ALBANY — As concern grows over equipment shortages in area hospitals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on Washington to release the federal stockpile of medical equipment, including ventilators, to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor also announced a 90-day relief period for mortgage payments and called panic over COVID-19, “more dangerous than the virus,” during a press conference Thursday morning at the state Capitol.
After the press conference, Cuomo signed an executive order mandating that businesses must decrease their in-office workforce by 75 percent, with exemptions for essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies and health care providers.
Cuomo did not discuss the shortage of COVID-19 testing kits during the conference. The Capital Region may soon run out of kits if more do not become available in the coming days, Albany Medical Center officials said during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon.
Comparing the COVID-19 crisis to a war, Cuomo said that the federal government must do more to support the state’s health care system. New York state has 4,152 cases of COVID-19, the most of any state in the country. More than half of those cases are in New York City.
Cuomo announced 1,769 new cases statewide, with the majority in New York City. There are no confirmed cases in Franklin County, although the number in neighboring Clinton County has climbed to two. There is one confirmed case in Essex County.
The rapid rise in the number of new COVID-19 cases statewide is due to an increase in testing, Cuomo said.
“There are thousands of people who have the virus who we are not testing. Thousands already resolved it and we never knew they had it. You can’t watch these numbers like the stock market,” Cuomo said.
The temporary testing facility erected in the Albany Medical Center parking lot has been inundated with people seeking tests. Personnel there had performed more than 1,400 tests for COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning, hospital officials said, with 82 confirmed cases in the greater Capital Region.
Cuomo called on President Donald Trump to order companies to produce ventilators through the Federal Defense Procurement Act. The ventilator shortage is a nationwide problem, with states competing for the equipment, he said. “When you have this volume of respiratory illnesses, it is critical to access ventilators.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at sites across the state that can be turned into health care facilities to increase the number of beds available for COVID-19 patients, Cuomo said. But he warned that beds will not be enough.
“The beds will do very little good without the ventilator,” he said.
New York has 53,000 hospital beds and 3,000 intensive care unit beds statewide, and fewer than 6,000 ventilators. Health officials estimate that the state will require 30,000 ventilators as the crisis worsens, Cuomo said.
Albany Medical Center has 75 adult ventilators, with fewer than 40 in use, said Dr. Ferdinand Venditti, executive vice president of system care delivery. Hospital officials are hoping that state and federal agencies will make more ventilators available.
The governor also rolled out plans to assist New Yorkers who are struggling financially during the crisis.
He announced that the Department of Financial Services will offer 90-day mortgage relief for homeowners who are not working or working part-time. The state will waive mortgage payments for 90 days and implement a grace period for mortgage modifications, he said. “Making a mortgage payment can be a big stresser. We are trying to eliminate that stresser.”
The state will also postpone foreclosures and is waiving overdraft and late payment fees, he said.
Cuomo urged New Yorkers to focus on the facts, not fear and misinformation.
“In many ways, the fear is more dangerous than the virus,” he said.
He called the crisis “tremendously disruptive,” but said people should try to find the positive in spending more time with their families. “In this busy, hurry-up world, all of a sudden, someone said, ‘You’re going to be home.’ How do you use that?” he said.