New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), in an opinion piece published in The New York Times on Sunday, called on President Donald Trump to use the military to expand hospital capacity as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States.
Cuomo warned that the U.S. must take significant action now or risk experiencing an even worse situation than what is unfolding in Italy, which has seen its health care system completely overwhelmed amid the pandemic.
“You must anticipate that, without immediate action, the imminent failure of hospital systems is all but certain,” Cuomo wrote. “Ask your experts, how many intensive-care beds do we need for our vulnerable populations, and how many do we have now?”
There have been more than 1,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. with at least 41 deaths. Those numbers are expected to jump as access to testing increases over the next few weeks.
U.S. health officials warn that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans could be hospitalized by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, over the next several months.
“This would crush the nation’s medical system,” Cuomo wrote.
There’s an average of just 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people in the U.S., according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
In New York state alone, which has a population of about 20 million, there are 53,470 hospital beds, only 3,186 of which are intensive-care beds, according to Cuomo.
“States cannot build more hospitals, acquire ventilators or modify facilities quickly enough,” he wrote. “At this point, our best hope is to utilize the Army Corps of Engineers to leverage its expertise, equipment and people power to retrofit and equip existing facilities — like military bases or college dormitories — to serve as temporary medical centers. Then we can designate existing hospital beds for the acutely ill.”
He added that mobilizing the Army Corps of Engineers would be legal in this situation because Trump has already declared a national emergency in response to the coronavirus. This action allows the federal government to allocate certain funds and removes some legal barriers.
“Doing so still won’t provide enough intensive care beds,” Cuomo said of tapping the military for help, “but it is our best hope.”
The Democratic governor also urged Trump to decrease regulation of COVID-19 tests and authorize states to take more control of the process. He also called on the president to create a “uniform federal standard for when cities and states should shut down commerce and schools, or cancel events.”
The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The Defense Department held a news conference Monday, where spokesman Jonathan Hoffman answered questions about Cuomo’s call for military support.
“We’re aware of the governor’s comments, but have not received a request to do any construction,” Hoffman told reporters. “At this time, I think there are some other options out there. We’ve seen private companies that can do some of the construction.”
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
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