When the coronavirus pandemic hit its first peak in the spring, it took a dramatic toll on the nation: States ordered their residents to stay at home to control the surge. Patients packed into overcrowded hospitals. And millions lost their jobs.
Now, six months later, it seems history may be repeating itself, with cities ordering curfews, hospitals reaching their capacity and cases continuing to surge.
At 69,967 new cases per day, the seven-day average of new cases is at the highest levels since the pandemic began, bringing the national death toll to 225,720, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
All these factors have led health experts to confirm their fall prediction: The dreaded second surge of the virus is here.
As a result, many hospitals are having to resort to opening alternative sites or even “rationing” their care, meaning they’re determining what patients get the highest levels of treatment.
In Utah, hospitals could be days away from using a patient’s age, health and other factors to decide who can remain in overcrowded intensive care units due to an onslaught of Covid-19 cases.
“It’s a complex way of taking account of every patient’s situation, age, health, and the ability to survive,” Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association, told CNN affiliate KUTV. “It’s a system of grading patients.”
There are over 8.6 million cases in the US as of Tuesday, and over 225,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Funeral homes are running out of space
In the spring, New York City brought in refrigerated trucks to Brooklyn to store bodies — a move designed to help funeral directors overwhelmed during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
The deaths had strained funeral homes’ ability to keep up with the number of funerals and cremations needed in New York, then the epicenter of the pandemic.
Now, a surge of coronavirus cases in El Paso, Texas, is leading funeral homes to make similar plans.
Part of that effort, two funeral homes told CNN, is to prepare additional refrigeration units to house bodies if their usual space isn’t enough.
Sunset Funeral Homes in El Paso has added three walk-in refrigeration units for bodies, manager Christopher Lujan told CNN on Thursday.
Lujan said most of the deaths his business is seeing are related to Covid-19.
Perches Funeral Homes General Manager Jorge Ortiz told CNN he’s added two more coolers. His business has also seen a rise in Covid-19 related deaths in the past two weeks.
“I would say maybe 15% to 20% of all the services we are getting now are Covid cases,” Ortiz said.
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Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Sunday that the state will establish an alternate care site to expand care in El Paso as the region deals with surging COVID-19 cases. El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Sunday issued a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., saying all El Paso hospitals are filling to capacity.
“We are at a crisis stage,” Samaniego said.
El Paso officials said Sunday there were 517 new cases, as well as 55 delayed testing results reported by the state, for a total of 11,321 active cases in the area. Three additional deaths were reported.
“In less than three weeks we’ve spiked from 259 to 786 COVID-related hospitalizations — a 300% increase. If we continue on this trend, we risk detrimental effects to our entire healthcare system,” said El Paso public health director Angela Mora in a statement on Sunday.
The new alternate care site will open this week at the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center with 50 beds and the ability to expand to 100 beds if needed.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services will also be deploying two 35-person disaster teams, Abbott said. The state has already deployed 900 additional medical personnel to El Paso, some of which will staff the auxiliary care site.
“The alternate care site and auxiliary medical units will reduce the strain on hospitals in El Paso as we contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region,” Abbott said.
A report by UT-Austin released Thursday said “the El Paso region has the most threatening projections, with an estimated 85% probability that COVID-19 cases will exceed local hospital capacity by November 8th, 2020.”
According to the same report, five other regions have a more than 25% chance of hospitals being overwhelmed with in 3 weeks: Amarillo (28%), Lubbock (29%), Wichita Falls (30%), San Angelo (29%) and Galveston (33%).
Abbott announced on Saturday that he had requested the use of a medical center at Fort Bliss for non-COVID-19 patients. Officials with the University Medical Center of El Paso said Saturday they are working to coordinate airlifting patients requiring critical care to other hospitals in the state. This will be a strictly voluntary decision by the patients and arrangements will be made to bring all patients home to El Paso, CBS El Paso affiliate KDBC reported.
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise both throughout Texas and nationwide. On Friday,than any other single day since the pandemic began.