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Look past overheated rhetoric to grasp need to share resources

There’s an important context New Yorkers should consider in evaluating Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s push for hospitals across the state to share ventilators where they are most needed. It’s in that word, share.

New Yorkers, Americans and, in fact, the world are in dire medical and economic conditions today in large part because of a failure to share. It’s the key to managing the coronavirus pandemic. Its why the state and the nation need to pull together to respond to a lethal threat. An “I’ve-got-mine” approach will only prolong the suffering.

Consider a few examples. If China had shared information about the virus when it first surfaced in Wuhan, the world could have better prepared for its spread and possibly could have helped that nation contain the danger. To pick up on Cuomo’s allusion Sunday to President Franklin Roosevelt’s World War II “lend-lease” program, had the world flooded China with supplies then, we might be in better shape today.

If President Trump had shared the information he had in January on the threat of the virus, we would surely be in better shape today. The administration’s approach continued last week when, speaking of medical supplies, Jared Kushner said the federal government shouldn’t have to share what it has. “… it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be the states’ stockpiles that they then use.” Us-against-them is a prescription for extended suffering.

Many states are also guilty of failing to join the necessary national effort. If states that were slow to respond to the need for social distancing had shared earlier in the economic sacrifice – think spring break on Florida beaches – the spread of the virus might have been better contained.

Now the question is whether the various regions of New York, including this one, will get out of their own way and share some portion of their unused ventilators for use where they are critically needed. Today, that’s downstate. In four weeks, it might be here.

The response to Cuomo’s push last week for ventilators was met with a dismaying level of hostility. Some of that may have been because of the way in which Cuomo announced the plan. To some, it sounded like the imposition of martial law and a local threat to public health.

But on Sunday, Cuomo made clear his plan: He wants to borrow 20% of ventilators not in use. No one will be taken off a ventilator and 80% of unused ventilators will remain in place. He estimated that would produce 500 of the life-saving machines for New Yorkers who are otherwise almost sure to die.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and hospital officials have said Western New York doesn’t have a ventilator to spare. Certainly, Erie County has been hit hard, but can we really have nothing to share when the need is dire? Erie County – and every other county, for that matter – may at some point want the help that downstate desperately needs today. It's worth reviewing.

Help did come to New York on Sunday, from far away. With help from the Chinese government, two of that country’s billionaires donated 1,000 ventilators to New York. Meanwhile, the state of Oregon said it would also help.

“We’ll be sending 140 ventilators to help NY because Oregon is in a better position right now,” Gov. Kate Brown said in weekend tweet. “We must do all that we can to help those on the front lines of this response.”

The donations will help New York and the country, Cuomo said. “We’re all in the same battle here and the battle is stopping the spread of the virus,” he said. “Stop the virus here. It’s better for the state of Oregon, it’s better for the nation.”

The point is inarguable. They only question is what can be spared. And what is true for Oregon is also true for the Catskills, the Hudson Valley, the North County and Western New York. Illness is spreading through those regions, too, but not like it is in New York City.

All areas that can offer any of their life-saving equipment should be doing their part to help where it is needed, understanding that it could help stem the spread in their regions and, critically, that the assistance will be reciprocated.

That suggests the question that leaders of those parts of the state need to be asking themselves: When the outbreak peaks in their regions, will they have enough ventilators then? If not, will they hope other areas will share what they can?

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