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U.S. needs a national response against COVID-19

Workers build a road on Tuesday to access

Workers build a road on Tuesday to access an athletic facility on the campus of Stony Brook University as part of the Army Corps of Engineers' effort to add hospital beds for the coronavirus crisis. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A national emergency deserves a national response.

That’s why it’s imperative that the federal government coordinate a massive deployment of medical staff and resources so that states such as New York which are going through the worst of this crisis will get the help they need now — and then respond in kind as other states need the help later.

This isn’t just a New York pandemic — and it won’t just be a New York pandemic in the months to come. But right now, we are suffering the most. More than 120,000 of us have been infected with the coronavirus. More than 4,000 people in the state have died from COVID-19. Another 4,000 are fighting for their lives in intensive care units.

Most of those who are sick, or have died, are in New York City and on Long Island. And it’s going to get much, much worse.

A national effort to coordinate, attract and deploy voluntary medical personnel — including nurses, doctors, and respiratory therapists — would be a good step. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been pleading with the Trump administration for more than a week to set such a plan in action. Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a nationwide response, too. It must happen now.

Cuomo said his initial request solicited an impressive 20,000 volunteers. But it doesn’t make sense for one state to do this on its own.

It was only after Rep. Lee Zeldin begged via Twitter for personal protective equipment that the Trump administration responded, sending enough for the next 30 days, according to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

Now, it’s time for the same extensive effort to move medical personnel to the nation’s hot spots. Real-time data could pinpoint which areas need help — and what kind. Federal officials from the Defense Department, Homeland Security or FEMA can work with the states to coordinate training, housing and other needs. Airlines that aren’t doing much commercial flying now but are getting a sizable bailout could help, bringing planes full of volunteers to New York.

To make this happen, President Donald Trump also could call on the National Guard of every state to assist, while bringing in the military’s medical expertise, now spread out at facilities around the world. While some military personnel arrived in New York Sunday, Trump needs to do more. Also worth considering: Sen. Chuck Schumer suggested in a letter to Trump Thursday that a military leader could command the disbursement of supplies.

After the pool of nurses, physicians and specialists help New York get through the worst of this, those volunteers — and New York’s workers — can head to where they’re needed, bringing with them expertise to best treat this deadly virus. Cuomo said he would drive a truck himself to the next hot spot. Even within New York, resources must be moved to where they’re most needed. Cuomo’s executive order allowing him to shift ventilators from one location to another is what emergency management is about. Complaints from upstate elected officials who somehow think they should hang on to ventilators they don’t need are parochial and dangerous.

Only an immediate, coordinated federal response, with all states and communities on board, could save more lives.

New York, particularly Long Island and New York City, will pay it forward. Promise.

— The editorial board

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