New York races to add hospital beds as mayor urges all to wear masks outside
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New York races to add hospital beds as mayor urges all to wear masks outside

With some 1,000 new hospitalizations every day and equipment and medical staff in short supply, officials say pandemic’s peak could still be weeks away

Medical workers wait for patients at a special coronavirus intake area at Maimonides Medical Center in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn which has seen an upsurge of coronavirus patients, April 2, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Medical workers wait for patients at a special coronavirus intake area at Maimonides Medical Center in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn which has seen an upsurge of coronavirus patients, April 2, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

NEW YORK (AP) — There is a coronavirus ward in tents in Central Park. A makeshift hospital has been set up in a Manhattan convention center. Over the next few weeks, spaces including pro tennis courts, college dorms and a cruise ship terminal are supposed to start housing patients as New York state races to roughly triple its hospital capacity.

And still, officials worry whether the massive effort will be enough in the US epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

A recent state chart tallying the planned hospital beds ended with question marks about how much space might be found in nursing homes. Some hospital and city leaders have questioned whether too much temporary hospital space is being reserved for patients who don’t have the virus that causes COVID-19, though there are now plans to shift one big temporary site’s focus to caring for them.

And officials underscore that beds alone can’t solve a problem growing by more than 1,000 hospitalizations a day.

“Beds, we can find. Not easy, but we can find them. The harder components are the staff and the supplies,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

A woman watches from a park bench as the Samaritan’s Purse crew and medical personnel work on preparing to open a 68 bed emergency field hospital specially equipped with a respiratory unit in New York’s Central Park, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in New York (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

As he spoke, over 13,300 coronavirus patients were hospitalized and more than 3,300 needed intensive care around the state, though mostly in New York City. The outbreak’s expected peak was still seven to 30 days away, the Democrat said.

When that happens, New York expects to need 140,000 hospital beds — compared to the 53,000 it had when the crisis began. So many seriously ill patients are anticipated that New York City is preparing to turn all its 20,000 permanent hospital beds into intensive care ones, while trying to add 65,000 temporary beds for other patients.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio on Thursday asked New Yorkers to wear a face covering when they go outside and will be near other people.

He cited research showing asymptomatic people could be spreading the virus without realizing it.

“When you put on that face covering, you’re protecting everyone else,” he said.

A general view of a mostly empty Wall Street in mid-morning on April 2, 2020 in New York City (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)

The mayor said it could be a scarf or a bandanna or anything homemade, but it should not be a surgical mask needed by medical workers.

A recent study by researchers in Singapore became the latest to estimate that somewhere around 10 percent of new infections may be sparked by people who carry the virus but have not yet suffered symptoms.

Cuomo warned New York could be six days away from exhausting its supply of ventilators as the state reported 432 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to nearly 2,400.

Ventilators have become the crucial piece of equipment sought by state and city officials as hundreds of patients a day are admitted to intensive care units.

The state sent 400 ventilators to New York City and another 200 to its suburbs. But the governor saw problems ahead.

“At the current burn rate, we have about six days of ventilators in our stockpile,” the governor said at a briefing at the Capitol.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, right, meets with officials on the practice courts at the USTA Indoor Training Center where a 350-bed temporary hospital will be built Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in New York (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

If supplies run short, the state is ready to use anesthesia and converted BiPAP machines, usually used to treat sleep apnea, or put more than one patient on a single ventilator.

More than 92,000 state residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. The true number is likely much higher because officials have rationed tests and encouraged all but the most seriously ill people not to seek treatment and instead ride it out at home.

Most people who get the virus experience mild or moderate symptoms, including fever and cough. Others, though, develop pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems.

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort passes lower Manhattan on its way to docking in New York, Monday, March 30, 2020 (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Meanwhile more than 464,000 people have filed for unemployment in New York state in the three weeks since the pandemic shattered the economy, an increase of over 1,000% from the same period last year, according to the state Department of Labor.

Last week alone, more than 369,000 unemployment claims were filed, an increase of more than 2,600% from the same time last year.

The Department of Labor’s unemployment filing system has seen a 16,000% increase in phone calls and a nearly 900% increase in web traffic in recent weeks.

The scramble for hospital space, staff and ventilators is intended to ward off a dire worst-case scenario: medical centers becoming so swamped that some people die whose lives could otherwise be saved.

Even though they are working to squeeze in thousands of extra beds, some New York City facilities have been overloaded at times, transferring patients around the city and sometimes as far away as the Albany area.

A pedestrian wanders through Columbus Circle on April 2, 2020 in New York City (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)

State, city and federal officials say they have lined up — and in some cases, opened — dozens of additional spots for temporary hospitals around the metropolitan area.

A Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, is docked in Manhattan with 750 beds, three of them occupied as of Thursday, commanding officer Capt. Patrick Amersbach said in a telephone news briefing. The Javits Center, a glassy convention facility where such events as New York Comic Con and the New York International Auto Show usually take place, now houses a federally-run hospital, with 2,500 beds as of Thursday, according to Cuomo.

Officials also are tapping colleges, the Aqueduct horse-racing track, a part of the tennis center that hosts the US Open, a Brooklyn cruise terminal, and 20 hotels so far.

Decisions on routing patients to the temporary hospitals are made from a state-run operations hub set up in the Javits Center, according to city Emergency Management Office spokesman Omar Bourne. A similar system has been used before during such disasters as Superstorm Sandy.

Some facilities are intended for COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization, but not intensive care. Others, including the Comfort and the Javits Center, were designated for patients who don’t have the virus but need care for other reasons — though President Donald Trump said Thursday evening that the Javits would switch to caring for coronavirus patients.

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