Cuomo knocks Trump's claim about NY and ventilators

"That's not the fact and you know it," Cuomo said on Wednesday.

March 25, 2020, 7:18 PM

After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he needed 30,000 ventilators for the state of New York in order to be prepared for the "apex" of its caseload -- which his team predicted was two to three weeks away -- he criticized the federal government for offering up a fraction of that need.

"FEMA says, 'we're sending 400 ventilators.' Really? What am I going to do with 400 ventilators, when I need 30,000?" Cuomo said at a news conference.

Later, Trump announced he would supply another 4,000 ventilators to New York from the national stockpile, but he added a claim that Cuomo had turned down the chance to stock up on thousands of ventilators in 2015.

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PHOTO: President Donald Trump arrives to speak about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, March 24, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump arrives to speak about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, March 24, 2020, in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP

"He had a chance to buy -- in 2015 -- 16,000 ventilators at a very low price and he turned it down. I'm not blaming him or anything else. But he shouldn't be talking about us. He's supposed to be buying his own ventilators. We are going to help," Trump said in a Fox News town hall held at the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday.

"They could have had 15 or 16,000 two years ago and all they had to do was order them. They can't blame us for that," he said again in the interview.

Trump appeared to be dramatizing a report from a New York Department of Health task force in 2015 which predicted that, if faced with a pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu, New York would run into a ventilator shortage to the tune of 15,000. The report was recently resurfaced by Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York and supporter of Trump since 2016, who wrote an op-ed about it in the New York Post. Her op-ed was later picked up by the far-right blog Gateway Pundit.

The report, however, did not recommend that New York Health Department should have stocked up on ventilators, nor did it find a low-cost option to do so, as Trump indicated Tuesday. Instead, the 2015 report acknowledged that New York should instead prepare for a moderate scenario and rely on federal resources if faced with a severe scenario.

"In the event of an overwhelming burden on the health care system, New York will not have sufficient ventilators to meet critical care needs despite its emergency stockpile. If the most severe forecast becomes a reality, New York State and the rest of the country will need to allocate ventilators and other scarce resources," the report reads.

The recommendation was made, according to the report, to balance "the need to prepare for a potential pandemic against the need to maintain adequate funding for current and ongoing health care expenses." The report also indicated that they would lack the staffing to even operate as many ventilators as would be required, "and purchasing additional ventilators beyond a threshold will not save additional lives, because there will not be a sufficient number of trained staff to operate them."

PHOTO: The usually busy Grand Central Station is seen nearly empty on March 25, 2020 in New York City.
The usually busy Grand Central Station is seen nearly empty on March 25, 2020 in New York City.
Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Asked about Trump's claims by a journalist at his Wednesday morning briefing, Cuomo said, "that's not the fact and you know it. Read the fact checkers on it."

The governor said there was a commission, referring to the New York Department of Health's Task Force on Life and Law, that found "if you had the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, you may need X number of ventilators." But New York didn't prepare for a pandemic as serious as the 1918 Spanish flu, nor did the federal government or anyone "in the world," Cuomo added.

"There is no state in the United States that bought ventilators for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. The federal government did not buy ventilators for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Nobody in the world bought ventilators in preparation for a 1918 Spanish flu pandemic," Cuomo said.

Notably, the severe scenario modeled in the report found that 128,552 patients would be hospitalized during "peak week" of the hypothetical pandemic, which New York would need 18,619 ventilators to treat. Even then, the report found, the New York would be 15,000 ventilators short.

On Tuesday, Cuomo painted a picture that was more dire: New York would need 140,000 hospital beds for the apex of the new coronavirus and 30,000 ventilators.

According to the 2015 report, hospitals would rely on "triage committees," or teams of doctors, to choose which patients would receive ventilator treatment during a shortage, weighing which patients were most at risk and which were most likely to survive treatment. If it came between two patients who had the same diagnosis, the triage committee would randomly pick -- like a lottery.

Asked Wednesday what the protocol would be if New York faced a ventilator shortage due to coronavirus, Cuomo said they were expecting to have enough ventilators to treat everyone.

Cuomo also signaled that some of the tension with the White House over the shortage had been relieved by a phone call with the president that morning, which Trump also said was productive during a briefing Wednesday night.

The governor commended the president for utilizing the Defense Production Act as a leveraging tool to get more medical equipment and said getting 30,000 ventilators "is an extraordinarily difficult task" but "it's something that our team is working on with the White House team, and I want to thank the president for his cooperation and his team for their cooperation."

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