WASHINGTON — New York’s two U.S. senators are urging FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers to move as quickly as possible to build additional hospital space in New York state, which has the most COVID-19 cases in the country.
Democratic Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, note that projections show an anticipated surge of patients due to COVID-19. New York might need more than double the number of current hospital beds currently available.
In a letter sent to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor and Commanding Gen. Todd Semonite of the Corps of Engineers, the senators stressed the need for the “full mobilization of federal resources to address the serious challenges hospitals are facing.”
Specifically, Schumer and Gillibrand called on FEMA and the Army Corps to quickly finalize completion of a standard hospital room design, move forward with modifying or retrofitting New York facilities for use as hospitals and ensure there are no delays.
“With more and more confirmed cases in New York every day, we need to have all hands on deck in this coronavirus fight — especially including the Army Corps to build out hospital bed capacity,” Schumer said. “Local hospitals need strong federal support to contain the spread of the virus, and they need it now.”
Under the federal National Response Framework, FEMA is responsible for assigning the Army Corps a mission assignment before the Corps can move forward with the next steps to assess suitable sites and construct modifications and retrofits to buildings that will house hospital beds.
“New York’s hospitals are on the frontlines of responding to the coronavirus crisis, but they face a crisis of their own as a growing number of cases will overwhelm hospital capacity across the state,” Gillibrand said. “We must act quickly to address this pandemic and fully support our hospitals and public health systems.”
Schumer also implored President Trump, during a phone call Friday, to invoke the Defense Production Act to order American businesses to manufacture and send supplies like testing kits, ventilators and masks to hospitals preparing to be overwhelmed by a wave of coronavirus cases.
The Associated Press reported the president told Schumer he would, then could be heard on the telephone seeming to make the order. He yelled to someone in his office to do it now, said Schumer’s spokesman, Justin Goodman.
In a press briefing on Friday, Trump said he actually invoked the measure Thursday night.