Provisions in the federal Defense Production Act allow the commander-in-chief to order companies across the United States to produce vitally needed items during a national emergency.
Even as the number of coronavirus cases soar nationally — and particularly in New York state — President Donald Trump has yet to utilize the act. On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo urged the president and federal government to get moving, as the Empire State desperately need medical supplies to save lives.
At the moment, Cuomo said, New York is doing everything it can to get health care professionals the tools they need to treat coronavirus patients here. But the current arrangement causes other problems for other states.
“Currently, we’re savaging other states to get the supplies we need,” Cuomo said, noting that New York is competing with other states for supplies to which all should have access. The increased competition has also led to price gouging by manufacturers; for instance, N95 masks — which normally cost 85 cents a piece — are being sold to New York state for $7 each.
The federal government, Cuomo said, has also left the states to their own devices when it comes to purchasing ventilators — which normally cost between $16,000 and $40,000 a piece. The governor said New York state needs 30,000 ventilators to meet the anticipated need for coronavirus patients in intensive care; that would saddle the state with a potential cost of between $480 million and $720 million.
“This is just an impossible situation to manage,” Cuomo observed. “If we don’t get the equipment, we could lose lives that we could otherwise save.”
The governor urged federal action to regulate the medical supply market and ensure that all states have access to the equipment and supplies needed to fight the outbreak. Cuomo further called upon Trump to utilize the Defense Production Act and order companies across the U.S. to produce ventilators, masks, protective gear and other items needed to battle the pandemic.
“We need the products now. We have cries from hospitals all across the state,” Cuomo said, adding that the coronavirus outbreak in New York hasn’t yet reached its peak. “They need these materials now, and only the federal government can make that happen.”
As he mentioned in his March 21 press conference, Cuomo said he has approved four sites that the Army Corps of Engineers is considering as temporary hospitals: the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury and the Westchester County Center.
While that amounts to much-needed hospital space, the governor said, the designation does not come with supplies or staff — the state would still need to find both.
Cuomo also announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would set up four fully-staffed, fully-equipped military hospital units inside the Javits Center. All four hospitals would have 250 beds a piece. The governor wants the hospitals opened as quickly as possible.
As for medication, Cuomo said drug therapy trials would start Tuesday on coronavirus patients in serious condition. They will be treated with a combination of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic zithromax.
Cuomo shared Trump’s optimism that the combination would be a helpful treatment of coronavirus.
“I’ve spoken with a number of health officials and there’s good basis to believe that it could work,” Cuomo added.