NEW YORK -- New York secured a planeload of ventilators from China on Saturday, and Oregon was sending a shipment of its own to battle the coronavirus pandemic at its U.S. core, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. But the governor's startling plan to force hospitals elsewhere in the state to give spare ventilators to the fight in New York City apparently hadn't yet materialized, a day after he ordered them to surrender 20% of any unused supply to the National Guard for temporary redistribution. The state got 1,000 ventilators after the Chinese government facilitated a donation from billionaires Jack Ma and Joseph Tsai, the co-founders of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, Cuomo said. He added that the state of Oregon had volunteered to send 140 more breathing machines.
The influx offered some hope after the governor repeatedly warned that the state’s supply of the vital machines would be exhausted in days if the number of critically ill coronavirus patients kept growing at the current rate.
“It’s going to make a significant difference for us,” Cuomo said.
New York is the pandemic’s U.S. epicenter, with over 113,700 confirmed cases as of Saturday morning. More than 3,500 people statewide have died, and about 15,000 coronavirus patients are hospitalized. Over 4,100 are in intensive care — many, if not all, of them needing ventilators.
The outbreak is heavily concentrated in the New York City metropolitan area.
Cuomo's announcement came a day after he said he would have the National Guard collect and “redeploy” ventilators that some hospitals weren't using.
He alluded again Saturday to the plan, but details remained unclear.
“We find what equipment we have, we use it the best we can,” the Democrat said Saturday, saying he’d seek 20% of “unused and available” ventilators, a number he pegged at 500 in all.
The idea has alarmed Republican politicians and some hospital leaders upstate. They said it would leave people in their areas vulnerable and pit the state’s regions against one another.
But two hospital umbrella groups didn’t protest. The Greater New York Hospital Association portrayed the idea as ongoing reciprocity among medical centers as the outbreak’s hotspots shift, while the Healthcare Association of New York State noted that some hospitals have already, voluntarily sent staff and equipment to harder-hit institutions or accepted patients from them.
Both groups, and several upstate hospitals, said Saturday they had gotten no further information on the governor’s plan. The state Health Department said no information was available beyond the governor's remarks.
Messages were sent to his office seeking details on how the redistribution would work.
National Guard spokesman Eric Durr said Saturday that the collection had not yet begun.
Governors around the U.S. have been pleading, competing and scouring the global marketplace for needed supplies, especially ventilators, to treat the sick. Cuomo said Saturday that New York at one point made purchase orders for 17,000 of the devices, but only 2,500 came through.
“You get a call that says, ‘We can’t fill that order,’” he said.
Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, said last week that the federal government agreed to send about 2,400 ventilators to the city and another 2,000 to the state. The mayor and governor have repeatedly implored the federal government for more help.
The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
In other developments related to the coronavirus outbreak:
Vincent Lionti, a violist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 33 seasons, died Saturday from complications of the coronavirus, the company said. He was 60.
Lionti had been with the orchestra since 1987. Before that, he was a substitute with the New York Philharmonic from 1981 to 1983 and a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 1983 to 1987. He had bachelor's and master's degrees from the Juilliard School in New York.
He was artistic director of The Memling Ensemble and a member of the PBS All-Star Orchestra, New England Baroque Soloists and the Westchester Camerata.
His wife, Kristin, was a personal assistant to the late fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. Their son, Nicholas Lionti, was an onstage extra in the Met productions of “Nixon in China” and “Macbeth”.
In upstate New York, state Sen. James Seward, a Republican from Milford, had been on a ventilator since Thursday and in a medically induced coma because of COVID-19, but his condition improved and he was taken off the ventilator Saturday, his spokesman, Jeff Bishop, said in a Twitter posting.
Earlier Saturday, Seward's wife, Cynthia, posted in an online community group that he was still in a coma and on a respirator at Albany Medical Center, and she asked for thoughts and prayers for his healing, PBS reported. Cynthia Seward, who also has COVID-19, said in the post that she was self-quarantining, had pneumonia and shingles, and had lost her sense of taste.