80 million masks. 8,800 ventilators. How NY is spending 5B to fight COVID-19

ALBANY — On April 2, Gov. Andrew Cuomo feared New York, based on national models of COVID-19 spread, could run out of ventilators in six days, estimating the state needed as many as 30,000 ventilators to keep sick patients alive.

A furious scramble for ventilators and BiPAP machines that could help patients breathe was underway. An order for 17,000 ventilators from China went largely unfilled.

“Yes, the burn rate of ventilators is dropping, and six days of ventilator in the stockpile is troubling,” Cuomo said then. “But we have all these extraordinary measures that when push comes to shove” the state can develop to help to help keep people alive.

New York never used all the ventilators that it feared would be needed. And it never ended up opening at least three field hospitals it built to care for coronavirus patients, including converting the Westchester County Center into one at a federal cost of $15 million.

But the bills are still coming due.

New York expects that between state and federal funds, it will spend about $5 billion on its fight against COVID-19, which has killed more than 25,000 New Yorkers — the most in the nation.

Much of the money went to the front lines as hospitals scurried for supplies as the daily death toll climbed to as high as 800 a day in early April, particularly overwhelming some New York City hospitals.

But some of the supplies went unused as a March 22 shut down of non-essential businesses, social distancing regulations and mask-wearing requirements got the virus under control in New York by mid-May to now some of the lowest infection rates in the nation, records show.

“We had no choice to overturn every rock to find this much-needed equipment, but New Yorkers stood together, stayed smart, socially distanced and wore masks and were able to best all models and bend the curve,” said Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi.

Some of the taxpayer money allocated in New York to fight coronavirus included: Ventilators, portable x-rays, oxidizers: $552 million Personal Protective Equipment: $552 million Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Cleaning and personnel costs): $245 million Personnel Costs: $286 million Testing: $117 million The state Budget Division provided a further breakdown of some of the costs.

The state spent $278 million to purchase 8,810 ventilators, which comes to about $31,500 for each one.

The state didn’t detail how much of its stockpile was used and how much remains for a potential spike in cases, but the spending highlighted the concerns of being left with no personal protective equipment or life-saving equipment as cases and deaths surged.

“What do we do?” Cuomo questioned April 8 when he said the state was running low in its ventilator supply. “We find what equipment we have, we use it the best we can.”

The state spent $40 million on 8,700 BiPAP breathing machines as an alternative if the ventilator supply was exhausted.

But state officials confirmed the BiPAP machines were not put into service because the state never ran out of ventilators.

“The state moved swiftly to purchase the necessary equipment to prepare for the worst case scenarios outlined by federal models and ensure it was available to our nurses, doctors and other frontline workers who were on the ground combating the virus,” said Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the budget office.

“As New Yorkers came together to bend the curve faster than those models projected, there is no doubt that the ventilators, masks, gloves and other equipment helped protect workers and save lives.”

Klopott said the state and its localities have committed about $4 billion toward the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes $2.2 billion in state funds and aid from the federal CARES ACT, which is expected to bring the total by year’s end to $5.1 billion.

The spending comes as Cuomo on Thursday said New York needs $30 billion in federal aid from Congress over the next two years to fill massive budget gaps and stave off large cuts to schools, local governments and services.

Federal lawmakers “are deciding the state budget,” Cuomo said Thursday about another stimulus package in Washington.

“You tell me what they pass in the bill, and I’ll tell you the consequences in New York,” he said.


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