As the US takes the No. 1 spot in coronavirus cases, the epicenter of the outbreak here has approved a controversial process in anticipation of ventilator shortages. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday his state's hospitals can now split one ventilator between two patients—a "not ideal but workable" move made in anticipation of a ventilator shortage as the number of cases rise, he says. Per ABC News, Massachusetts' Tufts Medical Center is even experimenting with splitting one ventilator among four patients. Multiple medical groups, however, are pushing back on this idea. "Sharing mechanical ventilators should not be attempted because it cannot be done safely with current equipment," a statement reads. They encourage triage instead, as it's better "to purpose the ventilator to the patient most likely to benefit than fail to prevent, or even cause, the demise of multiple patients."
Dr. Mary Dale Peterson, head of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, was even blunter in her assessment on whether the newly OK'd protocol can work. "The short answer is no," she tells CNN, noting the "myriad issues ... to contend with." The New York Times says this "desperate measure" has been used in a few studies, but only twice in "crisis situations": after the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, and, more recently, by an ER doctor in Italy treating coronavirus patients. "We're doing something that hasn't really ever been done before," says a pulmonary disease specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, which started "ventilator sharing" this week. "Now is the time to do it." The co-author of a 2008 study on sheep sharing a ventilator agrees that while the process is "suboptimal," a "doomsday scenario" may leave doctors no choice. "The other option is death," he says. (Read more coronavirus stories.)