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New York only has 3,000 ICU beds and Gov. Cuomo says coronavirus patients may end up "on gurneys in hallways"

Cuomo: Hospitals will need extra ICU beds
Cuomo: Hospitals will need extra ICU beds for coronavirus emergency 15:17

Over the past few weeks, as large gatherings across the country have been cancelled and people have been urged to practice social distancing, there has been much talk of "flattening the curve" of the coronavirus. It's a reference to the aggressive preemptive actions many states are taking to help slow the spread of COVID-19, in the hope that a sudden spike in severe cases will not overwhelm the American health care system — a spike that would be made worse by a corresponding surge in sick doctors and shortages of medical equipment.

"I don't think of a curve. I think of a wave," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference Monday. "And the wave is going to break on the hospital system."

In New York, where there are more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other state in the U.S., Cuomo is also sounding an alarm about a shortage of hospital beds, especially in intensive care units.

"You only have 53,000 hospital beds. You only have 3,000 ICU beds," he said. "Why? Because our health care system is basically a private system. They don't build capacity that they don't need. They don't build extra ICU beds just in case. An intensive care bed is very expensive. They don't build a wing of ICU beds that sit vacant for 10 years on the off-chance that there's going to be a public health emergency and you'll need the beds... so we don't have them. We have the capacity that people use day-in and day-out. And that's not just New York. That's every state in the United States. You now have this influx, you can't handle it."

Unless the federal government steps in and assists by building temporary medical facilities to meet the growing need, Cuomo says, coronavirus patients will end up on gurneys in hospital hallways. He sent an open letter to the Trump administration asking for the Army Corps of Engineers to help New York before hospitals are overrun.

"You will have people on gurneys in hallways," Cuomo told reporters. "That is what is going to happen now if we do nothing. That is what is going to happen now if we do nothing. And that, my friends, will be a tragedy."

According to Cuomo, 17% of New York's 950 coronavirus cases thus far have required hospitalization — a statistic that could be a chilling indication of what's to come.

"Run that 17% against whatever you think the total infected population will be, and then compare that to our hospital capacity," he said. "And that will keep you up at night." 

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