New York, March 24 : Army engineers began setting up field hospitals in New York City as the state with the biggest number of coronavirus cases prepared to start trials with medications for it.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that hospital facilities with 2,000-beds are being constructed at the Javits Convention Center, where major trade expos like the auto show and the ComiCon, a gathering of comic fans is usually held.
He said that the Army Corps of Engineers is building four hospitals, each with 1,000 beds, and one of them is at the Javits Centre, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is also setting up a 1,000-bed hospital.
New York State has become the epicentre of COVID-19 with 23,330 cases, 13,119 in the city.
The hospitals are to back up the city's medical facilities, which are expected to be overwhelmed by the zooming numbers of coronavirus patients.
After a stringent semi-lockdown came into force on Sunday night in the state, cities and towns looked forlorn shorn of the usual hustle and bustle.
There is a total ban on onsite work for non-essential offices and businesses and a Stay-at-Home order for the people limiting their movement.
New York is to begin trials on Tuesday with coronavirus patients using two anti-malarial medicines, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, and Zithromax, is the brand name used by Pfizer for azithromycin, an anti-bacterial medication for treating respiratory diseases.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved the use of a new experimental drug in New York that will use antibody injections to help stimulate and promote individuals' immune systems against the virus, Cuomo said.
He said that the state would try to develop a blood test that would show if a person had been infected with COVID-19 and recovered.
Since most people who get infected with the virus do not have severe symptoms and are not tested for the disease, the simpler blood test looking for antigens against the disease would give a better statistical idea of the spread of coronavirus and also identify people who have immunity to it and can return to work.
Cuomo said that the state had started to receive personal protection gear like masks, gloves and gowns from the federal government.
But he said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators, because it was a "matter of life and death".
Later, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the federal government was sending the city 400 ventilators after he had personally spoken to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
He had earlier accused Trump of abandoning to the city and warned that the shortage of ventilators and other medical necessities would cause avoidable deaths.
Cuomo said that Trump should use the Defence Production Act to make companies produce ventilators and other needed medical products and the federal government should route them.
Trump has said that, although he has invoked the act, he would not enforce it because the private sector was voluntarily producing the needed products.
Cuomo said without a federal system of control, states were bidding against each other for the products leading to several-fold rise in prices for materials like masks.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @arulouis)