Necessity proves to be the mother of invention as New York seeks ventilator alternatives

Coronavirus Press Conference
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo holds up an Ambu bag during a press conference in the Red Room at the State Capitol in Albany. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state will cushion the blow of an expected ventilator shortage with non-invasive breathing assistance machines as the epidemic reaches new heights.

The state has officially reached 92,381 confirmed cases and 2,373 deaths as of Thursday morning that included 51,809 cases in the city which proved fatal for 1,374 people.

Cuomo hopes that the state can acquire BiPAP machines, a non-invasive form ventilator, to assist in cases that require breathing assistance but may be as serious as to require a tube be inserted into the patient’s chest.

“It is the cruelest irony that this nation is now dependent on China for production of many of these products,” Cuomo said of the face mask, gown and ventilator shortage. The pandemic had originated in China last December.

Four-hundred ventilators from the state stockpile have distributed to New York City Health and Hospitals while Long Island and Westchester County received 200. At the hospitalization rate continues, Cuomo said there is a six-day supply of ventilators.

Hospitals have already begun splitting ventilators between two patients.

“We’re also converting what’s called BiPAP machines which, again, don’t have the same force as a ventilator but on an emergency basis, some research has been done that says these can be suitable,” Cuomo said. “This has not been done before, but Northwell – which is one of our premier healthcare systems has developed a protocol and they’re teaching the other hospitals now how to do it.”

According to Cuomo, the state has bought 3,000 BiPAP machines from Phillips out of Pittsburg, 750 of which have already been delivered and distributed.

BiPAP machines sell for around $500. Ventilators: up to $30,000.

As the crisis began to escalate, Cuomo said bag-valve resuscitators were an alternative ventilator that could be considered, but the fact that the bag had to be squeezed by hand took their use off the table. Now, MIT has developed a device that will work the hand pump that can be produced for about $100.

The institute is calling the device an E-Vent, or emergency ventilator.

The state, however, has not said officially if E-Vents will be considered for use as the apex approaches for the COVID-19 crisis.

Other measures that the state has decided to enact as of Thursday is to open enrollment on the New York state healthcare exchange to May 15.