ALBANY — New York state reached 92,381 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 2,373 deaths, among them the latest in the Capital Region, a 68-year-old Rensselaer County man.
For the first time, the state also got a count of the available number of the N-95 respirators desperately sought by first-responders and medical professionals at risk of contracting the disease.
There are 2,338,944 N-95s within the state’s borders, give or take.
N-95s are simple masks that fit tighter around the face and mouth than other masks and filter each breath more completely. In happier times they retailed for a buck or two apiece but during the pandemic they’ve become a flashpoint, with allegations of price gouging, hoarding and misallocation as they become increasingly scarce.
Nurses and other health professionals have complained publicly about hospitals rationing vital PPE — personal protective equipment — as the crisis worsens, saying they have been denied the gear as they work. One Capital Region nurse whose Facebook avatar is the words WE NEED PPE complained in a weekend post of her face being raw after having to wear the same mask for a combined 24 hours.
During his daily briefing Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo listed the first-ever tally of N-95s and other PPE. There were, for example, 106,635 goggles and 23,649,050 nitrile gloves available as of Wednesday.
This database will be used to allocate PPE supplies where they’re needed most — maybe.
Cuomo previously has said supplies would be moved from hospitals that didn’t need them at the moment to hospitals that do. Capital Region hospitals were publicly silent in response.
On Thursday, Cuomo said hospitals will be asked to contribute to a state stockpile.
Also Thursday, the Capital Region’s largest hospital, Albany Medical Center, said it would place its N-95s in a lock box Pyxis system similar to what is used to store medication in nursing stations. Staff cleared to wear N-95 masks will have to swipe an ID card to get one. The hospital has also ramped up an ultraviolet sterilization procedure by which N-95s can be reused.
The number of New Yorkers confirmed to have COVID-19 will likely approach or exceed 100,000 Friday. New York City remains hardest hit, but its nearby suburbs — Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties — each added about a thousand new cases from Wednesday to Thursday.
“Those numbers are concerning and we’re watching those,” Cuomo said of the suburbs.
On the other end of the spectrum was Yates County, with one case as of Thursday. On Wednesday it had been the last county in the state with zero cases.
Another group of patients was moved upstate Thursday from overburdened downstate hospitals. Albany Med, which took in 14 transfers from New York City on Tuesday, got the call again Thursday but asked other hospitals in the regional partnership that has formed to deal with the pandemic to step up.
St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam took in an unspecified number.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, it said: “St. Mary’s, our associates and medical staff have been preparing for weeks and we are ready to assist our fellow New Yorkers and downstate hospitals. The patients that we are accepting are from the broader community of people we call New Yorkers and Americans. Our Mission statement calls on us to serve all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable. And, today it's hard to imagine any group of patients more vulnerable than those afflicted with COVID-19. St. Mary’s, with every other hospital in New York State, stands ready to accept this challenge and to assist facilities who are currently overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of patients undergoing treatment. These transfers will not impede our ability to care for the needs of our community.”
Top executives of Albany Med made the same point in their daily video post Thursday — it is not going to bog down with transferred patients. Neither hospital mentioned but both possibly were addressing the sentiment floating around upstate that hospitals here should be reserved for upstate residents.
There were a total of 448 patients admitted Thursday at Albany Med, a hospital that often holds 700 patients, is designed for 766, and can hold many more in its current crisis configuration. About 10 percent of the patients at Albany Med — 44 total — have COVID. Of those, 19 are in intensive care units.
In other developments Thursday:
- Cuomo estimated the current supply of ventilators — critical devices that keep the sickest COVID patients alive by helping them breathe — at six days’ worth under current rates. The state has multiple fallback options once the ventilator supply runs out, none as good as a ventilator but all better than nothing. These include running two patients on one ventilator; modifying anesthesia machines to work as ventilators; 3,000 newly purchased bilevel positive airway pressure machines, a weaker type of ventilator; and 7,000 manually pumped rubber bladders, a device of last resort.
- Albany County hit 253 confirmed cases with 27 hospitalizations. The county sprinted out to a high case count early on thanks to extensive testing but slowed down as test kits became scarce. County Executive Daniel McCoy said he’s looking at fining the people who continue to hold parties that defy social distancing and has received complaints of local price gouging.
- Elsewhere in the Capital Region, Fulton County stood at six confirmed cases as of Thursday afternoon; Montgomery County eight (with two hospitalized), Rensselaer County 54 (17 hospitalized), Saratoga County 132 (18 hospitalized), Schenectady County 101 (17 hospitalized), and Schoharie County eight.
- President Trump allowed the 2,500-bed temporary hospital built last week in Manhattan to take COVID-19 patients, a change of policy.
- The state Department of Environmental Conservation encouraged New Yorkers to get outside and do a little birdwatching. Locally. With adequate space between each other. Outside recreation is good for human health, it said, and watching any of the 450-plus species of birds in New York is enjoyable.
- SUNY Polytechnic Institute is fabricating a key type of PPE — face shields — for health care workers with 3D printing technology.
- Ames Goldsmith, a Glens Falls silver refiner and fabricator, has converted part of its production capacity and begun making hand sanitizer for donation to area nonprofits.
- U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., demanded President Trump explain how medical supplies are being allocated, noting New York is not getting what it asks for and other states are getting more than they ask for. She cited a Washington Post report that Oklahoma asked for 16,000 face shields and got 120,000 while North Carolina requested 500,000 coveralls and got 306.
- U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., demanded U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar provide immediate guidance for program and release of desperately needed funds to upstate New York hospitals and community health centers under the $100 billion Marshall Plan For Healthcare that Schumer championed as part of the $2 trillion relief effort.
- Schumer called on Trump to pick someone other than the “woefully unqualified” Dr. Peter Navarro to lead production and distribution of medical devices and equipment, which are in short supply in New York, epicenter of America’s COVID-19 crisis. He called for a senior military officer to do the job instead, as there are many in the military skilled and experienced in logistics.