The number of coronavirus cases in the United States has soared past 100,000 cases, and the situation in New York City has become increasingly dire as cases continue to explode, with the healthcare system threatened with imminent collapse.
Across the city, sirens wailed late into the night Friday as ambulance crews raced through empty streets from one call to the next. Medical emergency calls were up 40 per cent to about 6,500 a day, shattering historical records and leading to up to 170 callers being put on hold at a time, according to EMS union officials.
FDNY officials are strongly urging New Yorkers to call 911 only if they are having urgent emergencies, such as heart troubles or problems breathing. ‘Please allow first responders to assist those most in need. Only call 911 if you need help right away,’ the department said in a statement.
On both Thursday and Friday, another 85 people died of the virus in the city, or an average of one New Yorker every 17 minutes. The city’s death toll is now 450, and there are 26,697 confirmed cases.
Mail reports that inside the city’s hospitals, stretched to their limits by the crisis, healthcare workers faced unspeakable scenes of suffering and death.
‘Hell. Biblical. I kid you not. People come in, they get intubated, they die, the cycle repeats,’ said Dr Steve Kassapidis of Mount Sinai Queens, in an interview with Sky News. ‘9/11 was nothing compared to this, we were open waiting for patients to come who never came. Now they just keep coming.’
The hospitals look like a war zone,’ Dr Emad Youssef of Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn told CBS News. ‘People lining up out of the hallway, through the EMS bay, through the ambulance bay, with masks on themselves, with oxygen on their nose.’
Doctors and nurses across the city report increasing shortages of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gowns — though city and hospital officials are denying the problem.
In contrast to the desperate conditions in hospitals, the streets were eerily empty. Landmarks including the Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square were deserted on Friday, a warm spring day that would normally see them teeming.
At a press conference on Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he believes the city’s strained healthcare system has the personnel and supplies to make it through next week, but beyond that is uncertain.
‘After next Sunday, April 5, is when I get very, very worried about everything we’re gonna need,’ he said, saying that an infusion of medical staff and equipment was needed to stave off disaster.
‘I’ve put down that marker to the White House, that that is a decisive moment for the city of New York,’ he said, saying the city urgently needs additional federal and military support, as well as at least 15,000 ventilators.
‘We need to make sure we can get to that day and face the week after that, and the week after that as well,’ de Blasio said. ‘Right now we’re not there.’
‘I think people need to be ready for battle, and the hard truth helps them gird themselves for what’s ahead,’ he continued.
De Blasio said that additional staffers had been deployed to Elmhurst hospital in Queens, the city’s hardest-hit facility, which recorded 13 deaths in 24 hours earlier this week.
Of the five boroughs, Queens is now the epicenter of the epicenter, with 8,214 cases, a one-day increase of 32 percent.
Brooklyn, the most populous borough, has 6,750 cases, up 26 percent from Thursday.
The Bronx has 4,655 cases and Manhattan has 4,478 cases, both increases of 18 percent. Staten Island was up 6 percent, at 1,440 cases.
In just the past week, one funeral home in Queens has held services for close to a dozen people who have died from the virus, and is expecting to do more.
At the Gerard J. Neufeld funeral home in Elmhurst, the caskets are now usually closed, and funerals are sparsely attended, if at all.
‘Unfortunately, the families don’t necessarily get the closure that they want,’ Neufeld said. ‘Some have looked for services here, but we have to limit it to, say, an hour or two, really no more than 10 or 12 people. We try to only have one service on at a time so that you don’t spread it even more.’
Fears of exposure linger even after death, with family members opting for closed caskets.
‘It doesn’t necessarily provide them the closure that they’re looking for,’ Joseph Neufeld Jr told the AP. ‘They want to see their mother or their grandmother or dad one last time. But they also are afraid. … They end up just having a closed casket, which they otherwise wouldn’t normally do. So it’s just it’s upsetting to them that they don’t get to see their loved one one last time.’
The city is now making plans for the worse case scenario. The massive Javits Center has been converted into a field hospital by the Army Corps of Engineers, and on Saturday the USNS Comfort hospital ship is due to depart for New York Harbor.