New York authorities rushed to bring in an army of medical volunteers Wednesday as the statewide death toll from the coronavirus doubled in three days to more than 1,900 and the wail of ambulances in the otherwise eerily quiet streets of the city became the heartbreaking soundtrack of the crisis.
As hot spots flared around the country in places like New Orleans, Detroit and Southern California, the nation’s biggest city was the hardest hit of them all, accounting for the majority of the state’s deaths, with bodies loaded onto refrigerated morgue trucks by gurney and forklift outside overwhelmed hospitals, in some cases in full view of passing motorists. And the worst is yet to come.
“How does it end? And people want answers,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “I want answers. The answer is nobody knows for sure.”
Across the U.S., Americans braced for what U.S. President Donald Trump warned could be “one of the roughest two or three weeks we’ve ever had in our country.” The White House projected 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. before the outbreak is over, and Vice President Mike Pence said U.S. models for the outbreak show the country on a trajectory akin to hard-hit Italy.
Meanwhile, European nations facing extraordinary demand for hospital intensive-care beds are putting up makeshift hospitals, unsure whether they will find enough healthy medical staff to run them. London is just days from unveiling a 4,000-bed temporary hospital built in a huge convention center to take non-critical patients so British hospitals can stay ahead of an expected surge.
In a remarkable turnaround, rich economies where virus cases have exploded are welcoming help from less wealthy ones. Russia sent medical equipment and masks to the U.S. Cuba sent doctors to France. Turkey dispatched masks, hazmat suits, goggles and disinfectants to Italy and Spain.
Worldwide, about 900,000 people have been infected and over 44,000 have died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, though the real figures are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, differences in counting the dead and large numbers of mild cases that have gone unreported.
The U.S. recorded over 190,000 infections and more than 4,100 deaths, with New York City accounting for 1 out of 4 dead.
In New York, more than 80,000 people have volunteered as medical reinforcements, according to state officials. The group includes recent retirees who are willing to go back to work, health care professionals who can take a break from their regular jobs and people between gigs.
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Few have made it into the field yet, as authorities vet them and figure out how to use them, but hospitals are expected to begin bringing them in later this week.
Health care workers who have hit the ground already, many brought in by staffing agencies, have discovered a hospital system becoming overwhelmed. Some patients from New York City have been transferred to Albany.