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Decline in virus cases revamps field hospital plans on LI, NYC

Work continues earlier this week on one of

Work continues earlier this week on one of the five massive field hospital tents that have been erected on the campus of Stony Brook University. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

ALBANY — A decline in new hospitalizations for the COVID-19 virus has prompted state officials to revise plans for temporary field hospitals on the state campuses at Old Westbury and Stony Brook, while scuttling plans for three smaller pop-up wards in New York City, state officials said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will finish construction of the field hospitals at Old Westbury and Stony Brook within a few days. But the state won’t be staffing or fully equipping the sites unless there is a new surge or a second wave of the coronavirus, which has killed 13,362 people in New York State, including 1,802 Long Island residents.

“You could have a second wave,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday. However, he said, the state is no longer in immediate danger of a shortage of hospital beds. 

If there is a surge in the numbers of infected people and hospitalizations, a total of 250 beds or more could be added to the current capacity at both sites within a couple days, said the state officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the measures haven’t yet been announced.

The decision was made over several days this week. Part of that includes abandoning plans for smaller field hospitals — one each on Staten Island, in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and in the parking lot of Aqueduct Raceway in Queens, the officials said.

Cuomo said 17,316 people were hospitalized on Thursday, or 419 fewer than the day before. That’s part of a steady decline from 18,825 people hospitalized on April 12. There were 4,294 virus victims in intensive care on Thursday, but that’s a decline of 32 from the day before. 

Cuomo also said 1,803 people were treated and discharged from hospitals Thursday, for a total of 31,987 discharges during the outbreak.

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“That is good news,” Cuomo said Thursday. “If you look at the net change in hospitalizations, it's down more significantly than it has been. So that's positive news.”

Several government and private agencies projected in March that 55,000 to 110,000 hospital beds would be needed to handle virus cases statewide. At the time, the state’s hospital system had 53,470 beds, and most of those were filled.

But Cuomo’s PAUSE action on March 20, which closed schools and almost all businesses, led to some surprisingly effective results in controlling spread of the virus, state officials said: New Yorkers greatly embraced “social distancing” by keeping at least 6 feet apart; isolating COVID-19 patients and self-quarantining by others greatly limited contact; suspending elective surgeries freed up more beds than expected; and stay-home orders reduced traffic accidents.

In addition, public and private hospitals met or exceeded a mandate to increase capacity by 50%, with some doubling their capacity after state regulations were temporarily eased. And an emergency agreement allows state officials to identify and use individual beds as they become empty throughout the state, the officials said.

Further, the Trump administration deployed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Manhattan to convert the Jacob Javits Center into a field hospital and the Navy sent the USNS Comfort hospital ship to provide more beds. Javits could handle as many as 2,500 patients, but it is now configured to handle up to 1,200 COVID-19 patients who need a higher level of care as well as ventilators. Javits has about 307 patients now and 612 have been treated and discharged.

The Comfort has 1,000 beds and now has about 79 patients, after discharging 78, the state officials said.

“It became clear that the need for non-COVID patients was diminished,” one state official said. “We can see the trend and reach out transfer patients by ambulances and medevacs ready to move patients at a moment’s notice. We don’t know where this virus might go next.”

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