NEW YORK — A Navy hospital ship deployed to New York City to help fight the coronavirus outbreak is no longer needed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, expressing confidence that stresses on the hospital system are easing.
Cuomo said after meeting with President Donald Trump that the USNS Comfort was helpful, but could now be sent elsewhere after being docked for weeks off of Manhattan.
At an evening press conference, Cuomo said having the ship had been worthwhile, even as the need for it didn’t reach the levels that had been projected.
“I believe Comfort not only brought comfort but also saved lives,” Cuomo said.
Trump said at his Tuesday briefing that he asked Cuomo if “we could bring the Comfort back to its base in Virginia so that we could have it in other locations.” Trump said they would bring the ship back soon.
The Navy ship arrived March 30 as state and city officials scrambled to add hospital beds to prepare for a potentially catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases.
But hospitalization levels appeared to have peaked recently amid strict stay-at home restrictions. Total statewide hospitalizations have slowly dropped to about 16,000, more than 2,000 below a week ago.
The Comfort has treated 179 patients, with 56 on board Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Cuomo said hospitals in parts of upstate New York will be able to conduct outpatient elective surgeries again and he pledged to consider regional differences when re-opening the state’s outbreak-stalled economy.
Hospitals in selected counties can resume elective outpatient treatments April 28 if a capacity benchmark is met and there have been fewer than 10 new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county over the past 10 days.
“We’re going to allow it in those hospitals and counties in the state that do not have a COVID issue or we wouldn’t need their beds in case of a surge,” Cuomo said at a briefing in Buffalo.
The hospital restrictions will remain in effect in hard-hit New York City, Long Island and suburban Westchester and Rockland counties, as well as in 10 upstate counties. Buffalo and Albany are in counties where the restrictions remain.
In contrast to crowded New York City hospitals, some serving rural areas of the state have furloughed staff recently as revenue from elective procedures dried up.
In Buffalo, Catholic Health is losing about $30 million a month in revenue since drastically reducing elective procedures at its five western New York hospitals, President and Chief Executive Mark Sullivan said.
“It’s a huge burden on the health system but we can’t turn away from public safety and making sure that the plan going forward is appropriate,” Sullivan said by phone. Only one of the system’s hospitals, Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Niagara County, is outside an exclusion zone.
Leslie Paul Luke, president and CEO of Syracuse-based St. Joseph’s Health, said he was confident they can safely resume orthopedic, bariatric, vascular and other procedures.
As he plans for a wider economic re-opening, Cuomo said it was important to note that the outbreak hit regions of the state at different times and at different rates. Rural stretches of northern New York are facing “a totally different situation” than densely settled New York City.
“We operate as one state, but we also have to understand variations and you do want to get this economy opened as soon as possible,” he said. “And if the situation is radically different in one part of state than another part of the state, then take that into consideration.”
Other coronavirus developments in New York:
BY THE NUMBERS
New York state hit a milestone with more than 250,000 people testing positive for COVID-19 — a figure that likely undercounts infected residents by a significant margin. People in New York City, a worldwide hotspot, were advised to seek testing only if they were ill enough to possibly require hospitalization.
The state recorded 481 deaths Monday for a total of 14,828. It was the second straight day with under 500 fatalities.
New York City is planning to stockpile medical equipment and supplies to meet its own needs in any potential future coronavirus surge, rather than looking to federal authorities or global markets, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.
He said the new "strategic reserve" would include ventilators, face shields, surgical gowns and test kits, and the initiative also includes developing local suppliers who could quickly make more if needed.
In one example, the city is spending $10 million to buy 3,000 "bridge" ventilators -- suitable for patients who don't have the severest respiratory symptoms -- from Queens-based Boyce Technologies Inc. It has started making the devices only in recent weeks.
"We have learned the hard way that we cannot depend on the federal government in the future," nor in the global marketplace, de Blasio, a Democrat, said at a news briefing. "We New Yorkers will take care of ourselves."
TICKER TAPE PARADE
New York City will honor the health care workers and first responders battling the COVID-19 pandemic with a ticker tape parade — once it's safe to hold large gatherings again, de Blasio said.
The tradition of honoring heads of state, sports champions and others with parades along Broadway's "Canyon of Heroes" in lower Manhattan dates from 1886. The most recent parade was held last July to honor the world champion U.S. women's soccer team.
"We will honor those who saved us," de Blasio said. "We will take the time as only New York City can to throw the biggest, best parade to honor these heroes."
EYE ON OTHER STATES
De Blasio said Tuesday that if governors of states such as Georgia start to ease coronavirus restrictions, they had better have the facts on their side or they could enable a resurgence of the virus beyond their states' borders.
"If some of these reopenings are done the wrong way, it's going to affect all of us," de Blasio said on CNN's "New Day." He said that if any state or city "jumps the gun" on reopening businesses "that could lead to the disease reasserting in a lot of other places."
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said he would allow some businesses including gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys to reopen later this week.
Cuomo said he had a "functional and effective" Oval Office meeting on Tuesday with President Donald Trump in which he pressed for more federal help as states try to increase testing for the coronavirus. Cuomo said he told Trump that a rapid increase in testing was a crucial "benchmark" that his state and others need before they can safely reopen the economy and help communities return to a semblance of normalcy.
Villeneuve and Hill reported from Albany, N.Y. Karen Matthews contributed from New York. Carolyn Thompson contributed from Buffalo, N.Y.