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.
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 when 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
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More: What went wrong during the Northeast’s first COVID-19 spike, and is the region ready for another?
Where the money went to fight COVID in New YorkGov. Andrew Cuomo spoke on CNN on March 19, 2020, standing next to a ventilator to urge the federal government to provide more of them to states amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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 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.
Did New York overspend on COVID relief?
Republicans last spring criticized Cuomo’s dire predictions, which he showed were based on various federal models.
On April 8, President Donald Trump knocked Sen. Charles Schumer for his criticism of the shipments to New York and other states.
“It wouldn’t matter if you got ten times what was needed, it would never be good enough,” Trump tweeted.
Senate Republicans urged Cuomo to provide a full accounting of the spending on COVID-19.
“New Yorkers deserve full transparency on how money has been spent, whether it’s on medical equipment purchased by the Cuomo administration or the rest of the $5 billion in CARES Act funding provided to New York by the federal government,” said Republican Rob Ortt, New York state Senate minority leader Rob Ortt, in a statement.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature gave Cuomo broad powers to redirect spending due to the pandemic.
Republicans have also called on lawmakers to peel back some of Cuomo’s control over the state budget as the virus’ spread has hit record lows.
But Cuomo’s office said it needs financial flexibility to address the COVID-19 crisis and what it needed to spend on relief supplies when it was unclear how bad the situation would get in hospitals.
At one point, projections showed New York would need more than 150,000 hospital beds and 40,000 ventilators.The state’s regular capacity is about 53,000 hospital beds. That led to the purchase, for example, of nearly 1,200 X-ray machines at a cost of $94 million, or $80,000 per machine, that would have been used in the New York City-area field hospitals. But those facilities never opened.
A similar situation occurred with the BiPAP machines, which Long Island health-care provider Northwell Health said could be converted into emergency use ventilators if needed.
The situation, though, never developed: The peak hospitalization in New York was slightly over 18,000 patients, and the state, although close, never ran out of ventilators.
New York Gov, Andrew Cuomo holds his face mask while talking to the media at the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, March 26, 2020. Gov. Cuomo rang the opening bell as the trading floor partially reopened during the coronavirus pandemic.
After the cost for ventilators, the state’s biggest expense so far has been $195 million on nearly 3 million coveralls for health-care workers and $168 million for 80 million respirators, face masks and N95 masks, the records showed.
Cuomo stressed throughout the process that prices soared as states bid against one another for equipment, railing against the federal government for not having a national buying strategy.
“We should never again as a nation have to scramble the way we scrambled,” Cuomo said May 14, announcing New York would look to produce more of its own supplies in the future.
As the virus has spread, New York has donated about 247,000 pieces of PPE and equipment to other states — about half of which were surgical masks from its stockpile, Cuomo’s office said.
That’s a small fraction of the 69 million pieces of emergency equipment the state procured since March, state officials said.
Azzopardi said the state was able to purchase adequate supplies to meet the present needs, and contracts have been re-evaluated and some agreements have either been cancelled or modified to meet the current demand.
“New York was hit the hardest and — in the absence of federal leadership — had to fend for ourselves and compete with other states amid a world-wide shortage of protective equipment while every model showed that our hospital system was going to be stretched to the brink,” he said.
Follow Joseph Spector on Twitter @GannettAlbany.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: COVID: New York spending $5B on face masks, ventilators, PPE