New York is dangerously close to overwhelming its hospital system with new COVID-19 cases — and preparing to recruit retired doctors and nurses to the front lines again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
“It’s a new phase in the war against COVID,” Cuomo said — adding that daily coronavirus hospitalizations statewide are nearly quadruple what they were in June.
Every hospital in the state must begin compiling a list of retired doctors and nurses that they can draw from because there are already staffing issues in some areas, Cuomo said.
“I am very worried about staff shortages,” Cuomo said. “I’m more concerned about the staff shortage than I am the [number of hospital] beds.
“We can build beds. We can’t create more staff. And the staff is starting tired.”
About 30,000 health care workers flooded New York at the height of its crisis in the spring, but now “they’re all busy,’’ Cuomo said, noting that coronavirus surges are occurring across the country.
Larger hospital systems such as New York City’s H+H and Northwell also must begin balancing their patient loads — meaning they have to spread people among their sites so one facility isn’t overwhelmed while another has open beds.
As the pandemic began soaring in the spring, Elmhurst Hospital in Queens turned into what health care workers called a war zone and “collapsed’’ under the strain of patients, Cuomo said.
In the thick of the horror March 23, the state’s daily coronavirus hospitalization rate hit 3,500 — the same as Sunday, said Gareth Rhodes, special counsel to the state Department of Financial Services, at the press conference.
By comparison, in June, that figure was down to about 900.
Cuomo said of the required patient-load balancing, “This is a mandate from the state Department of Health: You must distribute patients across your system.”
Hospitals that don’t follow the edict could face malpractice charges from the state, the governor said.
Plans are being drawn up for regional “field hospitals” again, too, Cuomo said.
Hospitals must come up with plans to increase their bed capacity by 50 percent, he said.
Cuomo said 65 percent of new cases now come from “spreader’’ small gatherings.
The state’s positive test rate — which the governor has called a key indicator of worrisome surges — hit 4.57 percent Sunday, the highest since around mid-May.
The state has put a limit of 10 on even private gatherings indoors and out, although the governor said no one was ticketed over the Thanksgiving weekend if they had more.
Cuomo said that while hospitalizations in New York in the past didn’t all occur everywhere at the same time, so resources could be moved around as needed, “that is not the case this time.
“It is statewide,” he said of the current hospitalization crisis. “So we will have a limited ability to bring resources from upstate to downstate as we did in the spring … because literally every region is dealing with a hospital issue now.”
New York City has seen its coronavirus hospitalization rate remain steady, with a 4.69 percent positive test rate Sunday — although Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that testing had been down, likely because of the holiday.
De Blasio took part in the governor’s presser through Skype — where he claimed that recent testing overall had been strong.
But the governor warned that he believes the state hasn’t even begun to see the effects of Thanksgiving gatherings.
Those should occur in the next week or so, he said — and the numbers will likely “be big.’’
It will be more than a month before the total fallout from the holiday season, including Christmas, is known, the governor said.
There will be a continued push on testing, keeping K-8 schools open and educating the public better about small gatherings, Cuomo said.