ALBANY — Seven hundred and thirty one New Yorkers died of COVID-19 on Monday, the deadliest single day by far in the state hardest-hit by the pandemic.
The number deflated the optimism that some felt after the weekend, when the ever-increasing death toll in New York state slowed its rate of increase for a couple of days.
There are other signs of hope, but again based on only a few days’ data: There are fewer new hospitalizations statewide than in recent weeks, and fewer new intensive care unit placements. In the Capital Region, the largest hospital saw its first decrease in COVID-19 patient census, down from 61 Monday. Albany Medical Center still had 60 patients Tuesday, though, 30 of them in intensive care.
The diverging numbers are not contradictory: Number of deaths will continue to rise for a while after hospital admissions slow because those who are dying are typically the patients who’ve been hospitalized the longest, and been unable to beat back the disease.
New York reached 138,836 confirmed cases and 5,489 dead by Tuesday morning, 8,174 more cases and 731 more deaths than a day earlier.
During his daily briefing Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo paused on the death toll to emphasize it was more than a number.
“That’s 731 people who we lost,” he said. “Behind every one of those numbers is an individual, is a family, is a mother, is a father, is a sister, is a brother. So a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers.”
A reporter asked him later if the numbers become numbing at some point.
“I guess one could get numb to the numbers,” Cuomo reflected. “Remember, every number is a human being behind that and a family. For myself I can tell you the last thing I do is get numb.
“You see those pictures on TV getting to a situation where you have to put bodies in [freezer] trucks in parking lots — how you could get numb to any of this? I can’t imagine, especially New Yorkers, that we lose the humanity of this.”
Also Tuesday, Cuomo issued the executive order he’d previewed Friday, allowing the Department of Health to shift ventilators and other critical equipment from hospitals that have them and aren’t using them to hospitals that need them now and don’t have them.
It has been among the more controversial pieces of Cuomo’s response to the pandemic, prompting pushback and criticism from upstate, where hospitals are not overwhelmed like their downstate counterparts.
Ventilators have been the sought after and argued over all through the crisis — across the state, nation and world.
In the space of a week Cuomo’s public statements went from wanting to place key assets at all hospitals in a single state-controlled stockpile to asking hospitals to donate supplies to having the National Guard remove ventilators from under-capacity hospitals.
An aide later clarified that the removal would be voluntary and would be only 20 percent of the unused ventilators.
The Healthcare Association of New York State later said it had brokered a deal whereby upstate hospitals would create a list of what they could share on a voluntary basis.
By Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, a vocal critic of the plan to drain upstate of COVID supplies, indicated she was satisfied.
Cuomo had clearly walked the matter back, she told reporters in a conference call.
Then Cuomo’s executive order was published. It said any hospital or other entity in the state with any relevant medical equipment in inventory must report that equipment to the state Department of Health. If a hospital did not need it at present or in the near figure, DOH could transfer the equipment to other facilities that had an urgent current need, the order said. There is no mention in the order of anything being voluntary or fractional.
A reporter later asked Cuomo for details during his daily briefing. The governor said it was 20 percent of what a hospital didn’t need at the moment, but didn’t use the word “voluntary.”
The reporter said that sounded like a big change from his previous position.
“No, that’s what I was saying,” he said.
It might otherwise be a petty provincial and semantic debate, except that ventilators can mean the difference between life and death for a critically ill COVID patient. Downstate hospitals have many more of these patients than update hospitals, but upstate hospitals are trying to be prepared for the point when they will see the surge Cuomo has said is coming.
In other COVID-related developments Tuesday:
- Cuomo said the state will invest in private companies to bring rapid testing for the disease up to scale; had obtained student loan relief for about 300,000 New Yorkers not covered by the Federal CARES Act; and has developed an antibody blood test that will show whether an individual has developed immunity and is safe to return to work.
- In the Capital Region, Albany County reached 333 confirmed cases Tuesday, Fulton County 13, Montgomery County 18, Rensselaer County 67, Saratoga County 155, Schenectady County 145 and Schoharie County 12.
- Hannaford Supermarkets boosted its previously announced $50,000 donation to the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York to $120,000 as part of a larger $750,000 donation to hunger relief and homeless outreach organizations across its service area. The Latham-based Food Bank will use the money to hire additional staff to meet the growing need for help among the nearly 1,000 charitable organizations it serves in 23 counties.
- MVP Health Care said it was expanding COVID-19 services for its 700,000 members in New York and Vermont, with more options and lowers costs on everything from testing and treatment to telemedicine and meal delivery.
- Saratoga Hospital is increasing its use of telemedicine so that patients may avoid exposing themselves or others to infection. From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, Malta Med Emergent Care is offering virtual urgent care appointments. Go to MaltaMed.org and click on “Book a Telehealth Appointment.”
- Hudson Headwaters Health Network is furloughing 85 employees this week amid a more than 50 percent drop in patient volume due to social distancing requirements. Mainly non-clinical staff are affected.
- Area brewers are doing what they do to help those who aren’t. Adirondack Brewery, Artisanal Brew Works, Bolton Landing Brewing Co., Common Roots Brewing Co., Druthers Brewing Co., and Northway Brewing Co. have collaborated to produce Negative Input, an American lager. Profits from sale of 4-packs will benefit unemployed hospitality workers in Saratoga and Warren counties. To request help from the fund, or donate to it, visit www.wearebrewnited.com.
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