New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said he will ask U.S. President Donald Trump to authorize four more temporary hospitals in the state to help it combat the coronavirus pandemic at a Friday press conference.
These four hospitals would come in addition to the four temporary hospitals the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USAE) is already constructing, two of which will be located on Long Island at SUNY Old Westbury and Stony Brook University respectively. The planned medical facilities are part of a statewide effort to expand the maximum number of hospital beds New York has in order to more effectively treat patients as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
“For the hospital capacity at the apex we need 140,000 beds,” Cuomo said during a press conference with the USAE at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, a temporary hospital site. “We have 53,000 beds. That’s why we’re scrambling and why we’re asking you to do as much work as you’re doing.”
Cuomo added that the state also needs to up its number of ICU beds from 3,000 to 40,000, just a small part of what he called the “monumental task” of ensuring New York has the facilities to take on coronavirus.
After weeks of increased testing capacity that now sees more than 18,000 people tested for COVID-19 daily in New York, there are more than 80,000 positive cases in the state as of Wednesday afternoon. Long Island has around one-fifth of the state’s confirmed cases.
A representative from the USAE said SUNY Old Westbury and Stony Brook University were chosen for temporary hospital sites based on recommendations from state officials, who have prioritized placing a hospital in every borough of New York City as well as both Long Island counties. While the details of both projects are still being worked out, each university is slated to host a new 1,000-bed facility constructed entirely by the Army Corps.
The USAE said they are looking to complete each facility as soon as possible, and have already finished the Javits Center hospital, which began operations on Monday, March 30.
“SUNY Old Westbury fully supports the governor’s efforts to increase hospital capacity and will make available those facilities needed to help flatten the COVID-19 curve,” SUNY Old Westbury Chief Communications Officer Michael Kinane said. “As it has been for the past several weeks, the goal for each of us must be to ensure the safety of ourselves, our friends and loved ones and the community at large.”
All hospitals in New York have been ordered to increase their capacity by at least 50 percent. This rapid expansion in needed medical facilities is placing a heavy burden on medical workers on Long Island, who in many cases, are operating in situations where manpower and supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and ventilators are in short supply.
“We’re running out of ventilators and all the units in the hospital are becoming COVID units,” one nurse working in the emergency room of a large Long Island hospital, who asked her name and place of business be kept anonymous out of concern for job security, said. “I’m caring for patients in normal rooms because we don’t have enough negative pressure rooms for them all. Myself and my coworkers have all been exposed. Nobody will let us get tested because they need us.”
North Shore University Hospital Chief Medical Officer Michael Gitman said the hospital, which treated about 250 COVID-19 patients at the time of publication, has dramatically expanded its ICU to keep up. While at the moment the hospital has enough supplies and protective equipment to keep operating smoothly while keeping its employees safe, Gitman emphasized the issue with the ongoing pandemic will be keeping up with increasing demand as time goes on. In situations like these, Gitman explained, hospitals typically wind up having to pull about 20 percent of their staff due to infections at one point or another.
“This is not a traditional emergency like a hurricane where you have several days of disruption and then a recovery,” Gitman said. “This is going to be weeks. We have what we need on hand today, but all of the plans to step up production are to keep up with this as it continues over many, many weeks.”
To increase its available staff, New York State is requesting retired medical professionals sign up to rejoin the state’s health care force. So far, Cuomo said about 62,000 have responded.
On the supply side, the state has received donations of PPE from sources as varied as pop star Rihanna and the Long Island Chinese American Association.
In an attempt to do its part to help, Stony Brook University’s iCREATE Innovation Lab has designed and begun to produce 3D-printable face shields to protect doctors and nurses at the university’s hospital. The lab itself can print about 60 face shields a day, iCREATE director David Ecker said, but has also shared the printing directions with Suffolk County libraries and the nearby Stony Brook School to up the number to a few hundred per day.
“We had to ramp up production almost immediately,” Ecker said. “iCREATE has about 20 3D printers and we just turned it all into a production house to do that. We’ve printed about 257 and our goal is 5,000. We’ve partnered with Suffolk County Library to produce about 100 to 200 a day.”
Any organizations or individuals with a 3D printer can visit Ecker’s blog at www.nyinnovate.com/2020/03/26/face-shields-icreate for downloadable step-by-step directions on how to produce the face shields.