“A few very dark weeks”: morgues and hospitals in the United States are overflowing


Nearly 37,000 Americans died from COVID-19 in November, the most in a month since the pandemic’s grim beginnings, gripping families, filling newspaper obituaries and testing the capacity of mortuaries, funeral homes and hospitals.

Amid the resurgence, states have started reopening field hospitals to handle an influx of patients that is pushing healthcare systems – and their workers – to breaking point. Hospitals bring in mobile morgues. And the funeral is broadcast live or performed behind the wheel.

Health officials fear the crisis could get even worse in the coming weeks, after many Americans ignored calls to stay home during Thanksgiving and avoid people who don’t live with them.

“I have no doubt that we are going to see an increasing number of deaths… and it is a horrible and tragic place,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “It’s going to be two very dark weeks. ”

November’s death toll was well below the 60,699 recorded in April, but dangerously close to the next highest total of nearly 42,000 in May, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Deaths fell to just over 20,000 in June after states closed many businesses and ordered people to stay home.

The rapidly deteriorating situation is particularly frustrating as vaccine distribution could begin in a few weeks, Michaud said.

At Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, a mobile mortuary that was acquired in 2011 after a tornado devastated Joplin and killed around 160 people, has been returned to service. On Sunday, he held two bodies until the funeral home workers could arrive.

At Bellefontaine Cemetery in Saint-Louis, burials have increased by about a third this year compared to last year, and the cremated remains of around 20 people are being stored while their families wait for a safer time to hold the 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 grave so that you don’t have to do another funeral service” for another family member, said Richard Lay, vice president of Bellefontaine Cemetery.

The Star Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul saw a 40% increase in the number of pages devoted to paid obituaries in November, largely due to COVID-19, a spokesperson said. As of November 29, the newspaper had 11 pages of obituaries, compared to about half on a typical Sunday.

In Worcester, Mass., The National Guard transported cribs, medical supplies, tables and other items needed to operate a 250-bed field hospital in case medical centers across the state were overwhelmed.

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

“Hospitals across the country are worried about their capacity on a daily basis… and we’re not even really into the winter season and we haven’t seen the impact of Thanksgiving trips and Thanksgiving gatherings,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, Principal Investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The number of hospital beds is only a concern. Many hospitals are struggling to find enough staff to care for patients as the virus is spreading almost everywhere at once, Adalja said.

“You can’t just say that doctors and nurses from other states will come because those other states are also treating COVID patients,” he said.

The virus is responsible for more than 268,000 deaths and more than 13.5 million confirmed infections in the United States. A record 96,000 people were in hospital with the virus in the United States on Monday. The United States averages more than 160,000 new cases per day and nearly 1,470 deaths, the equivalent of what the country was witnessing in mid-May.

National and local authorities are also responding with closures, curfews, quarantines and mask warrants.

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

In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday declared a day of prayer and fast as state-confirmed coronavirus infections neared 200,000. State health officials on Tuesday reported a peak of one day of more than 1,700 hospitalizations.

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

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


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


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