With around half of the country’s infections, New York state is the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, prompting a special warning from public health authorities Tuesday.

There were more than 25,000 positive cases in New York state and at least 210 deaths, according to state figures. Most of the cases and deaths have been in New York City.

Dr. Deborah Birx, from the White House’s coronavirus task force, said at a briefing Tuesday that about 56 per cent of all cases in the U.S. are coming out of New York City and the New York metropolitan area, and about 31 per cent of patients are succumbing to the disease. 

That’s why it was “critical” that anyone who has left New York in the past few days to quarantine themselves for 14 days when they reached their destination.

WATCH | Officials warn all people leaving New York must self-isolate or risk spreading COVID-19:

“You may have been exposed before you left New York City” 1:43

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said about one per 1,000 people leaving New York are infected — about eight to 10 times more than in other areas. And that posed a danger of infected people “seeding” the rest of the country wherever they went. 

He said pointedly at the briefing: “No one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City,” referring to President Donald Trump’s call to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, like social distancing, and get people back to work and everyday activities soon — possibly in a few weeks.

“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump said from the Rose Garden earlier Tuesday. Easter falls on April 12 this year.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo balked at the president’s suggestion and said the American people would choose public health over the economy.

WATCH / Cuomo angry at Trump’s call to ease COVID-19 restrictions:

‘No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,’ says Cuomo, whose state is hardest-hit 1:53

“No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,” he said.

“My mother is not expendable. Your mother is not expendable,” he added on Twitter. “We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one.”

Cuomo has also called on the administration to nationalize the medical supply chain and use the Defense Production Act to force private companies to produce needed supplies.

Earlier in the day he sounded his most dire warning yet about the coronavirus pandemic, saying the infection rate in his state is accelerating and the state could be as close as two weeks away from a crisis that sees 40,000 people in intensive care.

The rate of new infections, Cuomo said, is doubling about every three days. While officials once projected the peak in New York would come in early May, they now say it could come in two to three weeks.

“We are not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own,” he said, during a briefing at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. “One of the forecasters said to me we were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We’re now looking at a bullet train.”

Such a surge would overwhelm hospitals, which now have just 3,000 intensive care unit beds statewide.

New York officials have been racing to essentially double their hospital capacity to up to 110,000 beds. Cuomo now said there could be a peak need of 140,000 beds.

Cages of ventilators, part of a shipment of 400, arrived Tuesday at the New York City Emergency Management Warehouse. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

‘Nowhere near’ enough beds

New York officials are planning to add at least 1,000 temporary hospital beds at the Javits Center for non-COVID-19 patients and thousands of beds elsewhere. But Cuomo said “they’re nowhere near” the number that will be needed. The state also faces shortages of ventilators and protective equipment for medical workers.

New York has 7,000 ventilators. Cuomo called for a national push to send ventilators to New York now, saying the city alone needs 20,000 of them in a matter of weeks. He said the equipment could then be redeployed to different areas once the peak passes in New York.

Anyone leaving New York must self-isolate or risk spreading COVID-19, health officials say 1A view of a nearly empty Times Square, which is usually very crowded on a weekday morning, on Monday. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

“I will take personal responsibility for transporting the 20,000 ventilators anywhere in this country that they want, once we are passed our apex,” Cuomo said. “But don’t leave them sitting in a stockpile.”

Cuomo was referring to the Strategic National Stockpile — a repository of billions of dollars worth of medical supplies overseen by the federal government, to assist states in the event of a mass public health emergency. The Trump administration has been doling out some supplies, but states including New York have complained the shipments have fallen far short of the need.

Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and president of the New York-based Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said that ventilators — about the size of two old VCR machines — are certainly portable. But he said there would need to be a regional or national co-ordinator of medical products “to make sure that the goods needed are where they need to be.”

The U.S. national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that more than 44,000 Americans have the virus, according to figures as of late Tuesday afternoon, with 544 deaths.

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