drug Administration and president of the New York-based Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said that ventilators - about the size of two old VCR machines - are certainly portable. But he said there would need to be a regional or national coordinator of medical products "to make sure that the goods needed are where they need to be".

    SOURCE: AP news agency