ALBANY — New York created a central coordinating team for hospitals statewide on Tuesday, the last day of a month that saw confirmed cases of COVID-19 rise from one to 76,000 in the state.
As of late morning, 10,929 of the 75,795 infected New Yorkers were hospitalized with the virus and 1,550 had died, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his daily briefing.
The pandemic has not peaked in New York and may not crest for another one to three weeks, depending on which model is consulted, the governor said as he outlined the plan to direct allocate medical resources.
Upstate hospitals will be called on to take downstate patients if downstate hospitals are overwhelmed by the surge, and in the meantime, he said, upstate healthcare workers should consider volunteering to go downstate, where their counterparts are at the point of physical and emotional exhaustion.
“We are one healthcare system,” Cuomo said. “It can’t be the downstate hospitals, and the upstate hospitals, and the Long Island hospitals. When we talk about capacity of beds, when I say we now have 75,000 beds, that’s a statewide number. That means those beds have to be available to the people in New York City or Nassau [County] even if those beds are up in Albany.”
He announced the new central coordinating team and directed that all hospitals provide it with a list of their supplies and resources. The team will treat all the state’s hospitals as one system with pooled supplies and resources; it will send the resources where they are needed and direct patients where there is capacity.
“It's much easier said than done,” the governor acknowledged, “but we have to do it.”
Cuomo said no downstate patients have been transferred upstate yet.
“First, we’re going to try to bring upstate staff down to New York City hospitals,” he said. “You have upstate hospitals that are nowhere near capacity. Send your staff down to New York City hospitals.”
CAPITAL REGION HOSPITALS
The incoming chief executive officer of Albany Medical Center, Dr. Dennis McKenna, did not address the idea of staff transfers in a video message Tuesday but said Albany Med would take as many transfer patients as it could.
It is the Capital Region’s largest hospital, with 766 beds in normal times and room for many more patients now, after weeks of urgent planning for a surge.
Albany Med took in over 16,000 transfer patients of all types in 2019, he noted, and it won’t stop now if they happen to have COVID-19.
“The answer is, of course we will,” McKenna said. “That is our mission, that is what we are here to do.”
Albany Med is part of a network of a dozen Capital Region hospitals sharing strategy and information during the pandemic. Among those 12 hospitals, there were 97 COVID-19 patients Tuesday, McKenna said, up from 83 on Monday. Albany Med totaled 25 patients, 11 of them in the intensive care unit.
In another video the hospital posted to YouTube, McKenna and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Fred Venditti said 45 Albany Med employees had been confirmed infected with COVID-19 as of Monday.
Two thirds of the infected employees — 30 — are believed to have contracted the virus outside hospital walls, they said.
Also within the 10,000-person workforce at Albany Med, 141 health care workers are known to have been exposed to the virus but not tested positive. They continue to work, wearing masks while being closely monitored for symptoms such as fever.
MATTERS OF STATE
Cuomo and his aides gave updates on a few matters directly affected by the COVID-19 crisis:
- As of noon, Cuomo said there was no agreement on the 2020-2021 state budget, which as due at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and is greatly impacted by the sudden partial halt of the economy, which will crimp the flow of tax dollars indefinitely.
- Whatever the final spending plan, legal recreational marijuana use will not be part of it.
- Budget Director Robert Mujica disputed reports that some state workers’ paychecks could be delayed if the budget is not on time; if there’s a delay it will because of a technical problem in the state Comptroller’s Office, he said.
- Asked if he was satisfied with the state’s handling of the massive wave of unemployment insurance claims by the army of New Yorkers suddenly jobless because of COVID-19, Cuomo said he was not. The Department of Labor computer system continually crashes because it’s not able to handle the load, Mujica said — 1.2 million calls came in on Monday and more than 7 million calls last week to a system that handles an average of 50,000 a week. “It must be infuriating to deal with,” the governor said, adding that outside IT contractors are trying to reinforce the system and increase its capacity.
- Asked by a reporter who was to blame for New York state government getting so little in direct aid in the federal stimulus bill, Cuomo continued his policy of avoiding public political sniping during the crisis. “God will determine who is to blame,” he said. “You and I just deal with the reality.”
In other COVID-19 developments Tuesday:
- Across the Capital Region at midafternoon, the number of confirmed cases in Albany County stood at 226; Fulton County, one; Montgomery County, seven; Rensselaer County, 41; Saratoga County, 108; Schenectady County 85; and Schoharie County, six.
- The state Education Department told public schools to continue with remote learning through April 14, even in districts that had been scheduled to start spring recess April 13. Cuomo’s order that schools remain closed remains in effect through April 15, and he has indicated he will extend the order again unless the pandemic takes a significant turn for the better.
- AAA Northway said prices for regular gasoline had dropped below $2 a gallon on average nationwide, to $1.99, though the New York state average is still $2.33. It said prices at the pump likely will drop further in April.
- U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the federal stimulus package would bring $2.4 billion in additional Community Development Block Grant funding to New York communities, including $2.01 million for Albany, $209,753 for Colonie, $288,800 for Glens Falls, $181,717 for Saratoga Springs, $1.37 million for Schenectady and $1.08 million for Troy.
- Skidmore College said it had canceled its commencement ceremony and reunion event. Most faculty and staff are working remotely, it added.