Over the next 14 to 21 days, the coronavirus pandemic will peak in New York, and unless drastic measures are taken by the federal government, Long Islanders will begin to die needlessly. A lack of ventilators in the state and a lack of leadership in the White House will be to blame.
Tuesday there were 25,665 cases of coronavirus in downstate New York, more than half of the nation’s total and nine times as many as any other state. Almost 15,000 of those cases are in New York City, while Nassau County has 2,869 and Suffolk has 1,880. The state total is doubling every three days, implying that more than 100,000 cases are likely in New York by Sunday, and 400,000 one week later. The severity of the crisis in our region was underscored during the White House briefing Tuesday as the number of cases on Long Island was repeatedly referenced by officials. It’s frightening that their efforts don’t match their words.
The state has only 7,000 of the ventilators that patients in respiratory distress need. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says we’ll need 30,000. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone says the county’s supply of ventilators is “woefully inadequate.” Nassau County’s situation is similarly dire.
The federal government has sent just 400 machines from its stockpile of 12,700 ventilators. Vice President Mike Pence says 4,000 more will arrive soon. But New York needs the whole federal stockpile and more. And getting enough ventilators here while the need is here, and elsewhere once the need moves on, is a responsibility Trump can’t shirk.
Even as New York girds for battle, states with few cases are trying to buy ventilators. Governors can’t be allowed to fight each other for crucial equipment. Medical needs, not cunning in procurement, must determine where ventilators go.
Tuesday, President Donald Trump reacted to Cuomo’s demands for federal control over the manufacture and allocation of ventilators by saying, “He’s supposed to be buying his own ventilators.” In fact, Trump needs to invoke the Defense Production Act to push for a huge increase in ventilator production, and even that won’t be timely. The Ford Motor Co. is reconfiguring its assembly lines but none of its ventilators will be available until June and there are few left to be bought overseas.
This is not just about putting New York first. It’s about taking care of New York, where the crisis is intensifying first, and then helping other states when their numbers jump.
The federal government must use any means necessary, from controlling purchasing to transporting ventilators from low-need states to high-need ones, to get all Americans necessary care. This national crisis can only be met by a nationally coordinated effort to get machines where they are needed. Right now, that is New York, where a shortage of equipment could soon mean rationed care. As Cuomo said Tuesday, “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”
The editorial board