Officials in New York rushed to prepare hospitals for a surge in coronavirus cases that could put unprecedented pressure on the medical system in the country’s largest population center, an acknowledgment that attempts to contain the virus’s spread are largely giving way to efforts to mitigate the damage.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency. Hospitals in the area asked doctors to stand by to deal with an influx of patients, and they’re taking stock of specialized rooms for airborne illnesses, equipment such as ventilators and available personnel.

“What is that moment where we overtax the system?” de Blasio asked during a press conference. “The city and the private hospitals can ramp up capacity and turn other facilities into something else.’’

“We’re getting into a situation where the only analogy is war,’’ de Blasio said. “You mobilize people, you change their roles, you do whatever it takes.”

Health and hospital officials must consider how to protect a population of millions — 20 million in the greater metropolitan area — using resources in the thousands. New York City itself has about 20,000 hospital beds, according to a city health official, for a population of about 8.6 million. That’s one bed for roughly every 400 people. A small share of those rooms, about 1,200, are designed for airborne illnesses.

More could be made available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that many coronavirus patients can be cared for in more traditional private rooms. The 55 hospitals in the city can free up as many as 4,425 beds in the event of an emergency, mostly by giving an early discharge to patients who aren’t critically ill, according to a 2013 study.

But according to Issac Weisfuse, and epidemiologist and former deputy commissioner of the New York City Health Department, freeing up that number of beds quickly is a logistical challenge.

“It’s harder to do in the real word than in a drill,” Weisfuse said. “It does take some time to move patients and get them set up with the care and prescriptions they need. It can’t be done at the flick of a switch.”

Overall, New York City has 2.3 beds per 1,000 residents, trailing the national average. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study of 2016 data, there are 2.8 beds per 1,000 residents nationally.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the state is evaluating the potential for some public properties to be converted into temporary hospital spaces and is considering a halt on elective surgeries to make available additional hospital beds. Raul Perea-Henze, New York’s deputy mayor for health and human services, said the city’s public and private hospitals are cooperating to free up space.

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