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US coronavirus: NYC fights catastrophe as one dies every 17 minutes and 911 calls hit historic highs

The situation in New York City grew increasingly dire early on Saturday, as coronavirus cases continued to explode in the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak and the healthcare system was 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 percent 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 here, 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. 

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.'  

A coronavirus patient is transferred from Elmhurst General Hospital in Queens to another hospital with more room as this hospital is overflowing with patients. City officials and healthcare workers say that the city is at a crisis point

EMTs load a patient into an ambulance as health workers continued to test people for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outside the Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn on Friday

'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.

Brooklyn Bridge is nearly empty of foot and auto traffic on Friday after the first week of mandatory social distancing

FDR Drive in Manhattan is quiet during the evening rush hour, as cases of coronavirus continue to explode in the city

The streets of the Lower East Side, Manhattan, are empty during the evening rush hour on Friday

Bus service continued to run at reduced capacity on Friday in Manhattan. On this bus, riders are told to enter in the rear doors and a chain prevents them from getting too close to the driver

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. 

A patient is wheeled into the trauma center at the Elmhurst Hospital Center where testing and treatment for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is taking place in Queens on Friday

William Samuels delivers caskets to the Gerard Neufeld Funeral Home on Friday in Queens. The funeral home in New York City has seen a steady stream of people who have died from coronavirus

'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.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, USACE Commanding General and 54th U.S. Army Chief of Engineers, surveys the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City, where USACE has built a 1,000-bed field hospital

Makeshift hospital rooms stretch out along the floor at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York on Friday

Workers are in a desperate rush to dredge New York's Pier 90 as the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which is prepared to assist overwhelmed medical staff, is scheduled to dock Saturday

As it has across the nation, the crisis has wreaked havoc on the city's economy. In New York state, unemployment claims have risen 520 percent in the last week. Many of those out of work haven't been able to file yet, with the state's website crashed and phone lines flooded for over a week.

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package that will result in individual checks being sent to Americans, loans going to small businesses and aid for industries hard hit by the coronavirus.

'We got hit by the invisible enemy and we got hit hard,' President Trump said during the signing ceremony at the Oval Office. 'I want to thank Republicans and Democrats for coming together, setting aside their differences and putting America first.' 

At his press conference, de Blasio said that trying to promote economic recovery before controlling the pandemic and preventing a healthcare system collapse was 'putting the cart before the horse.'

'Recovery only comes when people are whole; they are safe. When we're a functioning nation again. That's when we go into recovery,' he said.

America braces for 'acceleration phase': Experts turn to the new hotspots across the US which could turn into the next NYC 

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in America exceeds 100,000, a number of major cities are emerging as worrying potential hotspots.

While New York remained the worst hit city in the U.S., Americans braced for worsening conditions elsewhere, with worrisome infection numbers being reported in New Orleans, Chicago and Boston. 

Dr. John Brooks of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that Americans remained 'in the acceleration phase' of the pandemic and that all corners of the country were at risk.

'There is no geographic part of the United States that is spared from this,' he said.

Detroit: Examination tents are setup at the Michigan State Fairgrounds on Friday in Detroit, where the city is preparing for coronavirus drive up testing

In the nation's second-largest city, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said cases were spiking, putting the Southern California region on track to match New York City's infection figures in the next five days.

The mayor spoke as he and California's governor, who ordered all coronavirus-related evictions banned through May 31, toured a newly arrived naval hospital ship equipped with 1,000 patient beds at the Port of Los Angeles. Its sister vessel is to be deployed to New York Harbor in the near future.

At the Riverside County Fairground east of Los Angeles, California National Guard troops were setting up a 125-bed medical station to serve residents of the Coachella Valley, an area teeming with elderly retirees considered especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Outside of New York City, Seattle has the highest number of confirmed cases, with 2,747. 

The Seattle metro area was the earliest hotspot in the U.S., and the number of cases has continued to grow there at an alarming rate.

The next-largest outbreaks are Detroit (2,622 cases), Boston (2,227 cases) and Chicago (1,862 cases).

One emergency room doctor in Michigan, an emerging epicenter of the pandemic, said he was using one paper face mask for an entire shift due to a shortage and that hospitals in the Detroit area would soon run out of ventilators.

'We have hospital systems here in the Detroit area in Michigan who are getting to the end of their supply of ventilators and have to start telling families that they can't save their loved ones because they don't have enough equipment,' the physician, Dr. Rob Davidson, said in a video posted on Twitter.

Boston: Cars are gestured forward as medical personnel from AFC Urgent Care perform Covid-19 testing in the parking lot of their location in North Andover, Massachusetts on Friday

The U.S. military is watching coronavirus infection trends in Chicago, Michigan, Florida and Louisiana with concern. 

Air Force General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military was doing its own analysis as well as looking at data on infections compiled elsewhere in the government.

'There's a certain number of places where we have concerns and they're: Chicago, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana,' Hyten told a group of reporters, when asked where field hospitals could head next.

'Those are the areas that we're looking at and trying to figure out where to go next.'

The Army Corps of Engineers said on Friday it was aiming to provide facilities for 3,000 people with the coronavirus at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center by April 24 for about $75 million.

Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, the Corps' commander, said the Corps was looking at potentially converting 114 facilities in the United States into hospitals.

Asked about Hyten's remarks, Semonite said he continued to be concerned about Michigan, Florida and Louisiana and had spoken with the governor of Louisiana. He said there could be a high demand for medical resources in Florida because of the aging population.

Louisiana has seen the fastest growth of new cases anywhere in the world, which local officials say may be due to last month's crowded Mardi Gras celebrations. 

Sophia Thomas, a nurse practitioner at DePaul Community Health Center in New Orleans, said the numbers of coronavirus patients 'have been staggering.'

'We are truly a hotbed of COVID-19 here in New Orleans,' she said, adding that her hospital was trying to cope in part by shifting some patients to 'telehealth' services that allow them to be evaluated from home.

'We are not through this. We´re not even halfway through this,' said Joseph Kanter of the Louisiana Department of Health, which has recorded more than 2,700 cases, more than five times what it had a week ago. 

The United States became the first country to surpass 100,000 infections on Friday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.  

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