NEW YORK: COVID-19 patients on ventilators in New York dropped for the first time to a "negative" number since the outbreak began, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday, expressing cautious optimism that the state was slowing the infection rate but voiced concern that the number of daily deaths continue to be high.
"We are cautiously optimistic that we are slowing the infection rate," Cuomo said at the daily press briefing on coronavirus.
He said there is a "dramatic decline" in the total number of hospitalisations and "that's obviously very good news".
In another encouraging sign that the state is flattening the curve, Cuomo said, "Change in ICU admissions is actually a negative number for the first time since we started this intense journey. That means there are fewer people in the intensive care unit statewide than they were (on the previous day). And again, that's the first time we've seen a negative number, so that's good."
The drop in ICU admissions was small - 17 people, to 4,908, from 4,925 yesterday, but it was a positive signal of a slowing infection rate in the state.
Cuomo, however, expressed sadness that the daily death toll from COVID-19 continues to be high and the state has now lost many times more people than were killed in the 9/11 attacks.
"The bad news is we continue to lose a tremendous number of lives and endure great pain," he said.
The state lost 777 more people on Thursday, bringing the state's total to 7,844.
Many of the people who died had been on ventilators for weeks, Cuomo said.
"And the longer you are on a ventilator, the less likely you will come off the ventilator. And that's what's happening now," he said.
Still, there was a slight decline in the number of daily deaths, from 799 deaths on April 8 to 777 on April 9.
"The number is lower than yesterday. For those who can take solace in that fact, as someone who searches for solace, the leveling off of the number of lives loss is somewhat hopeful sign," Cuomo said.
The governor said he lived through the 9/11 terror attacks and believed that that was the worst situation he was going to deal with in his lifetime.
"So, in terms of lives lost that this (COVID-19) situation should exceed 9/11 is still beyond my capacity to fully appreciate to tell you the truth," he said.
Citing projections made in March by three public-health groups of the growth in the state's need for hospital beds, Cuomo said the projections were that 55,000-136,000 beds would be required to treat the coronavirus patients.
But as of Friday there were 18,569 virus patients in hospitals.
"The actual curve is much, much lower than any of them projected," Cuomo said.
On reopening New York, Cuomo said the key to reopening is going to be testing.
"I've said that from day one, it's not going to be a light switch where you flip this economy like you flip a light switch. It's not going to be everybody goes back next Thursday, it's not going to happen that way.
"It's going to be a gradual phased process and it's going to be reliant on testing, testing of antibodies, testing for diagnostic results and testing on a scale that we have not done before," he said.
Cuomo said the state and the country will have to learn from the entire COVID-19 experience as the US begins to gradually open up in the coming months.
He said President Donald Trump is right to ask where the warning signs were and who was supposed to blow the whistle on the COVID-19 crisis when it first began.
"The President's answer is the World Health Organisation should have been blowing the whistle. I don't know enough to know if that's right or wrong, but I know the question is right. And sometimes the question is more important than the answer. How did this happen? I mean, I still want to know how this happened because the warning signs were there. And if you don't know the answer, then how do you know it's not going to happen again," Cuomo said.
He said warning signs had been flashing since January yet the response to the crisis in the US had been very slow.
"You go back and look at the headlines in January and you see questions, and you see warnings. Now, they were all over the map. But we saw what was happening in Asia, we saw what was starting to happen in Europe," he said, adding that yet experts sources in the US were still saying basically there's nothing to worry about.
"And we really need to be in this situation where the United States winds up with a higher number of cases than the places that went before. We sat here and we watched China. China winds up having 84,000 cases we wind up having 474,000 cases. How does that happen?" the governor asked.
Cuomo said countries that have opened up are now seeing second waves of coronavirus infections and the US must look at the countries that have gone through this reopening process and see what it can learn from them to ensure that there are no new waves of the virus in the coming months.