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The Views From New York And California, Both Hit Hard By The Coronavirus

ARI SHAPIRO (HOST): Let's hear now from two of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. In New York, state officials say cases of COVID-19 have doubled every three days. They now stand at more than 25,000. In California, hospitals are bracing for a surge of patients. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang is in New York City, and NPR's Leila Fadel is reporting from Los Angeles.

Welcome to both of you.


HANSI LO WANG (BYLINE): Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Hansi, let me start with you. New York has the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases by far. What are the latest projections for where things are headed?

WANG: Well, the peak in New York could be coming in as little as two weeks. This is based on projections announced by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo today. And that means that in early April, right before Easter, New York state may need triple its current hospital bed capacity because coronavirus patients could be filling as many as 140,000 beds, 40,000 ICU beds. And I've talked to a few hospital officials here in New York City. They say it's not realistic that they can meet those numbers in time. And so they're counting on temporary hospital sites, including one that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building right now inside a convention center in Manhattan.

SHAPIRO: That is such a contrast with what President Trump told Fox News today - that he hopes Americans could resume most normal activities by Easter. I mean, that's when New York is saying it might see its peak. Have New York officials addressed that?

WANG: Well, New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio just spoke and said that - he says going back to normal in April is, quote, "absolutely inconceivable." And earlier today New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed back against any notion of changing course anytime soon in New York. And there was this very personal moment during this news conference with Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo said that he does not want to sacrifice the most vulnerable people with compromised immune systems, older people - including the governor's own mother, Matilda Cuomo - what he called the 1 or 2% of population most at risk, who can be overlooked. Let's listen to what he said.


ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY, GOV): But the 1 or 2% is Matilda and Sally and Jane and Sarah and your uncle and my uncle, and they are precious. And I'm not giving up. I am not giving up.

WANG: Gov. Cuomo suggests that you could maybe refine the current public health strategies and wait until we can test whether people have developed immunity to the coronavirus and maybe let younger workers who have recovered from COVID-19 go back to work first.

SHAPIRO: As you talk to hospital officials and state officials, what do they say they need right now?

WANG: In New York, you know, besides hospital beds, you need more nurses and doctors. But the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City say the most urgent need is ventilators - 30,000 more ventilators for the state in New York. You know, these are machines that will help patients gasping for breath keep them from suffocating. And Cuomo says New York is really a canary in a coal mine right now. What New York's saying its need right now - ventilators, more hospital beds - you're going to hear this urgency soon from other states, including California.

SHAPIRO: OK. So Leila Fadel in Los Angeles, what is the situation in California?

FADEL: Right. So California isn't where New York is yet, but doctors, administrators from across the state say they are looking at what's happening in New York and trying to prepare for the worst before it gets here. In the last few days, ER doctors do say they have started to see more and more critical patients at the ER. Today LA County announced the death of the first minor here - all signs that the wave is near. I spoke to Hala Sabry, an emergency medicine doctor in southern California.

HALA SABRY (DOCTOR): The reality of it is that New York is just a few weeks ahead of California in the intensity of the disease hitting. This is a very eerie time of quiet, but we have low incidents of critical care to really prepare and ramp up for what's about to come or what we're expecting to come.

FADEL: That quiet, she says, is because people who have actually heeded that plea to stay away from the emergency rooms unless it's really an emergency.

SHAPIRO: Do health care workers in California feel like they're prepared and have what they need?

FADEL: No, they don't feel they're prepared. California hospitals are rationing supplies. At the hospital level, they feel that they have adequate levels of personal protective gear. But Sabry says at one of her hospitals where she works, they have maybe a week of supplies when it comes to personal protective gear. Others, she's not sure. So she's bought her own things - 95 masks, goggles. I heard from another doctor who got a face shield and goggles from Home Depot. But over the last couple days, donations have started to come into the state, easing a little bit of that worry in some places. But elsewhere in the country, they're not necessarily seeing the level of donations.

SHAPIRO: And what about hospital beds? Do they have enough of those in California?

FADEL: No, not at all. The governor says the state needs at least 50,000 more beds to deal with what's coming. They're depending on the hospitals to create the majority of those beds. And the state's working to provide others through establishing field hospitals from FEMA - two of which have arrived - the Navy hospital ship that's expected to dock this week, some hospitals the state's reopening. And California is also looking at using convention halls, fairgrounds, hotels, motels and dormitory rooms.

SHAPIRO: Just from both of you in our last 30 seconds, it sounds like given the shortage of federal policy, it looks like state officials are really taking matters into their own hands on both coasts.

FADEL: Right. Los Angeles City Council members say they're not waiting on the federal government. California's Gov. Newsom's saying the state's in the open market, trying to source the material themselves.

WANG: Leila's right. And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he's really concerned about a bidding war over hospital equipment right now. He's continuing to call for the federal government to step up and rally all of its available resources and get them to the states - the hotspots more quickly.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang in New York and Leila Fadel in Los Angeles with the latest on the coronavirus outbreaks in both of those states.

Thank you.

FADEL: Thank you.

WANG: You're welcome.

Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.