You can’t use ventilators without sedatives. Now the US is running out of those, too

Ambulance and emergency sirens in New York City are wailing ceaselessly this month, as the number of reported deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in the state surpassed 4,100 as of April 6. (Public health experts say that these tallies are severely undercounting the total.)

As one of the hardest-hit locations in the US so far, the city is scrambling to find enough ventilators — equipment that gets oxygen into the lungs of severe Covid-19 patients having trouble breathing on their own — for the expected surge in patients. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference April 4 that the state had ordered 17,000 ventilators from the federal government, but “that order never came through.”

Although New York City may be the first city in the country to run out of ventilators, other cities are expected to follow. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently tweeted, “Ventilators are our #1 need right now. I won’t stop fighting to get us the equipment we need to save every life we can.” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards predicted that his state would run out of ventilators by April 6.

But to save a Covid-19 patient’s life with a ventilator, you also need an ample supply of medications, both to be able to use the machine and to prevent agonizing pain. Experts say there’s a worrisome shortage of those, too — one that’s only expected to grow worse.

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