With skyrocketing coronavirus hospitalizations in several states, hard-hit counties in Arizona and Texas are preparing for the worst by bringing in refrigerated trucks as morgues fill up.
The U.S. coronavirus outbreak hit nearly 3.5 million total infections Thursday morning and more than 137,000 reported deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Thirty-nine states reported an increase in the number of new cases from the week before. California, Florida, Arizona and Texas have become the states to watch as surging coronavirus cases lead to a shortage of hospital beds.
In Arizona’s Maricopa County, which has the most Covid-19 cases in the state, the medical examiner’s office has ordered four portable coolers with additional ones expected in the coming days, said Fields Moseley, the county spokesman. The medical examiner’s office morgue had a total of 156 deceased people — with a surge capacity of just over 200, Moseley said Wednesday.
It is unclear how many of the deaths are related to the coronavirus — the county has said fatalities go up in the summer due to the heat.
In Texas, the city of San Antonio and Bexar County have secured several refrigerated trailers to store bodies until they can be released to funeral homes, Mario Martinez, Metro Health Assistant Director, said in a video interview released by the city.
He said that they currently have two in operation and another three will be operational by the end of the week.
Cameron and Hidalgo counties in Texas are sharing a large refrigerated trailer to store bodies of coronavirus patients because of a lack of space at the morgues.
“I’m pleading with everybody in our neck of the woods, help us do your part, people’s lives are at stake — not just the people getting sick, but doctors, nurses working to the bone, EMS personnel, transporting people,” Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. told CNN affiliate KVEO.
The Dallas County morgue had to use an external refrigerated truck this week due to the increased caseload, the Medical Examiner’s Office told CNN.
“We have had to go to the external refrigerated truck once this week due to increased caseload, but today we are back with all cases inside,” Dr. Jeffrey Barnard, the Dallas County Medical Examiner, said in a statement. “I anticipate that we will at some point have to use the truck again based on continuing increased volume.”
Masks requirements expand
Meanwhile, more states and businesses have started to require face masks.
CVS and Target on Thursday became the latest major retailers to require customers to wear masks in their stores.
“We’re joining others in taking the next step and requiring all customers to wear face coverings when entering any of our stores throughout the country effective Monday, July 20,” CVS tweeted Thursday.
Target said in a statement it would start requiring masks or face coverings starting August 1 in all stores. “This builds on the more than 80% of our stores that already require guests to wear face coverings due to local and state regulations,” it said.
On Wednesday, retailer giant Walmart announced it would require masks in its stores.
Alabama and Montana on Wednesday said masks are now required in public. In Montana, face coverings are mandatory in certain indoor settings with more than 50 people and social distancing is not possible. More than 30 states now have mandates on face coverings in public.
On Thursday, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum signed a city mask ordinance while wearing a mask himself, according to a post on his Facebook page.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said Wednesday he’s tested positive for Covid-19, the same day the state reported a record high number of new cases.
Despite his diagnosis, Stitt said he opposes a statewide face mask law, partly because it would be difficult to enforce, according to the Oklahoman newspaper.
Georgia governor, Atlanta mayor clash
Gov. Brian Kemp extended Georgia’s emergency coronavirus restrictions and said while people are “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings — they’re not required. The order, which expires July 31, limits public gatherings to 50 people and mandates social distancing.
His order also prevents local governments from implementing stricter rules than the state’s — including requiring face masks.
But on Thursday, Michael Smith, press secretary for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, told CNN the “Mayor’s Order remains in effect, as science and data will continue to drive the City’s decisions. Masks save lives.”
The state reported 417 additional hospitalizations, nearly double Tuesday’s total, and is turning the Georgia World Congress Center, a large convention venue in downtown Atlanta, into a potential overflow hospital.
California, the country’s most populous state, set two more records Wednesday with highs for hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions. The state announced 11,126 new cases, with a total of 6,786 Covid-19 positive hospital patients and 1,907 patients in the ICU. And in Los Angeles County, the public health director warned another stay-at-home order is likely.
“We can’t take anything off the table — there’s absolutely no certainty of what exactly is going to happen next,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer said.
California met its goal to have 10,000 contact tracers statewide by July 1, but Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said it’s not enough to handle the onslaught of coronavirus cases.
“We did not build the first contact tracing program on this level of transmission,” Ghaly said.
Florida reported more than 315,000 positive cases statewide on Thursday, an increase of 13,965 cases from the previous day, according to the Florida Department of Health. There were a record 156 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, a jump from the previous high of 132 on Tuesday.
More than 50 hospitals have reached ICU capacity and show zero beds available, according to data released by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). Eight of those hospitals are in Miami-Dade County. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said hospitals in the city have hit 95% capacity.
Epidemiologist says California needs more contact tracers
To combat the rise in coronavirus cases in California, there needs to be enough contact tracing staff in regions where Covid-19 infections are increasing, the principal investigator for the state’s contact tracing program told CNN, but not all regions require an equal number of tracers.
“They’re not, in their current level, they’re not in all places,” said University of California, San Francisco epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford, who also leads the university’s contact tracing training program. “If we spread it evenly there still probably wouldn’t be enough in the highest incidence areas.”
Health officials, he said, cannot forecast how much contact tracing is needed in a region until public health departments are alerted to positive results, but the teams are scalable. “We can call in extra people if there’s a surge,” Rutherford said.
Higher death toll expected
Thousands more Americans will die from the virus before a vaccine is developed, an influential model predicts.
The model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is projecting 224,000 people will die from the virus by November 1 — an increase of almost 16,000 from the week before.
That jump is due to skyrocketing cases around the country, particularly in Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, said Dr. Chris Murray, chair of the IHME.