US coronavirus death toll tops 100 as doctors say hospitals aren’t prepared for a continuing surge
Christina Maxouris and Holly Yan, CNN
(CNN) — The American healthcare system might not be prepared for what’s next in the coronavirus pandemic if people don’t heed warnings from authorities, health officials say.
Every state now has coronavirus after West Virginia reported its first case. Nationwide, more than 6,100 people have been infected, and more than 100 have died.
“The bottom line is things will get much worse,” said Dr. James Phillips, an assistant professor at George Washington University Hospital.
“We’re at a significant risk of overwhelming the number of (hospital) beds we have.”
Two major factors are fueling this pandemic: the fact that people with no symptoms can easily spread the virus, and problems with testing in the US.
That’s why it’s critical for everyone — even those who don’t feel sick — to stay at least 6 feet away from others and avoid social gatherings.
“We’re so far behind on testing, there’s only one way we can be certain not to transmit the virus and be certain not to get it ourselves. And that is that we need to start treating every person as though they have this,” Phillips said.
Similarly, “everyone needs to treat us like we have it, and socially distance ourselves in that manner. Because until we have adequate) testing, we don’t know who has this. And we’re not sure when they start spreading it.”
Globally, more than 200,000 people have been infected with coronavirus, and at least 8,000 have died.
‘History will not forgive us for waiting an hour more’
As the US scrambles to fight the outbreak, states are ordering new shutdowns and restrictions every day.
At least 39 states have shut down schools. In several states, including New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Louisiana, restaurant customers can’t sit in restaurants or bars — all food must be ordered as takeout.
In Ohio, one bar was padlocked and barricaded for violating the governor’s order Sunday and Monday, the Cincinnati Police Department said.
“Not only are you putting the general public at risk, you’re putting our officers at risk that had to go in and deal with the individuals that were in violation,” Patrol Bureau Commander Paul Neudigate said.
States such as Michigan and New Mexico have limited public gatherings to fewer than 50 people. Oregon put the cap at 25.
Earlier this week, the federal government said Americans should avoid groups of more than 10 people.
In California’s Bay Area, about 8 million people have been ordered to shelter in place.
“The time for half measures is over,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “History will not forgive us for waiting an hour more.”
The Bay Area’s mandate allows health services, grocery stores, gas stations, banks and food delivery services to remain open. Mass transit is also available, but is to be used only for travel to and from essential services.
San Francisco has banned all non-essential travel, “including but not limited to walking, biking, driving, or taking public transit.”
“Individuals may go on a walk, get exercise, or take a pet outside to go to the bathroom, as long as at least six feet of social distancing is maintained,” the city’s mandate says.
Those riding public transit must maintain at least six feet of social distancing from other passengers.
“We know these measures will significantly disrupt people’s day-to-day lives,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said. “But they are absolutely necessary.”
The US is 2 months too late in preparing, doctor says
There won’t be enough hospital beds, medical staff or equipment to handle the coronavirus outbreak if continues at its current pace, officials say.
“We will have a shortage of ICU beds. It will be ugly,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week.
New York state has at least 1,653 cases of coronavirus and 15 deaths.
What will likely happen in New York is “likely going to happen in the (rest of the) 50 states,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
Health officials say the US wasn’t adequately prepared for this pandemic.
Two years ago, the CDC stopped funding epidemic prevention activities in 39 countries, including China, after the Trump administration refused to reallocate money to a program that started during the government’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
At that time, former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said the move “would significantly increase the chance an epidemic will spread without our knowledge and endanger lives in our country and around the world.”
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, “we’re two months too late in starting to do this,” said Dr. Eric Toner, who studies hospital preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “I really think this is a fundamental responsibility of government to have acted on this a long time ago.”
So now it’s up to the public to take precautions and avoid giving and receiving the virus.
“It’s not at all clear to me that hospitals are prepared for what’s about to happen,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said.
“What needs to happen in this country is we need to break the cycle of transmission, and it doesn’t look like that’s happening right now.”
Medical equipment providers struggle to keep up
Ventilator manufacturer Hamilton Medical Inc. said it has received hundreds of orders and requests within the past few weeks.
“It is more than we can currently provide,” Kathrin Elsner, team leader of MarCom Ventilators at Hamilton Medical, said.
Michael Dowling, president and CEO of the Northwell Health, was picked by New York’s governor to lead a hospital surge team. He said he wants to purchase as many as 500 ventilators, which can cost as much as $20,000 to $40,000 a machine.
Meanwhile, smaller, rural hospitals across the US — which often have no more than 25 beds and just one ventilator — might be forced to transfer patients to larger facilities if they see a surge in cases.
“Who’s at risk? Elderly, low-income, people with high health needs. That is rural America,” said Alan Morgan, chief executive officer of the National Rural Health Association.
“You have a high proportion of low income, elderly people with high health needs. So if you were to have a cluster in a rural community it would turn bad quickly.”
Also in rural America, “You’ve got a shortage of primary care, certainly a shortage of specialty care,” Morgan said. “You have a small clinical staff, so you can’t afford mistakes.”
But with the coronavirus outbreak, overworked employees are more likely to make errors.
“Part of it is just exhausting our personnel,” said Dr. David Hill, a pulmonary critical care physician and a spokesperson for the American Lung Association. “Healthcare is complicated, and people make mistakes when they’re overworked.”
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