Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that he’s on board with a proposal from Democrats in Congress to offer partial relief for states whose economies have been harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said it would only be a stopgap measure.
Cuomo said he has spoken to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about a $900 billion aid package. It would extend federal pandemic unemployment benefits for millions of Americans that run out on the day after Christmas. It would also renew small-business loans and provide some relief to cash-strapped state and local governments dealing with pandemic-related expenses.
Cuomo called it a “first down payment” on what is needed.
“It doesn't come near to the need. It would be a short-term bill until March. I would urge them to get this first down payment bill passed before they leave," Cuomo said. “Just so families have funding for the holiday season, and it takes some pressure off state and local governments.”
The state has a $14 billion budget deficit, largely due to pandemic-related expenses. Cuomo in the past has said the state will need $50 billion over the next two years to be made whole. The governor must present his new budget plan in January and close the current deficit by March 31.
Republicans in the U.S. Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, rejected the Democrats’ proposal. They instead want a more limited package that offers aid to businesses and grants employers immunity from any litigation related to COVID-19. It would also give some weekly benefits to the unemployed but does not include any money for state or local governments.
The governor also reported that the state’s positivity rate for the virus was 4.8% on Wednesday, and 61 people died of the disease. Hospitalizations continue to climb, with more than 4,000 New Yorkers being treated.
Cuomo said he and state officials are counting the number of hospital beds that might be needed in various regions of the state as the virus surges. Dr. Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, said there are about 6,000 total intensive care unit beds, and over 2,000 are currently available for COVID-19 patients. As of Thursday, 376 New Yorkers were in ICUs with COVID-19.
Zucker said there have been changes since the first surge of the pandemic last spring, and that has resulted in a decreased need for hospital beds and special care, like ventilators.
In March, he said, 25% of those in the hospital for COVID-19 ended up in the ICU. Currently, 19% end up in intensive care. In the spring, 85% to 90% of the sickest patients were placed on ventilators; that number is now 45% to 50%.
“It’s a reflection of the better management of patients who have coronavirus,” said Zucker. “And also people coming into the hospital probably sooner, because they recognize that they may be ill. So those numbers have obviously improved.”
Cuomo said one way to free up more beds is to ban elective surgeries temporarily. Elective surgeries are on hold in Erie County, which has the highest infection rate in the state. Cuomo did not propose ending elective surgeries anywhere else.