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

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 33068

Reported Deaths: 2068
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9524558
Lake3494175
Cass15897
Allen141966
St. Joseph122134
Hendricks114268
Hamilton113292
Elkhart110128
Johnson1092106
Madison58459
Porter50522
Bartholomew49034
Clark47941
LaPorte42022
Tippecanoe3823
Howard37824
Delaware37636
Jackson3721
Shelby36822
Hancock32727
Floyd31739
Boone30535
Morgan27724
Vanderburgh2592
Montgomery23417
White2308
Decatur22431
Clinton2221
Noble20421
Grant19721
Dubois1903
Harrison18921
Henry16910
Greene16824
Monroe16512
Warrick16528
Dearborn16521
Vigo1538
Lawrence15223
Miami1401
Putnam1357
Jennings1294
Orange12422
Scott1203
Ripley1106
Franklin1098
Kosciusko1011
Carroll933
Daviess8416
Steuben812
Marshall801
Newton7610
Wayne756
Fayette747
Wabash742
LaGrange682
Jasper661
Washington511
Jay490
Fulton471
Clay461
Rush452
Randolph453
Jefferson431
Pulaski410
Whitley383
Owen351
Sullivan341
DeKalb331
Brown331
Starke323
Perry280
Wells270
Benton260
Huntington262
Knox250
Tipton241
Crawford230
Blackford222
Parke190
Spencer191
Switzerland190
Fountain182
Posey160
Gibson142
Adams131
Ohio130
Warren121
Vermillion100
Martin90
Union80
Pike60
Unassigned0161

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 115833

Reported Deaths: 5186
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook753063519
Lake7933281
DuPage7460350
Kane6083167
Will5356268
Winnebago209153
McHenry148870
St. Clair105077
Kankakee83644
Kendall75119
Rock Island63923
Champaign5957
Madison54557
Boone42416
DeKalb3704
Sangamon34328
Randolph2674
Jackson25610
McLean21613
Ogle2002
Stephenson1992
Macon19219
Peoria1918
Out of IL1831
Clinton18017
Union1519
Unassigned1490
LaSalle14113
Whiteside13412
Iroquois1314
Coles12313
Warren1130
Jefferson10116
Knox960
Grundy952
Monroe9311
McDonough847
Lee791
Tazewell704
Cass690
Henry670
Williamson602
Marion500
Jasper457
Adams441
Macoupin442
Perry410
Pulaski410
Montgomery391
Vermilion381
Morgan341
Christian334
Jo Daviess320
Livingston322
Douglas260
Fayette203
Ford201
Jersey201
Menard190
Mason180
Washington180
Woodford182
Hancock160
Mercer160
Shelby161
Bureau151
Carroll142
Bond121
Franklin120
Piatt120
Schuyler120
Clark110
Crawford110
Fulton110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Logan100
Moultrie100
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Johnson70
Massac70
Saline70
Effingham61
Greene50
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
Wabash20
White20
Calhoun10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Edgar00
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