More than 138,000 people have died from coronavirus nationwide, and experts warn that number will likely go up as hospitalizations rise in several states. In Texas and Arizona, morgues are filling up in the hardest-hit areas and officials are bringing in coolers and refrigerated trailers to store bodies.
In South Texas’ Hidalgo County, some patients have to wait on a stretcher for 10 hours before being examined due to lack of resources, said Dr. Ivan Melendez, the public health authority.
“We are in dire need, and we are exhausted,” he said. “We had four ICU patients. Now we have 211. We had three people on ventilators. Now we have 135.”
The county has seen more than 10,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases — more than 1,200 reported Thursday alone, he said.
Debate over wearing masks heats up
Kemp extended Georgia’s emergency coronavirus restrictions and said while people are “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings — they’re not required. While the order limits public gatherings to 50 people and mandates social distancing, it also prevents local governments from implementing stricter rules than the state’s — including requiring face masks.
But Bottoms’ office told CNN her order remains in effect. “Science and data will continue to drive the city’s decisions. Masks save lives,” a spokesman said.
City officials took their outcry to social media, where the mayor tweeted that “a better use of tax payer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing.”
“This is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing,” Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge said at the meeting room in Provo. “We’re supposed to be physically distancing, wearing masks. This gathering violates current health recommendations.”
With a lack of federal mandates, states are taking matters into their own hands and issuing orders requiring people to wear masks in public.
Colorado, Arkansas, Alabama and Montana require face masks in public places when social distancing is impossible.
Lagging test results hamper efforts
States depend on testing data to make crucial decisions on reopenings and resources. But that data is lagging as testing sites get backed up.
Tests are being done in much larger numbers — a positive development. But the increase is also slowing down results, and officials want to reduce wait times for results.
“Even in the large commercial labs, and we follow this every single day, there may be an outlier that’s 10 days or 12 days, we can’t deny that that happens,” said Adm. Brett Giroir of the US Department of Health and Human Services,
He wants test results back as fast as possible, but a three-day turnaround is “very reasonable,” he said.
Commercial labs have said they are backed up, with results often taking as long as seven days to turn around. “I’m never going to say that I’m happy with any turnaround time, Giroir added.
Giroir says 700,000 to 800,000 people are being tested each day. That means it’ll be a week before officials know how many of them are infected.
Young people warned to be cautious
The nation’s leading infectious disease expert has a message for young people: you’re not immune to serious infection.
While the data shows that young people are less likely to become seriously ill, there’s ample evidence of young people being “knocked out on their back and brought to their knees pretty quick” by Covid-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
He warned young people this is not the time to risk exposing themselves to the virus. Many of them are getting horribly sick for weeks, he told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“I’ve never seen an infection with this broad range of manifestations,” he said. “You’re going to get back to normal, and you’ll be able to freely have fun, go to the bars, go with the crowds, but not now.”
States are stocking up on refrigerated trucks
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.
Arizona hospitals are struggling to deal with the influx of Covid-19 patients. Dr. Murtaza Akhter, an emergency physician, described it as a “clogged sink with the faucet still running.”
Arizona’s high temperatures are causing additional problems for some waiting to be tested for Covid-19. Some are fainting and ending up in the emergency room, Akhter told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday night.
In Maricopa County, which has the most Covid-19 cases in the state, the medical examiner’s office has secured portable coolers to help store more bodies as morgues fill up, officials said.
Texas’ Bexar County — where San Antonio is located — has also secured refrigerated trailers to store bodies until they can be released to funeral homes, officials said.
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. The Dallas County morgue also had to use an external refrigerated truck this week due to the increased caseload, the Medical Examiner’s Office told CNN.
“I anticipate that we will at some point have to use the truck again based on continuing increased volume.” said Dr. Jeffrey Barnard, the Dallas County Medical Examiner.
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Joe Sutton, Jon Passantino, Sarah Moon, Jennifer Henderson and Maggie Fox contributed to this report.