The U.S. state of New York crossed a grim threshold Thursday, with 100 residents dying from the coronavirus in a 24-hour period, and the governor warning that the numbers will continue to rise.
"The number of deaths is increasing," Andrew Cuomo told reporters. With the latest deaths, 385 people have now succumbed to the virus in New York state.
He said the fatalities are primarily among patients who have been on ventilators for weeks. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is a respiratory virus and many patients experience difficulty breathing, requiring the assistance of a breathing machine.
"We now have people who have been on ventilators for 20, 30 days," Cuomo said. "The longer you are on a ventilator, the more likely you are not going to come off the ventilator. That is what is happening."
It is a troubling development, as there are 1,300 COVID-19 patients in the state's intensive care units — those are the hospital beds equipped with ventilators.
Cuomo said in normal medical situations, patients tend to use a machine for 3 to 4 days, while patients with the coronavirus average 11 to 21 days.
The state of 19.5 million people has become a global hotspot for the virus. There are now more than 37,000 confirmed cases statewide. More than 5,300 people are sick enough to be hospitalized. Many more may have the virus but do not meet criteria to be tested.
Cuomo has a team working to procure new ventilators to meet his state's projected needs when cases are likely to peak in 2 to 3 weeks time. Cuomo has said they are trying to secure 30,000 machines. So far they have about 12,000.
New York is also looking at "splitting" ventilators — refitting one machine with two sets of tubes in order to assist two people simultaneously.
"It is not ideal, but we believe it is workable," Cuomo said. "We are also converting anaesthesia machines to ventilators."
He said the state's hospitals have a couple of thousand anesthesia machines that could be converted.
New York City is the epicenter of the state's pandemic, with more than 21,000 cases. New cases are growing by more than 3,000 a day there. Cuomo said authorities are looking at moving some patients from the city to less overwhelmed hospitals in the north of the state.
"We are working on a collaboration where we distribute the load between downstate hospitals and upstate hospitals, and we are also working on increasing capacity for upstate hospitals," he said.
While the state's health care system tries to cope with the growing number of patients, officials are looking at the catastrophic fiscal fallout.
A $2 trillion stimulus package passed in the U.S. Senate late Wednesday allocates $5 billion to the hardest-hit state. Cuomo said New York is looking at a loss of between $10 billion and $15 billion in revenue from the coronavirus and that the legislation did not address that.
"The congressional action, in my opinion, simply failed to address the governmental need," the governor said. "I said I was disappointed. I find it irresponsible, I find it reckless."