NEW YORK — New York state’s coronavirus death toll continued rising at a devastating pace Saturday, as authorities issued an emergency plea for volunteers to assist in the crisis plaguing the US pandemic’s epicenter.
The state alone has recorded 3,565 deaths — more than anywhere outside of Italy, Spain, France and the UK according to official data — as it continues on an inexorable path to an apex in total cases.
With already strained hospitals scrambling to prepare for a growing influx of patients, Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the worst was yet to come.
In his daily briefing the governor said infections could peak in the state in anywhere from four to 14 days — but he cautioned that hospitals were not yet prepared.
“Part of me would like to be at the apex and just, ‘let’s do it.’ But there’s part of me that says it’s good that we’re not at the apex because we’re not yet ready,” Cuomo said.
The death toll in the state was up from 2,935 the previous day; the additional 630 deaths represented the largest 24-hour spike recorded there.
New York’s statewide total is now roughly 6,000 shy of hard-hit Italy’s total number of cases.
New York City, meantime, has tallied 63,306 confirmed cases and 2,624 deaths.
Cuomo said recent weeks have felt “like an entire lifetime.”
“I think we all feel the same, these stresses, this country, this state — like nothing I’ve experienced in my lifetime.”
He said the federal government will now staff and equip the overflow hospital set up at Manhattan’s sprawling Javits Convention Center for treatment of those infected with coronavirus. The facility can take in 2,500 patients.
The governor also said 85,000 volunteers — including 22,000 from out of state — had signed up to help in the country’s coronavirus epicenter.
Hours earlier, New York City had sent a wireless emergency alert to its 8.6 million residents urging licensed healthcare workers to volunteer.
“Anyone who’s not already in this fight, we need you,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, urgently seeking help from “any healthcare professional: doctor, nurse, respiratory therapist, you name it.”
The mayor has estimated that the city will need 45,000 more medical personnel to fight the pandemic through April and May.
Cuomo said Saturday he would sign an executive order allowing medical students poised to graduate this spring to begin practicing now.
“These are extraordinary times and New York needs the help,” he said.
That process was already underway at New York University, where fourth-year medical student Gabrielle Mayer was set to begin her internship in the city’s hospital system early.
“Knowing that we have the skill set that seems needed and valuable right now, it was an easy decision to make,” Mayer said at a recent press conference.
Cuomo warned that infections in counties on the city-adjacent Long Island were like “fire spreading.”
The densely populated area hosts 22 percent of those hospitalized statewide, with cases growing steadily over the past 10 days and moving east of the city.
“The shift is undeniable,” Cuomo said, without elaborating on whether it had resulted from city residents fleeing to coastal vacation homes.
The governor cited another “serious problem” in neighboring New Jersey, which has more than 29,000 cases and more than 640 deaths, far below New York’s numbers but the second-highest infection count in the nation.
In a rare positive sign, Cuomo said that despite a climbing death toll, data show some two-thirds of hospitalized New Yorkers are beating the virus and getting discharged.
“This is a painful, disorienting experience,” he said.
“But we find our best self, our strongest self — this day will end. We will get through it, we will get to the other side of the mountain. But we have to do what we have to do between now and then.”
Help from China
New York state is continuing its hunt for urgently needed ventilators, Cuomo said, before thanking the Chinese government for donating 1,000 of the life-saving devices, which were expected to arrive Saturday.
He also said the state of Oregon had promised to deliver 140 ventilators.
But the governor said that only 2,500 ventilators from a separate order for 17,000 from China had arrived so far.
Leaders like Cuomo have been forced to go outside normal channels and work with authoritarian governments and private companies.
The rush to secure supplies has prompted intense squabbling between the states and federal government at a moment the nation is facing one of its gravest emergencies.
US President Donald Trump said states are marking inflated requests for medical supplies when the need isn’t there and suggested he had a hand in the ventilator shipment arriving from China to New York. Trump also said he’d like to hear a more resounding “thank you” from Cuomo for providing medical supplies and helping quickly add hospital capacity.
“We have given the governor of New York more than anybody has ever been given in a long time,” he told a news conference in Washington.
While the state of Massachusetts used the New England Patriots’ team plane to pick up over a million masks from China, Russia has also sent medical equipment to the US.
Meanwhile, Trump has said he’d prevent the export of N95 protective masks to Canada and other nations, prompting a rebuke from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said his country won’t bring retaliatory measures as it continues to ship gloves and testing kits to the US.
The number of people infected in the US has exceeded 300,000, with the death toll climbing past 8,100.
Across the US, the outbreak is deepening in other areas beyond New York. More than 400 people have died in Louisiana, and state authorities have been sprinting to find ventilators similar to New York. Michigan has more than 14,000 infections and 500 deaths, with Detroit being the state’s epicenter.
Trump said the 2,500-bed field hospital at New York’s Javits Center will be staffed by the military and similar hospital projects are being built in Louisiana and Dallas.
“There will be a lot of death, unfortunately, but a lot less death than if this wasn’t done,” Trump said. He later added that the federal government is “a backup … the greatest backup that ever existed for the states.”
Worldwide, confirmed infections neared 1.2 million and deaths exceeded 64,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say both greatly under-count the true number of victims because of lack of testing, mild cases that were missed and governments that are underplaying the crisis.
At the same time, more than 245,000 people have recovered from the virus, which causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.