‘Very dark couple of weeks’: Morgues and hospitals overflow

Nearly 37,000 Americans died of COVID-19 in November, the most in any month since the dark early days of the pandemic, engulfing families in grief, filling newspaper obituary pages and testing the capacity of morgues, funeral homes and hospitals.

Posted: Dec 2, 2020 12:28 PM

Nearly 37,000 Americans died of COVID-19 in November, the most in any month since the dark early days of the pandemic, engulfing families in grief, filling newspaper obituary pages and testing the capacity of morgues, funeral homes and hospitals.

Amid the resurgence, states have begun reopening field hospitals to handle an influx of patients that is pushing health care systems — and their workers — to the breaking point. Hospitals are bringing in mobile morgues. And funerals are being livestreamed or performed as drive-by affairs.

Health officials fear the crisis will be even worse in coming weeks, after many Americans ignored pleas to stay home over Thanksgiving and avoid people who don’t live with them.

“I have no doubt that we’re going to see a climbing death toll ... and that’s a horrific and tragic place to be,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “It’s going to be a very dark couple of weeks.”

November’s toll was far lower than the 60,699 recorded in April but perilously close to the next-highest total of almost 42,000 in May, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Deaths had dropped to just over 20,000 in June after states closed many businesses and ordered people to stay at home.

The fast-deteriorating situation is particularly frustrating because vaccine distribution could begin within weeks, Michaud said.

At Mercy Hospital Springfield in Missouri, a mobile morgue that was acquired in 2011 after a tornado ripped through nearby Joplin and killed about 160 people has been put into use again. On Sunday it held two bodies until funeral home workers could arrive.

At the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, burials are up by about one-third this year compared with last year, and the cremated remains of about 20 people are sitting in storage while their families wait for a safer time to hold memorial services. The dead include a husband and wife in their 80s who succumbed to COVID-19 five days apart.

“You want to be safe at the gravesite so you don’t have to do another graveside service” for another family member, said Richard Lay, Bellefontaine Cemetery’s vice president.

The Star Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul saw a 40% increase in the number of pages dedicated to paid obituaries in November, largely because of COVID-19, a spokesman said. By Nov. 29, the newspaper had 11 pages of obituaries, compared with about half that many on a typical Sunday.

In Worcester, Massachusetts, the National Guard trucked in cots, medical supplies, tables and other items needed to operate a 250-bed field hospital in the event the state’s medical centers become overwhelmed.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rhode Island opened two field hospitals with more than 900 beds combined. The state’s regular hospitals reached their coronavirus capacity on Monday. New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak earlier in the year, reopened a field hospital last week on Staten Island. Wisconsin has a field hospital in West Allis ready to take overflow patients. A Nevada hospital has added hospital bed capacity in an adjacent parking garage.

“Hospitals all around the country are worried on a day-to-day basis about their capacity ... and we’re not really even into winter season and we haven’t seen the impact of Thanksgiving travel and Thanksgiving gatherings,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Full Coverage: Coronavirus pandemic
The number of hospital beds is just one concern. Many hospitals are scrambling to find enough staff to care for patients as the virus surges almost everywhere at once, Adalja said.

“You can’t just say we’ll have doctors and nurses from other states come because those other states are also dealing with COVID patients,” he said.

The virus is blamed for over 268,000 deaths and more than 13.5 million confirmed infections in the United States. A record 96,000 people were in the hospital with the virus in the U.S. as of Monday. The U.S. is seeing on average more than 160,000 new cases per day and almost 1,470 deaths — equal to what the country was witnessing in mid-May.

State and local officials also are responding with shutdowns, curfews, quarantines and mask mandates.

California officials said the state could see a tripling of hospitalizations by Christmas and is considering stay-home orders for areas with the highest case rates. Los Angeles County already has told its 10 million residents to stay home.

In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt declared Thursday a day of prayer and fasting as the state’s confirmed coronavirus infections neared 200,000. State health authorities Tuesday reported a one-day high of over 1,700 hospitalizations.

Stitt, who tested positive for the virus in July, has donated plasma to help other patients recover and said he will do it again.

“I believe we must continue to ask God to heal those who are sick, comfort those who are hurting and provide renewed strength and wisdom to all who are managing the effects of COVID-19,” he said in a statement.

___

Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan, and Hollingsworth from Mission, Kansas. Associated Press writers Alan Clendenning in Phoenix; David Caruso and Jeff McMillan in New York City; and Juliet Williams in San Francisco contributed to this story.

Terre Haute
Clear
27° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 12°
Feels Like: 22°
Robinson
Clear
28° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 14°
Feels Like: 21°
Indianapolis/Eagle Creek
Clear
25° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 12°
Feels Like: 18°
Paris
Clear
27° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 10°
Feels Like: 19°
Mattoon/Charleston
Clear
27° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 12°
Feels Like: 19°
Terre Haute
Clear
27° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 12°
Feels Like: 22°
Terre Haute
Clear
27° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 11°
Feels Like: 22°
More sunshine today but cold
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Saturday: Mostly sunny and cold. High: 34°

Image

Riverton Parke Holds on to Beat North Central

Image

Greencastle Gets Back in the Win Column Against South Vermillion

Image

Lady Knights Drop a Heart Breaker in Overtime

Image

Northview Boys Roll Indian Creek

Image

Linton Brown County

Image

South Knox Vincennes Lincoln

Image

Northeast Dubois Vincennes Rivet

Image

North Knox Pike Central

Image

Bloomfield Eastern Greene

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

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

Cases: 1093375

Reported Deaths: 20534
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook4416579197
DuPage703241165
Will59269886
Lake54272903
Kane46750699
Winnebago26623414
Madison25015472
St. Clair22782439
McHenry22050253
Champaign15752104
Peoria15316252
Sangamon14767239
McLean13472170
Tazewell12191250
Rock Island12127306
Kankakee11631185
Kendall988481
LaSalle9704249
Macon8936182
Vermilion7707115
DeKalb761592
Adams7507125
Williamson6293117
Boone561778
Whiteside5403175
Clinton514586
Coles476185
Ogle467672
Knox4674146
Grundy447954
Effingham435970
Jackson428570
Henry408277
Marion4051113
Macoupin397596
Franklin390871
Randolph376773
Livingston375969
Monroe365171
Stephenson360177
Jefferson3521104
Woodford330768
Morgan330092
Logan314758
Montgomery312251
Lee312075
Bureau304184
Christian303476
Fayette295453
Perry275561
Iroquois261358
Fulton260149
Jersey227459
Lawrence220530
McDonough218151
Saline206854
Douglas203434
Union202432
Shelby201035
Crawford181934
Cass178531
Bond177424
Warren159644
Pike158348
Richland156246
Hancock153535
Wayne153543
Clark152133
Jo Daviess151324
Edgar148953
Washington148526
Carroll145733
Moultrie140528
Ford139951
White138231
Clay133340
Greene127443
Johnson124215
Wabash120414
Piatt118918
Mason118441
Mercer118130
De Witt118027
Cumberland111427
Massac105832
Jasper105715
Menard90710
Hamilton72917
Marshall69315
Schuyler64616
Pulaski6223
Brown61911
Stark49720
Edwards4769
Henderson46516
Calhoun4494
Alexander4047
Scott3971
Gallatin3934
Putnam3552
Hardin3098
Pope2553
Unassigned1230
Out of IL320

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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

Cases: 605426

Reported Deaths: 9642
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion836221331
Lake45189680
Allen32646547
Hamilton29240315
St. Joseph27260380
Elkhart24354344
Vanderburgh19292248
Tippecanoe17905133
Johnson14974293
Porter14707168
Hendricks14295248
Madison10909220
Vigo10688179
Clark10581139
Monroe9338110
Delaware9089134
LaPorte9007162
Howard8177143
Kosciusko803182
Warrick668798
Hancock6639104
Bartholomew6443100
Floyd6377109
Wayne6106161
Grant5965115
Dubois554079
Boone549467
Morgan535595
Henry505564
Marshall502684
Cass482663
Dearborn476245
Noble471257
Jackson421947
Shelby413881
Lawrence389179
Clinton372043
Gibson369159
DeKalb345964
Harrison345644
Montgomery343354
Knox334339
Miami319844
Steuben313045
Whitley304526
Wabash301447
Adams299635
Ripley297545
Putnam294149
Huntington290659
Jasper288134
White272242
Daviess266774
Jefferson262538
Decatur246583
Fayette246348
Greene239262
Posey238128
Wells234050
LaGrange227662
Scott223439
Clay221832
Randolph212848
Jennings197736
Sullivan191133
Spencer190121
Washington183722
Fountain183127
Starke174843
Jay167022
Owen163637
Fulton163130
Orange157234
Carroll156415
Rush154418
Perry152727
Vermillion148634
Franklin147833
Tipton131832
Parke13038
Pike116226
Blackford110922
Pulaski96837
Newton90721
Brown87534
Benton86510
Crawford7929
Martin73013
Warren6777
Switzerland6575
Union6267
Ohio4867
Unassigned0375