US rushes to build makeshift hospitals, Trump predicts ‘painful’ 2 weeks ahead

Cots set up as a medical station to help relieve nearby hospitals at the Los Angeles Convention centre on March 29. (AP pic)

NEW YORK: The US government raced on Tuesday to build hundreds of makeshift hospitals near major cities to ease the strain on overwhelmed healthcare systems as President Donald Trump predicted a “very painful” two weeks ahead.

The death toll in the United States, tallied by Reuters, stood at 800 for Tuesday, the most for a single day so far.

Nearly half the fatalities were in New York state, the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for reinforcements from the Trump administration.

“This is the point at which we must be prepared for next week, when we expect a huge increase in the number of cases. What I asked very clearly, last week, was for military medical personnel to be deployed here,” de Blasio said at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, where a field hospital was being hastily built.

The tennis centre is home to the US Open, scheduled to take place this year on Aug 24.

De Blasio, a Democrat, said he had asked the White House for an additional 1,000 nurses, 300 respiratory therapists and 150 doctors by Sunday.

More than 3,700 people have died from Covid-19 in the United States during the outbreak, more than the number who died in the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.

The total confirmed US cases rose to 184,000, up 21,000 from Monday.

White House medical experts have said between 100,000 to 200,000 people could ultimately die from the respiratory disease in the United States, despite orders in most major cities largely confining Americans to their homes.

More than 30 states have ordered people to stay at home to contain the virus, a move that has strangled the economy and left millions without a paycheck.

Trump, speaking at the White House on Tuesday, said the next two weeks would be “very, very painful” for the country.

“We want Americans to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going to through a very tough two weeks and then, hopefully, as the experts are predicting … you’re going to be seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel,” the president said.

The US Army Corps of Engineers was searching for hotels, dormitories, convention centres and large open spaces to build as many as 341 temporary hospitals, Lieutenant General Todd Semonite told the ABC News “Good Morning America” program.

The corps has already converted New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center into a 1,000-bed hospital in the space of a week.

California sees surge in cases

In Los Angeles, the city’s massive convention centre was being converted to a federal medical station by the National Guard, Mayor Gil Garcetti said on Twitter.

In California, the most populous US state, the number of patients with the illness has surged over the past few days, with more than 7,400 cases confirmed as of Tuesday and 150 deaths.

Hawaii reported its first death from Covid-19 on Tuesday, leaving Wyoming as the only US state to yet suffer a fatality from the disease.

A Dutch cruise ship with confirmed cases of the virus and four fatalities on board sought permission to dock in Florida, despite comments by Governor Ron DeSantis that the state could not afford to take on any additional patients.

The pandemic has taken a toll on doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, who are overworked and lack the medical devices and protective gear needed.

“The duration itself is debilitating and exhausting and depressing,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference.

The governor said his brother, 49-year-old CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, had tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday and would host his nightly show from his basement to avoid infecting family members or others.

US coronavirus-related deaths still trail those of Italy and Spain with more than 11,000 and 8,000 reported fatalities, respectively.

China, where the outbreak is believed to have originated, has reported 3,305.

Worldwide, there are now more than 800,000 cases of the highly contagious illness caused by the virus and more than 40,000 deaths reported.

An intensive care nurse at a major hospital in Manhattan said he had been shocked by the deteriorating conditions of young patients with little or no underlying health issues.

“A 28-year-old, healthy fellow ICU nurse is currently so sick that he has difficulty walking up a single flight of stairs without gasping for breath,” said the nurse, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The medical surgery unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Hudson Valley branch has 17 coronavirus patients, more than half its capacity, said nurse Emily Muzyka, 25.

She said no-visitor policies mean very ill patients may die alone.

“I’ve held patients’ hands through their final breaths in the past,” Muzyka said.

“It’s a lonely death.”

Congress debated whether to consider another economic relief bill after passing a landmark US$2.2 trillion package that will send checks to taxpayers, inject cash into businesses and fund hospitals.

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