White House officials on Thursday tried to soothe concerns that there was a shortage of ventilators in hospitals despite reports suggesting that the medical equipment was in dire shortage, specifically in New York City.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House’s coronavirus task force, said during a press update on Thursday that there was no “evidence” that hospitals were facing a severe shortage of ventilators.
However, a report from The New York Times on Friday revealed, in harrowing detail, that the Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, New York, scrambled to get more ventilators while having to work with only “a few dozen.”
Birx downplayed such reports, saying that she has been reassured by New York officials that “there are still ICU beds in New York.”
Birx also said there were “over 1,000 to 2,000” available ventilators in the city, though she did not provide details on how and when hospitals were getting access to them.
“There is no situation in the United States right now that warrants that kind of discussion,” Birx said during Thursday’s White House press conference. “You can be thinking about it in a hospital ... but to say to the American people, to make that implication ... we don’t have evidence of that right now.”
New York City has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus outbreak. As of Thursday night, the death toll in the city had risen to 365. The total of confirmed coronavirus cases hit 23,112 on Wednesday; the state total was at 37,258 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning.
In his own press conference Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) suggested that patients are spending more time on a ventilator, which could be contributing to the shortage.
Birx on Thursday said she had met with New York officials who told her that there were still ventilators and available hospital beds in the city.
She also warned against reports such as one published by The Washington Post on Wednesday that said intensive-care doctors weighed whether to consider a do-not-resuscitate approach to some COVID-19 patients as a means to protect staff and other patients from the virus during a shortage of personal protective equipment.
“We are reassured in a meeting with our colleagues in New York that there are still ICU beds in New York. That there are still ICU beds remaining, and there is still significant... over 1,000 to 2,000 ventilators that have not been utilized yet,” Birx said.
“Please, for the reassurance of the people around the world, to wake up this morning and look at people talking about creating DNR situations for patients... there is no situation in the United States right now that warrants that kind of discussion,” she added.
Hospital workers and city health officials in New York do not seem assured.
Dr. Colleen Smith, an emergency room physician at the Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens filmed a video for The New York Times showing five ventilators that she said had been made available to the hospital.
“Unless people die, I suspect we’ll be back to needing to beg for ventilators again in another day or two,” Smith told the paper. “There’s a mythical 100 [ventilators] out there, which we haven’t seen.”
(The head of New York City’s public hospital denied Smith’s claims in a statement to the Times, though the official acknowledged that “dwindling supplies” would soon be a problem.)
In an interview with Fox News later Thursday, President Donald Trump said he didn’t believe that some hospitals needed as many ventilators as they were saying.
“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go to major hospitals, sometimes they have two ventilators,” he told Fox News. “Look, it’s a very bad situation. We haven’t seen anything like it. But the end result is we’ve got to get back to work, and I think we can start by opening up certain parts of the country.”
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, New York has 53,000 hospital beds and 3,000 ICU beds.
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