NEW YORK – With coronavirus deaths surging in New York, the governor announced Friday that he will use his authority to seize ventilators and protective gear from private hospitals and companies that aren't using them – one of the most aggressive steps yet in the U.S. to relieve severe shortages of equipment needed to fight the scourge.
The executive order he said he would sign is aimed at the kind of shortages worldwide that authorities say have caused front-line health care workers to fall sick and forced doctors in Europe to make life-or-death decisions about which patients get a breathing machine.
“If they want to sue me for borrowing their excess ventilators to save lives, let them sue me,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. He characterized it as a “sharing of resources” and promised to eventually return the equipment or compensate the owners.
Cuomo has said New York, the worst hot spot in the nation, could run out of ventilators next week, while Louisiana's governor said New Orleans could exhaust its supply by Tuesday.
The number of the people infected in the U.S. exceeded a quarter-million and the death toll climbed past 6,900, with New York state alone accounting for more than 2,900 dead, an increase of over 560 in one day. Most of the dead are in New York City, where hospitals are swamped with patients. About 15,000 people were hospitalized statewide, most of them in the city.
The Democratic governor was praised by a metropolitan-area hospital association, but some Republican elected officials outside the city objected. They called the order reckless and said it would cost lives.
“Taking our ventilators by force leaves our people without protection and our hospitals unable to save lives today or respond to a coming surge,” 12 of them said in a statement.
Worldwide, confirmed infections rose past 1 million and deaths topped 58,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say both numbers are seriously undercounted because of the lack of testing, mild cases that were missed and governments that are underplaying the crisis.
Europe's three worst-hit countries – Italy, Spain and France – accounted for more than 32,000 dead, or over half of the global toll. The crisis there was seen as a frightening portent for places like New York, where bodies already are being loaded by forklift into refrigerated trucks outside overwhelmed hospitals.
Shortages of such things as masks, gowns and ventilators have led to fierce competition among buyers from Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.
A regional leader in Paris described the scramble to find masks a “worldwide treasure hunt,” and the French prime minister said he is “fighting hour by hour” to ward off shortages of essential drugs used to keep COVID-19 patients alive.
France reported a surge of more than 1,000 deaths Friday, bringing its overall toll to more than 6,500. It canceled its high school exit exam known as the Baccalaureat, a first in the test's 212-year history.
“The work is extremely tough and heavy,” said Philippe Montravers, an anesthesiologist in Paris. “We've had doctors, nurses, caregivers who got sick, infected ... but who have come back after recovering. It's a bit like those World War I soldiers who were injured and came back to fight.”