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New York Still Faces Looming Shortage Of Medical Equipment For Critical Care


New York remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., with at least 30,000 positive tests in the state and more than 17,000 in New York City. More than 280 people there have died of COVID-19. Governor Andrew Cuomo had a bit of good news today. He said social distancing measures may be slowing down the spread of the virus. Overall, the situation remains critical, with a looming shortage of ventilators and hospital beds. NPR's Quil Lawrence is in the city and joins us now.

Hi, Quil.


SHAPIRO: What makes the governor say that these social distancing measures may be working right now?

LAWRENCE: Well, as recently as Sunday, the number of admissions to hospital for the virus was doubling every two days. But he says on Monday, that was down to a rate where it seemed to be doubling every 3 1/2 days. Now it seems to be taking about five days to double. The governor explained it this way.


ANDREW CUOMO: That is almost too good to be true. But given the density that we're dealing with, it spreads very quickly. But if you reduce the density, you can reduce the spread very quickly.

LAWRENCE: And it should still be kicking in 'cause the total lockdown didn't start, really, until Sunday here. The governor also stressed that only a tiny number, a tiny percentage of hospitalized patients end up on intensive care - usually older people or with preexisting conditions.

SHAPIRO: And those are the people who would need ventilators. There were supposed to be 4,000 of them coming from a federal stockpile to New York. How many does the city say they need right now?

LAWRENCE: Well, Cuomo said that he's procured another 7,000 on top of those that were promised from the feds. But there's still a critical shortage. They might be 30,000 ventilators short when this outbreak peaks sometime in April. And so they've talked about using creative solutions to double up on them, something like that. But it's clearly not enough. And Cuomo has been pleading with the White House to direct resources from parts of the country that aren't hard-hit yet. And he promises that after New York's crisis crests that those resources could be shifted back to other places.


CUOMO: I said to the president, I'll be part of going to the next hot spot with our team. We're asking the country to help us. We will return the favor. And we are all in this together, and we're asking for their help and their consideration. And we will repay it with dividends.

SHAPIRO: It's shocking that New York could be 30,000 ventilators short. So Cuomo keeps asking for help from the federal government. Is he getting it?

LAWRENCE: He keeps asking. Every time he comes on, it's a different tone. Sometimes he cajoles. He scolded the president once. More often, he's trying to be diplomatic. They don't have them yet. And he refused to answer directly a question about what happens if, in April, doctors have to start to triage who gets a ventilator - basically, who's going to live.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, Quil, I know you've also been talking with health care workers in New York. What are they telling you?

LAWRENCE: I mean, they're scared. I think that all New Yorkers right now are scared. But these are people who are well-informed, and they're scared. The governor had said today that there's enough protective gear, masks and gloves, et cetera. But that may be - I mean, people tell me that they show up, and the new protocol is, use one mask for the whole shift. So maybe they have enough if they're using a mask per shift when they normally would've thrown those out after each visit. They're sharing information with other colleagues.

Anyway, on an optimistic note, the governor did say that 40,000 health professionals have volunteered to help out - inspiring, he said. And that's sort of what makes New York, he said, undefeatable, what makes New York going to work together and overcome even this challenge.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence in New York City.

Thank you.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.