The New York State Department of Health is implementing emergency measures to help hospitals cope with the surge in Covid cases and hospital stays as the outbreak worsens across the state, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday.
Cuomo said if some parts of the state get into "a real hospital crisis," the state could introduce a regional New York hiatus that "is essentially a stop." He added that the # 1 priority is to ensure that the state has enough hospital capacity to treat all patients.
"We are now concerned about overwhelming the hospital system," Cuomo said at a press conference. "If these numbers continue to increase, as we expect, you will see serious stresses on the hospital system."
Implementing immediate action means several things. First, hospitals need to identify retired nurses and doctors, Cuomo said, adding that "we already have a staff shortage".
The state is also waiving elective operations in Erie County, which Cuomo said has been particularly hard hit. However, he added that electoral processes could be suspended in other parts of the state if hospitals became overwhelmed.
"It's a new phase in the war on Covid," said Cuomo. "It is a war of preparation and mobilization."
Cuomo also said the state is mandating "load balancing" of patients within hospital systems so that one hospital is not overwhelmed in one area while others have more capacity. Cuomo said if this is not done it will be viewed as malpractice by the hospital systems.
Cuomo said the spring load-balancing failure caused Elmhurst Hospital to be overwhelmed at the start of the pandemic. Conditions at Queens Hospital, where 13 Covid-19 patients died in a single day, have been equated with a war film. He added that the state is preparing to implement a "nationwide rise and flex" that will require hospital systems to align to balance the load when necessary.
"It is in the best interests of the patient to balance the patient load on the system. We will not relive the nightmare of overwhelmed hospitals," said Cuomo. "If a hospital is overwhelmed, there will be a government investigation."
The state is also preparing plans for emergency hospitals that will give hospitals 50% bed capacity, he said. Cuomo also urged hospitals to prepare to occupy these field hospitals and confirm their stocks of personal protective equipment, such as masks and robes, that will help prevent health workers from becoming infected. Cuomo said hospitals should have "90-day supplies of PPE".
Cuomo said the state will launch a dashboard that tracks these emergency hospital metrics.
Ken Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents more than 250 hospitals, said the hospitals' ability to respond to the current outbreak will be "a total team effort".
"Spring was brutal," he said at the press conference. "We were all concerned about repeating the situation we saw so vividly in Italy with people in the hallways. Thank God that never happened. We learned a lot."
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio noted at the meeting that the number of daily deaths in the city is far lower than in the spring, when hundreds died daily for weeks. He added that the city's intensive care units are also not as stressed as they were in the spring.
Cuomo and the other officials at the briefing said they were concerned about the rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, particularly as the effects of Thanksgiving trips and gatherings have not yet been seen. But Cuomo said the state could avoid another crisis.
"We know what to do with this time in a way we didn't know in the spring," he said. "Everything is a potential crisis unless it's properly managed. I think we'll fix everything here, but we've cut our jobs out for ourselves."