New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) is winning praise and accolades for his daily on-screen appearances amid the ongoing novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and concomitant panic.
But at least one aspect of the quickly-snowballing crisis appears to be attributable to Cuomo’s own lack of foresight: a severe shortage of necessary healthcare materiel needed for the war against America’s so-called “invisible enemy.”
On Wednesday morning, during his quotidian Coronavirus press briefing, the three-term Democratic governor told an easily verifiable falsehood about New York’s state of health.
“No one has these ventilators and no one ever anticipated a situation where you would need this number of ventilators to deal with a public health emergency,” Cuomo said–explaining the Empire State’s recent move toward rationing the highly in-demand medical devices.
“So we have purchased everything that can be purchased,” he added. “We’re now in a situation where we’re trying to accelerate production of these ventilators, and a ventilator is a complicated piece of equipment.”
But Cuomo’s claim that “no one ever anticipated” the “number of ventilators to deal with a public health emergency” is directly undercut by a report from New York State itself–under his own administration–released halfway into Cuomo’s second term in office.
Prepared by the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law and the New York State Department of Health, the November 2015 “Ventilator Allocation Guidelines” describe almost exactly the sort of public health emergency Cuomo recently claimed was unexpected.
Page 30 of the report estimates that New York State will experience a shortfall of 15,783 ventilators during the “Peak Week” of a “Severe Scenario”–which is described repeatedly in the report as akin to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
Page 30 of the report goes into detail:
E. Stockpiling Ventilators
New York State pandemic planning includes careful consideration of the potential shortage of ventilators, based on the estimates discussed above. There is a federal government stockpile of ventilators, but its use is limited for any one locality; there are not enough ventilators to be distributed to meet demand if many regions need them at once.
New York State has stockpiled 1,750 ventilators to help reduce ventilator need in the face of the moderate scenario; however, there are no current plans to buy enough ventilators for the most severe model. The State’s current approach to stockpiling a limited number of ventilators balances the need to prepare for a potential pandemic against the need to maintain adequate funding for current and ongoing health care expenses. Furthermore, severe staffing shortages are anticipated, and purchasing additional ventilators beyond a threshold will not save additional lives, because there will not be a sufficient number of trained staff to operate them. In the event of an overwhelming burden on the health care system, New York will not have sufficient ventilators to meet critical care needs despite its emergency stockpile. If the most severe forecast becomes a reality, New York State and the rest of the country will need to allocate ventilators and other scarce resources.
As a point of clarification, it bears explaining that Cuomo’s administration both: (1) anticipated a severe ventilator shortage in the severe scenario the state is now experiencing; and (2) justified its decision not to stockpile the necessary number of ventilators needed because, they claimed, there would “not be a sufficient number of trained staff to operate them.”
“In a severe public health emergency on the scale of the 1918 influenza pandemic, however, these ventilators would not be sufficient to meet the demand,” another section of the 2015 report notes. “Even if the vast number of ventilators needed were purchased, a sufficient number of trained staff would not be available to operate them. If the most severe forecast becomes a reality, New York State and the rest of the country will need to allocate ventilators.”
A member of Cuomo’s team was granted anonymity to trash the 2015 report by the Daily Beast as “a five-year-old advisory task-force report, which never recommended the state procure ventilators.” The anonymous source went on to note: “[the report] merely referenced that New York wouldn’t be equipped with enough ventilators for a 1918 flu pandemic.”
That excuse, however, doesn’t actually address the governor’s Wednesday falsehood; the report itself justifies a political decision by Cuomo not to purchase additional ventilators based on a theoretical labor shortage. Now there is apparently no such labor shortage and the report belies Cuomo’s “no one ever anticipated” claim because not only did he and his administration anticipate the dearth of ventilators, they explicitly argued against plugging up that deficit while relying on incorrect prior labor assumptions.
New York State is now in dire need of thousands upon thousands of ventilators. It is appealing to President Donald Trump to use the full power of the federal government (the Defense Production Act) to help close the gap.
[image via Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images]
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