Cuomo: You're damn right I'm ordering a Code Red to seize ventilators, PPE

The crisis in New York City has gotten bad enough for government seizures as well as rationing of critical-need medical supplies. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to send the National Guard out to seize ventilators and personal protective equipment throughout the state, from both public and private institutions. “We don’t have enough — period,” Cuomo declared today, and argued that it would be “irresponsible” not to seize and redeploy the inventory on hand:

Driving this decision is new data showing that the state has not yet reached its peak and is not succeeding in flattening the curve:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will issue an executive order Friday authorizing the National Guard to seize ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) from facilities in the state and redistribute them to hospitals most in need, as New York saw its biggest single-day increase in deaths from the virus.

The new order comes a day after the governor said he had only enough ventilators in his stockpile to last six days at the “current burn rate.” And the trajectory keeps going up — New York state has now lost 2,935 people to COVID-19, more than the number lost in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 103,000 have been infected as of Friday, a jump of more than 10,000 in 24 hours.

“I will return it to you or pay you for it,” Cuomo said to the facilities who may have ventilators taken. “I’m not going to be in a position where people are dying and we have ventilators in our state somewhere else.”

In the short run, it’s likely a smart move both tactically and politically. In an emergency, executives score more points by acting decisively rather than cautiously. Sending off the National Guard to seize supplies of ventilators and PPE is about as Code Red as you get (so far) in this crisis. Furthermore, the argument makes sense in this acute context — how do you explain leaving inventory unused elsewhere that could have saved lives in New York City?

In the longer run, though, it’s a gamble. Cuomo’s betting that either that COVID-19 won’t break out with anywhere near the intensity elsewhere in the state any time soon, or that more supplies will arrive to replace the seized materials before they do. If he loses that bet, Cuomo will be left attempting to explain why he forcibly stripped resources from communities that had the foresight to stock up on them and left them unable to save the lives that equipment was intended to protect.

Unfortunately for Cuomo, these are the choices he has left in the raging outbreak in the country’s most populous city. Its mayor chose not to act decisively until it was far too late, and the very nature of the city practically guaranteed disaster would strike anyway. Cuomo’s doing the best he can with the cards he was dealt. It is, however, an object lesson to other executives around the country to act decisively soon enough to avoid having to make these calls before ramped-up production can deliver these resources in abundance.