US coronavirus cases soar past 7,000 as health officials resort to desperate measures

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As the world grapples with a deadly coronavirus outbreak, many hospitals in the US struggle to prepare for a major onslaught of patients needing care. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the details.

Posted: Mar 18, 2020 5:01 PM
Updated: Mar 18, 2020 5:01 PM

The American health care system might not be equipped for what's next in the coronavirus pandemic if people don't heed warnings from authorities, health officials say.

As the US death toll tops 110, states are ordering more shutdowns. Hospital employees are making their own face masks. And doctors are begging the public to keep their distance from others.

"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."

More than 7,000 Americans have been infected with coronavirus, and that number changes by the hour.

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."

You asked, we're answering: Your top coronavirus questions every day

The fight against the virus also has taken an economic toll. The Senate on Wednesday approved a coronavirus relief package that includes paid emergency leave and measures for free testing. The legislation, approved by the House, will go to President Donald Trump to sign.

'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.

Nevada ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses for 30 days.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order Wednesday that requires at least 50% of a business' employees to work from home.

In Utah, Ohio, New York, New Jersey and Louisiana, 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 Northern California, about 8 million people have been ordered to shelter in place. The Southern California city of Palm Springs issued a similar mandate.

What's allowed during a shelter-in-place order, and what's not?

"The time for half measures is over," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. "History will not forgive us for waiting an hour more."

San Francisco has banned all non-essential travel, including 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."

'It will be ugly'

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," Gov. Cuomo said this week.

New York state has 53,000 hospital beds. Wednesday, Cuomo said the state needs as many as 110,000 beds.

The challenges facing New York are "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.

"What needs to happen in this country is we need to break the cycle of transmission," CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said. "And it doesn't look like that's happening right now."

Health workers are sewing makeshift masks

In southwest Georgia, Phoebe Putney Health System used six months' worth of supplies less than a week, said Scott Steiner, the hospital group's president and CEO.

"We've got a three-day supply of N95 masks on hand," Steiner said Wednesday. "In order to preserve these, and get them to last longer, we've got a team of people sewing masks together."

He held up a "prototype" made of surgical sheeting that can be placed over a real N95 mask.

"This is what we're going to have to do because we don't know when the next shipment is coming," Steiner said.

Across the country, officials are taking drastic measures in the fight to control coronavirus.

New York state will waive Department of Health regulations on how many beds can be in a hospital room as it tries to double the number of beds.

The state is also reaching out to retired nurses and doctors plus medical and nursing schools to see whether they can help.

And two Navy hospital ships are being deployed along the East Coast to help alleviate the strain on hospitals.

Those ships, the Comfort and Mercy, won't be treating coronavirus patients. Instead, they'll treat other hospital patients so health care workers can concentrate on the growing numbers of coronavirus cases.

The Comfort will likely head to New York, but it will likely take weeks because the ship is undergoing maintenance, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.

The Mercy will be ready much sooner, in a matter of days. But the destination is not clear.

"When it's prepared to sail, we will make a determination on where it's going to go." Hoffman said.

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," said Kathrin Elsner, team leader of MarCom Ventilators at Hamilton Medical.

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 United States -- 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 spokesman for the American Lung Association. "Health care is complicated, and people make mistakes when they're overworked."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 45594

Reported Deaths: 2640
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11329679
Lake4847239
Elkhart304143
Allen2649110
St. Joseph183065
Cass16369
Hamilton1463100
Hendricks136699
Johnson1232118
Porter68036
Madison64263
Tippecanoe6338
Clark61644
Bartholomew57844
Howard54256
LaPorte53425
Kosciusko4842
LaGrange4566
Jackson4543
Noble43428
Delaware42548
Boone42142
Hancock41835
Shelby41425
Vanderburgh4136
Marshall4093
Floyd36244
Morgan31831
Grant28526
Montgomery28520
Clinton2792
Dubois2596
White25710
Monroe24428
Decatur24332
Henry23515
Lawrence22924
Vigo2228
Harrison20822
Dearborn20322
Warrick19629
Greene18431
Miami1802
Jennings16910
Putnam1658
DeKalb1574
Scott1547
Daviess13816
Orange13323
Wayne1276
Franklin1248
Steuben1232
Perry1188
Ripley1127
Carroll1082
Jasper1072
Wabash1072
Fayette957
Newton9410
Whitley794
Randolph764
Huntington702
Starke683
Jay670
Wells671
Fulton661
Jefferson641
Washington641
Knox620
Clay594
Pulaski591
Rush563
Benton470
Adams451
Sullivan451
Owen431
Gibson412
Brown381
Blackford352
Posey320
Spencer301
Tipton301
Crawford290
Fountain282
Switzerland240
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Warren141
Union130
Vermillion130
Pike60
Unassigned0192

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 51789

Reported Deaths: 2863
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin9148404
Cuyahoga6831364
Hamilton5010198
Marion272638
Lucas2600301
Pickaway217041
Summit1953205
Mahoning1741228
Montgomery170425
Butler140544
Columbiana120560
Stark1042112
Lorain94767
Trumbull83462
Warren73821
Clark7298
Belmont52821
Tuscarawas50710
Delaware49415
Fairfield48116
Medina48032
Miami43731
Lake43317
Ashtabula42043
Portage41258
Licking40411
Geauga38742
Wood37651
Wayne35352
Clermont3476
Richland3145
Allen29338
Mercer2708
Darke23425
Erie22822
Greene2089
Holmes2023
Madison1878
Huron1701
Crawford1356
Ottawa12923
Washington12420
Sandusky12213
Morrow1141
Putnam11316
Hardin11112
Ross1072
Auglaize993
Monroe8517
Union771
Coshocton761
Hancock761
Hocking767
Jefferson762
Muskingum731
Williams652
Lawrence630
Preble621
Clinton610
Guernsey593
Logan581
Shelby584
Wyandot584
Fulton570
Ashland531
Brown521
Carroll513
Fayette460
Defiance453
Highland421
Knox391
Champaign371
Scioto350
Athens331
Seneca332
Perry301
Henry290
Van Wert240
Paulding230
Vinton222
Adams211
Pike200
Jackson170
Gallia141
Harrison121
Meigs110
Morgan90
Noble90
Unassigned00
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