NEW YORK — It’s all about the ventilators.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded with the Trump administration on Tuesday to send more ventilators to New York amid a frightening spike in coronavirus cases, describing the breathing assistance machines as “the most important” weapon in the fight against the viral pandemic.
After announcing there are now at least 25,665 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, Cuomo played bad cop and unloaded on President Donald Trump for boasting earlier in the day about securing a measly 400 ventilators for New York.
“Four hundred ventilators? I need 30,000 ventilators. You want a pat on the back for 400 ventilators?” a seething Cuomo said in a briefing from Manhattan’s Javits Center, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency is in the process of turning into an emergency field hospital.
The governor added, “You pick the 26,000 who are going to die.”
At least 210 New Yorkers have died from the virus so far, according to state health officials, accounting for nearly one-third of all U.S. deaths.
New York’s 25,665 confirmed cases account for more than half of all infections in the country, making it by far the worst-hit state. In total, the U.S. has roughly 50,000 confirmed cases.
Cuomo said his administration has procured 7,000 ventilators, but added that a “critical and desperate need” for at least 30,000 more remains.
The machines are life-saving for people who develop severe symptoms from the virus, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Cuomo bristled at Trump over his refusal to activate the Defense Production Act to compel manufacturers to ramp up production of ventilators or allow New York to make use of some of the 20,000 breathing machines in federal stockpiles.
“The ventilators will make the difference between life and death — literally,” Cuomo fumed. “I do not for the life of me understand the reluctance to use the Defense Production Act.”
On the other side of the East River, de Blasio played good cop with Trump while inspecting the 400 newly delivered ventilators at a Brooklyn warehouse.
“This is what I spoke directly to President Trump and Vice President Pence about. … Having this shipment right now is going to be life-saving,” de Blasio said, pointing to a ventilator and hailing the machine as “the most important piece of equipment in this crisis.”
During a briefing at City Hall later in the day, de Blasio struck a less placating tone.
“So long as there is a single ventilator sitting in a warehouse … something’s wrong,” he said of the federal stockpiles.
De Blasio anticipated that the city alone will need at least 15,000 ventilators.
Of the 25,665 cases reported by Cuomo, 14,904 are in the five boroughs, according to state officials.
As of Tuesday morning, de Blasio said Queens had the most cases in the city — 4,364 — followed by Brooklyn, 4,237; Manhattan, 2,887; the Bronx, 2,328; and Staten Island, 935.
At least 131 people have died in New York City.
Seemingly picking up on Cuomo’s blistering ventilator criticism, Pence said at the White House that the administration is expecting to send another 4,000 breathing machines to New York by Thursday.
Trump, on the other hand, suggested Cuomo should be grateful New York is getting any federal help at all.
“We are working very, very hard for the people of New York. We are working a lot with him. Then I watch him on this show complaining,” the Queens-born president said during a Fox News-hosted town hall event in the White House Rose Garden.
Trump also faulted the governor for turning down a chance to buy 16,000 ventilators in 2015.
“He could have had a great price and he didn’t buy them,” Trump said.
The president was referring to New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker’s decision to not buy 16,000 ventilators in preparation for a potential pandemic in 2015. At the time, Zucker reasoned there wouldn’t be enough medical professionals trained to use the machines.
Cuomo and several other governors are pushing Trump to activate the Defense Production Act to get ventilators to areas that need them the most, as opposed to states having to bid against each other for the sorely needed machines.
But Trump has complained the 1950 wartime law is akin to communism, saying earlier this week that such “nationalization” of business did not work out “too well” in Venezuela.
In a White House briefing Tuesday evening, Trump insisted the law serves as “leverage” over medical supply companies even if he doesn’t activate it.
“You don’t have to use it, but the threat of it being there is great leverage,” Trump said, adding companies haven’t said “no” to any requests for supplies so far.
Cuomo and other governors say Trump’s argument doesn’t hold water since there are no guidelines to make sure hard-hit states are given preference without the Defense Production Act in place.
With New York now confirmed as the epicenter of the virus in North America, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of Trump’s coronavirus task force, said during the White House briefing that anyone who has recently been to the city should self-quarantine for two weeks.
“About 56% of all the cases in the United States are coming out of that metro area,” Birx said.
Cuomo noted in his briefing that the number of cases in New York appears to be doubling “every three days” and projected that the state’s “apex” could be reached within three weeks — far earlier than initially believed.
“The curve is actually increasing,” Cuomo said, adding that the state will likely soon need as many as 140,000 hospital beds to accommodate a surge in patients.
There are currently only 50,000 beds in the state, Cuomo said.
(Dave Goldiner, Michael Gartland and Denis Slattery contributed to this report.)
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