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Cuomo Seeks More Hospital Space, Mental Health Professionals

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’ll spend Saturday visiting potential sites to set up temporary hospitals and negotiating with clothing manufactures and ventilator sellers to gather medical supplies in time for the expected increase in patients sick with the coronavirus who may need hospitalization. Cuomo also says he plans to visit parks in New York City to determine if reports of younger people congregating too closely together are true.

Cuomo says ending elective surgeries in a few days will increase the state’s hospital bed capacity from 50,000 to 75,000 beds, and he says hospitals are looking at ways to place even more beds into their existing space.

Late Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, issued an emergency declaration that will help New York get more funding to combat the virus. Cuomo is asking the Army Corps of Engineers for four 250-bed temporary field hospitals, where patients would be housed in tents.     

Cuomo's office Saturday afternoon announced that a team including state officials and members of the Army Corps of Engineers has recommended four initial sites for temporary hospitals - the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and locations at SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury and the Westchester Convention Center. 

And he says he has a lead on 6,000 ventilators that he hopes the state can purchase. He says health officials are exploring whether one ventilator could be used for two people at a time.

The governor says that health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has given the go-ahead for New York to start testing two medicines, Hydroxychloroquine and Zithromax that may ease some of the symptoms associated with the virus. The state will receive 10,000 doses.

“In a situation where a person is in dire circumstances, try what you can,” the governor said.  

The New York-based company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is among companies working on a vaccine, and Cuomo has exempted them from the general order for workers to stay home.

The governor made his remarks as remaining non-essential businesses in New York were preparing to shut down. Hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors were to be closed as of 8 p.m. Saturday, and all other businesses except grocery stores, pharmacies liquor stores and hardware stores were to be shutdown by 8 p.m. Sunday.

A member of the governor’s press staff has tested positive for the coronavirus, and the entire office that deals with media is in precautionary quarantine. A spokesman says the staffer is now feeling better.

Cuomo says he did not come in close contact with that person. He says he has not been tested, and does not currently feel the need to be.

“Because I’ve not been exposed to anyone who is positive, I don’t have a fever, I don’t have any symptoms,” Cuomo said. “And also, I don’t want to waste the test.”

In addition to taking steps to protect New Yorkers’ physical health, the governor says there are concerns about people’s mental health, due to the stress and anxiety the pandemic has created. Cuomo is asking mental health professionals to volunteer their services.

“They’re nervous, they’re anxious, they’re isolated,” said Cuomo. “It can bring all sorts of emotions and feelings to the surface.”

The governor says if enough answer the call, the state will set up a voluntary network where people can use telemedicine for mental health assistance.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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