'New York is the canary in the coal mine': Cuomo issues urgent COVID-19 warning to other states

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sounded his most dire warning yet about the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, saying the infection rate in N.Y. is accelerating and the state could be as close as two weeks away from a crisis that sees 40,000 people in intensive care.

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Such a surge would overwhelm hospitals, which now have just 3,000 intensive care unit beds statewide.

Cuomo warned the rest of the country that the virus is headed their way. "New York is the canary in the coal mine," Cuomo said.

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The rate of new infections, Cuomo said, is doubling about every three days. While officials once projected the peak in New York would come in early May, they now say it could come in two to three weeks.

“We are not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own,” he said during a briefing at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. “One of the forecasters said to me we were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We’re now looking at a bullet train.”

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New York officials have been racing to essentially double their hospital capacity to up to 110,000 beds. Cuomo now said there could be a peak need of 140,000 beds.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media at the Javits Convention Center which is being turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases on March 24, 2020 in New York City. New York City has about a third of the nation’s confirmed coronav (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

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There were more than 25,000 positive cases in New York state and at least 210 deaths, according to state figures. Most of the cases and deaths have been in New York City, an emerging worldwide hotspot in the outbreak.

New York officials are planning to add at least 1,000 temporary hospital beds at the Javits Center for non-COVID-19 patients and thousands of beds elsewhere. But Cuomo said “they're nowhere near” the number that will be needed. The state also faces shortages of ventilators and protective equipment for medical workers.

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New York has 7,000 ventilators. Cuomo called for a national push to send ventilators to New York now, saying the city needs 20,000 of them in a matter of weeks. He said the equipment could then be redeployed to different areas once the peak passes in New York.

“I will take personal responsibility for transporting the 20,000 ventilators anywhere in this country that they want, once we are passed our apex," Cuomo said. "But don't leave them sitting in a stockpile.”

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Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration and president of the New York-based Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said that ventilators — about the size of two old VCR machines — are certainly portable. But he said there would need to be a regional or national coordinator of medical products “to make sure that the goods needed are where they need to be.”

WNYW conntributed to this report.