Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, has condemned the US federal government for fueling an “eBay”-style bidding war for ventilators as the coronavirus outbreak intensifies. Cuomo also spoke of his brother Chris’s infection.
The governor said on Tuesday New York, the worst-hit state, has now confirmed nearly 76,000 Covid-19 cases and 1,550 deaths.
The state government is racing against time to secure enough breathing machines before an infection apex expected in the next 14 to 21 days.
Cuomo has walked a fine line between thanking Donald Trump for the federal government’s support and offering subtle criticisms of his approach.
At his daily press briefing in Albany on Tuesday, Cuomo described a “bizarre situation” in which every state buys its own ventilators, pitting them against each other in bidding war.
“You have 50 states competing to buy the same item,” he said.
“We all wind up bidding up each other and competing against each where you now literally will have a company call you up and say, ‘Well, California just outbid you.’ It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) is making matters worse, Cuomo added.
“How inefficient! And then Fema gets involved and Fema starts bidding. And now Fema is bidding on top of the 50. So Fema is driving up the price. What sense does this make?
“The federal government, Fema, should have been the purchasing agent: buy everything and then allocate by need to the states. Why would you create a situation where the 50 states are competing with each other and then the federal government and Fema comes in and competes with the rest of it?”
Without attacking Trump directly, the governor added: “Anyone could’ve told you a lot of these things … did you really have to learn that 50 states shouldn’t compete against 50 states, and then Fema shouldn’t come in late and compete with 50 states? It’s not like you had to go to the Harvard Kennedy school to learn this.”
A shortage of ventilators is one of the biggest crises facing the US as the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 passes that of China and the death toll exceeds 3,000 – more than that of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Carmakers such as Ford and General Motors are mass-producing the machines but Trump has been criticised for a slow and piecemeal response.
Trump told a press briefing on Tuesday the federal government has held 10,000 back, in a stockpile.
“We didn’t want to give them because we don’t know where the emergency – this hits – it hits, like, so fast,” Trump said. “It comes so quickly. And we have 10,000. We’re probably going to send some of them now.”
He added: “We’ve been sending a lot to Michigan and various other states. We’ll probably send some additional ones to Michigan. New York has been doing very well, but we can add some more to New York. We’re adding them to the areas that are having a problem.
“Even Alabama, all of a sudden, flared up a little bit, as you saw the last couple of days, and we’ll send them down to Alabama. So, we have 10,000. We kept them for this very specific purpose.”
The pandemic has now hit close to home for Cuomo, who has earned widespread praise for his leadership during the pandemic. The governor said his younger brother and “best friend”, the CNN host Chris Cuomo, had tested positive.
“We found out this morning,” Andrew Cuomo said. “He is going to be fine, he’s young, strong, not as strong as he thinks … but he will be fine. I spoke to him this morning and he is going to be quarantined in his basement.”
The revelation came after Cuomo said New Yorkers who had tested positive for the coronavirus increased by more than 9,000 from a day earlier to 75,795, with deaths rising to 1,550 from 1,218.
“The virus is more powerful, more dangerous than we expected,” he said. “We’re still going up the mountain, the main battle is on top of the mountain.”
Some New York City hospitals have been overwhelmed, with medical staff speaking of hellish conditions and chronic lack of resources. A temporary hospital built inside the Javits conference center has begun accepting patients. A US navy hospital ship was expected to take in patients as early as Tuesday.
The US government is building makeshift hospitals as the US marked 700 deaths in a single day from Covid-19 for the first time on Tuesday.
New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for reinforcements from the Trump administration, saying the worst may still be weeks away.
“This is the point at which we must be prepared for next week when we expect a huge increase in the number of cases. What I asked very clearly, last week, was for military medical personnel to be deployed here,” De Blasio said at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, where a field hospital was being built.
De Blasio said he had asked the White House for an additional 1,000 nurses, 300 respiratory therapists and 150 doctors by 5 April but had yet to receive an answer from the Trump administration.
Reuters contributed to this report.