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New York as US 'microcosm': Body count mounts, medical supplies dwindle

A funeral director and a Wycoff Heights Medical Center, employee transport a body, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo)

The coronavirus pandemic’s mounting death toll besieged New York City morgues and hospitals struggled to treat thousands of infected patients on Thursday with a dwindling supply of ventilators and protective equipment.

Funeral homes and cemetery directors described a surge in demand not seen in decades as cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, surpassed 50,000 in the city, with nearly 1,400 dead.

“In many ways New York state is a microcosm of the United States and that’s why I think it is going to be illustrative to the rest of the nation as to what is going to happen,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The human costs were further underscored by new evidence of the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic, with more than 90% of Americans ordered to ride out the crisis at home.

The US government reported that a record 6.6 million Americans filed for jobless benefits last week, double the previous all-time high set a week earlier.

“It takes your breath away,” said Justin Hoogendoorn, head of fixed income strategy and analytics at Piper Sandler in Chicago. “Obviously the immediate reaction to something like that is going to be fear.”

Texas became the 40th state to issue a stay-at-home order on Thursday to help contain the spread of the virus.

People stand in line while wearing face masks in the Elmhurst neighborhood on April 1, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Getty Images)

As if 10 million Americans losing their jobs in two weeks were not enough, the US death toll soared by 950 on Wednesday, marking the third day in a row of record increases. Another 800 deaths reported so far on Thursday increased the national toll to more than 5,600 dead, according to a Reuters tally of official data.

Confirmed US cases surpassed 235,000 on Thursday, double that of Italy, the country with the second most cases. The White House task force on the pandemic estimates 100,000 to 240,000 people could be killed even if lockdown orders are respected.

Globally, the number of confirmed infections approached one million, with more than 50,000 fatalities as of Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

To deal with the mounting number of deaths, the US Defense Department was looking to provide up to 100,000 body bags to fill an order placed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a Pentagon official told Reuters on Wednesday.

New York City crematories were extending their hours and burning bodies into the night, with corpses piling up so quickly that city officials were surveying cemeteries elsewhere in the state for temporary interment sites.

“We’ve been preparing for a worst-case scenario, which is in a lot of ways starting to materialize,” said Mike Lanotte, director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association.

At Brooklyn’s Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, staff were seen disposing of their gowns and caps and other protective wear in a sidewalk trash can on Thursday after wheeling bodies out of the hospital and loading them into a refrigerated truck.

Reuters was unable to confirm whether the bodies were those of coronavirus victims and hospital administrators could not be reached for comment. Operator Beatrice Pereira said, “They said that there’s no one available right now, that everyone here is busy saving lives.”

Supplies run low 

An emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the US government has nearly run out of protective gear for doctors and nurses, as governors and healthcare providers across the country clamor for protective gear and medical equipment such as ventilators, which help COVID-19 patients breathe.

After New York City appointed former police commissioner James O’Neill to oversee its medical supply chain, US Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called on President Donald Trump to appoint a national czar with military experience to oversee the production and distribution of medical supplies.

“The system that the administration has in place is horrible,” Schumer told MSNBC.

A general view of a mostly empty Western Avenue near Pike Place Market during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Seattle, Washington, US March 31, 2020. (Reuters photo)

Trump tweeted that New York has received more federal aid than any other state and said the man he describes as “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” and local officials should stop complaining, saying they should have stocked up long ago.

Cuomo, who reported another 432 deaths and 8,669 new cases in his state in the past 24 hours, said his state was creating its own central stockpile, asking hospitals to contribute supplies that the state would then redistribute based on need.

New York City received 400 badly needed ventilators on Wednesday, but Cuomo warned the state’s reserve of 2,200 ventilators would run out within six days.

In one ray of light, Florida officials agreed to allow two Holland America Line cruise ships afflicted with the coronavirus to dock at a port in Fort Lauderdale, resolving a days-long impasse, NBC reported.

After 27 days at sea in which four passengers aboard one of the ships died, they can dock in Fort Lauderdale.

(Source: Reuters)

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