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Cuomo orders upstate hospitals to give spare ventilators to overwhelmed downstate health centers

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On the highest single day increase in coronavirus deaths and new hospitalizations in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is mandating that upstate hospitals share their spare ventilators with downstate hospitals that are overwhelmed with dealing with COVID-19 patients and rapidly running out of the machines.

The governor said he understands why hospitals in parts of New York where there are fewer cases of the coronavirus want to hold on to their spare ventilators for when cases spike. But he said the market for ventilators has "collapsed," and he’s now mandating, in an executive order, that the hospitals give up the machines, for now, to downstate hospitals.

“Those institutions will either get their ventilator back, or they will be reimbursed and paid for their ventilator,” Cuomo said. “So they can buy a new ventilator.” 

Cuomo said the National Guard will be coming to pick up the spare ventilators, which he believes number in the hundreds.

He said a new concern that has emerged, the virus is increasing on Long Island, which has fewer hospitals than the New York City metropolitan area.

County leaders upstate were quick to condemn the order. Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said Friday he was looking for more communication from the governor's office, but said he and other county leaders were "concerned" about the order. 

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said he wanted to read the executive order, but said county hospitals don't have much of a surplus of anything right now. 

Central New York Reps. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) and John Katko (R-Camillus) said they were also concerned about the order, and have asked the governor's office for more guidance. 

In a statement Friday afternoon, senior advisor to the governor Rich Azzopardi said While the pandemic is primarily in downstate New York now - it is projected to peak and reduce in downstate and then increase in upstate. It is essential that we all help each other and the Governor is asking upstate hospitals to loan 20 percent of their unused ventilators to struggling downstate hospitals. Ventilators literally save lives. They will be returned or reimbursed to those hospitals. Moreover, when the pandemic wave hits upstate New York, the Governor will ask downstate hospitals for similar help. We are not upstate or downstate we are one state and we act that way."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.