NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. governors and mayors on Monday became more desperate in their pleas for help from the federal government to fight coronavirus as the military prepared to set up field hospitals in New York and Seattle to ease the strain on creaking health services.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged U.S. lawmakers to approve an economic relief package and appealed for ventilators and medical equipment, even asking for help from private citizens.
“Anyone out there who can help us get these supplies, we have only days to get them in place. That is the reality,” de Blasio told CNN. New York, the most populous U.S. city, is now at the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.
Karine Raymond, a nurse at Jack D. Weiler Hospital in New York’s Bronx borough, said most nurses were unable to get specialized N95 masks and even simpler surgical masks were in short supply. Nurses are being told to wear them for as long as possible, she said.
“We are the be all and end all and lifeline to these patients, and yet we are being contaminated and cross contaminating,” Raymond said.
As health authorities struggled to cope with the rising number of sick people and the U.S. Senate failed to advance an economic stimulus package, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the U.S. military is preparing to deploy field hospitals to New York and Seattle.
The planned hospitals, essentially tent facilities that can be rapidly set up, can only handle a limited number of patients and are less suited to treating highly infectious people who need to be isolated. But they can relieve pressure on hospitals by treating patients with illnesses other than COVID-19.
The Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to convert hotels and dormitories into treatment facilities for sick patients as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases nationwide topped 40,000 on Monday, more than 500 of whom have died.
New York’s de Blasio urged U.S. lawmakers to provide more help.
“I want to appeal to everyone in the House and Senate, you have got to help cities, towns, countries, states, public hospitals, private hospitals. You’ve got to get all of them direct relief,” he said.
A far-reaching economic package for the coronavirus crisis failed to advance in the Senate after Democrats said it contained too little money for hospitals and not enough restrictions on a fund to help big businesses. Democrats predicted a modified version would win passage soon.
Both Democrats and Republicans say they are aware that failure to agree on the bill could have a devastating effect on states, cities and businesses, and trigger further heavy losses in U.S. stock markets.
The U.S. Federal Reserve rolled out an unprecedented new array of programs aimed at blunting the “severe disruptions” to the economy caused by the coronarvirus outbreak.
The central bank will back the purchases of corporate bonds and direct loans to companies. It will expand its asset holding by as much as needed to stabilize financial markets and roll out a program to get credit to small and medium-sized business.
The steps briefly lifted U.S. stock index futures more than 3% but share prices quickly dropped back into the red, putting the S&P 500 .SPX on pace for its worst month since World War Two.
With the addition of Maryland, Indiana, Michigan and Massachusetts on Monday, 15 out of 50 U.S. states have now imposed restrictions on people’s movements to curtail the virus, putting the country on a track similar to those of the most devastated European countries such as Italy and Spain.
The population affected by the state lockdowns amounts to more than 150 million people out of a U.S. total of about 330 million.
STAY AT HOME
In what appeared to send a conflicting message about the federal government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus health crisis, a senior White House advisor said that President Donald Trump is considering measures to reopen the U.S. economy.
Trump issued guidelines a week ago that he said aimed to slow the spread of the disease over 15 days. Late on Sunday, he tweeted: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” adding that at the end of the 15-day shutdown period, “we will make a decision as to which way we want to go.”
Trump senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow followed up on Monday, telling Fox News: “The president is right … We’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs.”
A lack of coordinated federal action was causing chaos for states and municipalities, and even putting them in competition with each other for resources, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Illinois said.
The states “are all out looking for the same thing,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told CNN on Monday.
Leaving states to fend for themselves has put them in bidding wars with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, other U.S. states and even against other countries, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said.
“We’re competing against each other on what should be a national crisis where we should be coming together and the federal government should be leading, helping us,” Pritzker told the “Today” program.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on Washington to put in place the federal defense production act to eliminate this “ad hoc” system. Trump on Sunday defended his decision to hold off using this power, on the grounds that nationalizing businesses “is not a good concept.”
General Motors Co (GM.N) and medical equipment maker Ventec are speeding up efforts under a partnership code-named “Project V” to build ventilators at a GM plant in Kokomo, Indiana, to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.
Reporting by Stephanie Kelly, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Dan Levine and Nathan Layne; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Howard Goller and Alistair Bell
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