FILE - NY Andrew Cuomo 3-22-2020

Gov. Andrew Cuomo provides a coronavirus update March 22, 2020, during a briefing in the Red Room at the state Capitol in Albany.

(The Center Square) – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday mandated that all hospitals in the state increase the number of beds in their facilities by at least 50 percent as part of a multipronged effort to ensure that an anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases won’t overwhelm the medical system.

Cuomo, during his daily coronavirus briefing, encouraged hospitals across the state to aim for a 100 percent increase. The governor has repeatedly cited statistics showing that the state currently has about 53,000 beds, but projections show there might be a need for as many as 110,000 within a few weeks.

Many state regulations relating to how many hospital beds can be in a room have been waived during the crisis. Nevertheless, Cuomo acknowledged that hitting a 100 percent increase might not be doable for many hospitals.

“However, at a minimum, hospitals must give us a plan to increase capacity by at least 50 percent,” he said. “So we would be at about 75,000 minimum against the [110,000] need. We would still have to find additional beds.”

To fill the gap, the state is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to establish temporary hospital sites. Cuomo has already notified the corps that four sites have been approved by the state. Another four hospital setups are in the works through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The federal hospital by FEMA is different than the Army Corps of Engineers temporary facility,” he said. “The FEMA hospitals come with staff and with supplies. They're in 250-bed configurations. We're asking for four of those 250-bed configurations to be assembled in the Javits Center.”

The need for beds continued to take on urgency as the latest coronavirus numbers in New York showed no slowdown. There were 4,812 new cases added to the state’s total on Sunday, bringing the latter number to 15,915. There have been 114 deaths in the state, about 30 percent of the 374 in the nation. And the hospitalization rate of the identified cases so far is 13 percent.

The governor also directed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to bring him a plan within 24 hours to address what he saw as a dangerous amount of defiance toward social distancing directives in the city.

“I was in New York City [on Saturday],” he said. “It was a pretty day. There is a density level in New York City that is wholly inappropriate. You would think there was nothing going on in parts of New York City. You would think it was just a bright, sunny Saturday. … You would not know that anything was going on. This is just a mistake. It's a mistake. It's insensitive, it's arrogant, it's self-destructive, it's disrespectful to other people and it has to stop, and it has to stop now. This is not a joke and I am not kidding.”

On top of the many orders Cuomo has issued in the past week that have shut down almost every aspect of daily life in the state, he announced Sunday that all elective surgeries would be halted starting Wednesday.

“That alone should get us 25 to 35 percent more beds, and again that is a mandate that is going into effect for the hospitals,” he said. “I understand the hospitals are not happy about it. I heard that elective surgery is a big source of revenue for the hospitals. I understand that but this is not about money. This is about public health and we're putting that mandate in place starting today.”

He also encouraged the federal government to take over stewardship from the individual states when it comes to acquiring personal protective equipment, noting that New York’s efforts to purchase face masks have seen the cost rise from 85 cents to 7 dollars per mask due to competition.

“We are competing against other states,” he said. “In some ways we’re savaging other states … I'm trying to buy masks. I'm competing with California and Illinois, and Florida and that's not the way it should be, frankly.”

Regional Editor

Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.