New York City hospitals are nearly ‘maxed out,’ former FDA chief says

Hospitals in New York City are nearing capacity due to an influx of coronavirus patients, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Wednesday. 

COVID-19 has killed 192 people in New York City, according to Johns Hopkins University, but Gottlieb said that number will rise if the hospitals become overwhelmed.

“New York City hospitals right now are on the brink of what I would call being maxed out in terms of their available capacity,” he said on “Squawk Box.” “New York has another about five weeks to go for this between now and when they’re going to hit peak hospitalizations, so the fact that they’re stretched right now is worrisome.”

The virus has infected more than 15,500 people in New York City, which accounts for over 25% of all U.S. cases, according to Hopkins. However, the number of actual cases across the country is likely significantly higher, officials have acknowledged. Testing in the U.S. has been hampered by delays and a restrictive diagnostic criteria that limited who could get tested. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that the state has about 3,000 to 4,000 ventilators, a potentially life-saving device that helps patients breathe, and has purchased about 7,000 more, but it needs a minimum of 30,000 additional ventilators. He added that the state could need up to 140,000 hospital beds in 14 to 21 days. He said the state currently has about 53,000 hospital beds. 

New York University is allowing its medical students to graduate early so they can help relieve some health care workers in the city, Gottlieb said. 

“The hospitals really are at the point of getting extremely pressed and perhaps being overwhelmed in cities like New York right now,” said Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor who sits on the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina. “Once that happens then the mortality rate is going to start to increase. It’s going to accelerate.”

While New York City is among the first American cities to have a major epidemic, Gottlieb warned that the virus will likely spread to other cities, which should begin preparing now. Gottlieb mentioned Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans and Chicago as possible sites of epidemics. 

“If other cities start to have epidemics at a staggered period and on the scale of New York, where we have to now marshal resources and move them into those cities, this is going to be a longer epidemic for the entire country,” he said.

‘Clearly not doing enough’

While states and cities across the U.S. have shuttered nonessential businesses and ordered residents to stay at home, former epidemic intelligence service officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Rishi Desai said the country’s not doing enough to curb the spread of the virus.

“Italy is locked down. Many parts of Europe are locked down. The United States is not locked down and we haven’t done that universally, we haven’t done that federally. We’ve done that state by state but the majority of states are still not locked down,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

He said the number of new cases in the U.S. is rising everyday and the U.S. still isn’t testing enough to understand the true spread of the virus. 

“Everything that’s nonessential to the functioning of society needs to shut down,” Desai said. “We’re clearly not doing enough.”

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