The coronavirus outbreak is accelerating across New York in spite of dramatic curbs on daily life that were supposed to slow it, the state’s governor announced, as he warned the virus would hit harder and sooner than anticipated.
A pandemic that had been rumbling like a freight train was now speeding “like a bullet train,” said Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, who detailed huge shortfalls in the state’s supply of hospital beds, ventilators and other vital equipment to deal with the crisis.
“The rate of infection is going up. It is spiking. The apex is higher than we thought. And the apex is coming sooner than we thought,” Mr Cuomo said at a press briefing on Tuesday at a New York City convention centre that was being converted into an emergency hospital. New York, he said, had “exhausted every option.”
The White House said US authorities believe about 1 in every 1,000 New Yorkers have been infected and raised the alarm that those leaving the city were at risk of spreading Covid-19 to other communities.
Deborah Birx, the lead co-ordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, urged anyone who had left the city in recent days to self-quarantine for two weeks.
“To everyone who has left New York over the last few days, because of the rate of [infection], you may have been exposed before you left,” Ms Birx said. “Everybody who was in New York should be self-quarantining for the next 14 days.”
Mr Cuomo, a Democrat, has at times praised President Donald Trump. But he lashed out at the White House on Tuesday for failing to rush adequate supplies to a state whose 25,665 confirmed cases are nearly 10 times that of the next largest state, and rank it as the US epicentre of the pandemic.
“I do not for the life of me understand the reluctance to use the federal Defense Production Act,” Mr Cuomo said, referring to a federal law that allows the government to intervene to direct private companies to produce equipment in times of war. He also scoffed at the 400 ventilators sent to New York so far.
“Four hundred ventilators? I need 30,000 ventilators! You want a pat on the back for 400 ventilators?” Later he added: “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”
With Mr Cuomo at the fore, New York has taken a raft of strict measures in recent days to bring the city to a virtual standstill in hopes of blunting the virus’ spread. It has closed Broadway theatres, thousands of bars and restaurants, the nation’s largest public school system and all but essential businesses.
The idea, as the governor has repeatedly explained in his widely followed daily briefing, is that slowing the spread will ease pressure on the state’s healthcare system, and prevent the kind of traumatic breakdown seen in northern Italy.
Yet the latest test results suggest the virus has overwhelmed those efforts. As of Tuesday morning, the state’s confirmed cases had risen to 25,665, with 3,234 people hospitalised and 756 in intensive care units.
Based on revised projections, New York could see the worst of the pandemic within 14 to 21 days, the governor said. In order to cope, it will need to increase its supply of hospital beds from 53,000 currently to as many 140,000 within days, including 40,000 intensive care beds. That is an increase from assumptions just a few days ago that New York would require 110,000 beds.
Mr Cuomo called the numbers “troubling and astronomical”.
Meanwhile, the governor dismissed the president’s suggestion that restrictive measures — like those imposed in New York — should be lifted in a matter of days in order to spare the economy. Mr Trump said on Tuesday that he would like to see “the country opened” by Easter, which falls on April 12.
“Job one has to be saving lives. That has to be the priority,” Mr Cuomo said. The governor argued there was no need to choose between human life and the economy — as forthcoming medical tests confirmed people had recovered from the virus, they could return to work while others were treated, he said.
In the meantime, the governor implored the White House to adjust its tactics in fighting the virus by rushing ventilators and other equipment to New York, and then moving them around the country to other hotspots as needed.
He also sought to disabuse other Americans of the notion that New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, was somehow unique.
The state was merely a “test case” for a virus that was rapidly spreading across the country, he said. “Where we are today,” he warned, “you will be in three or four weeks.”
We want to hear what’s happening around you. Are jobs being cut in your company? Are conditions unsafe? Are salaries or benefits changing? Send tips and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org