America’s coronavirus crisis has reached a new low, with its second-biggest city so overrun with cases that patients are dying in hospital hallways with morgues now overflowing.
The situation has grown so dire in Los Angeles – a sprawling city with a population of nearly 4 million – that the National Guard has been called in to move bodies into storage at the LA County Department of the Medical Examiner-Coroner.
According to the LA Times, which has published a detailed investigation into the disaster facing the city’s health system, hospitals are now so overwhelmed medics are being forced to choose which patients will receive vital care, with Los Angeles County reaching 10,000 coronavirus deaths this week and many healthcare workers also contracting the illness.
The LA Public Health agency is so concerned about the worsening disaster it has launched a Twitter campaign warning that “every 10 minutes someone dies of COVID-19 in LA County”, urging people to do their bit to help stop the spread as the city emerges as the new epicentre of the virus in the US.
This week, California’s health and human services secretary Mark Ghaly said in a press conference the LA crisis was “stretching many of our hospitals”.
“But we know that that stretch has a limit before it breaks, before we push them into a situation where they’re making the kind of decisions about resources and staff that I just walked through,” Mr Ghaly said.
St Francis Medical Center in Lynwood is one of many hospitals buckling under the pressure, with hallways of the emergency room “lined with sick patients”.
Critical care nurse Scott Byington painted a grim picture of the current conditions, telling the LA Times patients were constantly crashing during a typical shift.
“I’m upstairs in a COVID room, he’s coding, and then I go downstairs to a COVID room, he’s coding, and then there’s a problem and I go back and forth and back and forth,” he said. “It’s all night long – it’s crazy.”
Mr Byington also described the horrific reality of what it is like to die from coronavirus, comparing it to suffocation or drowning.
“You hope for some of these patients who are not going to survive, that they actually become unconscious before this, because it’s very scary,” Mr Byington said.
“It’s no different than probably drowning.”
On a recent shift, seven patients died within six hours, with one woman having a stroke in the hospital lobby and another dying in a hallway, with young people in their 20s and 30s also dying of the virus.
The hospital is so stretched it faces shortages of vital machines and oxygen, which has forced staff to “pick and choose” who will qualify for care.
The LA Times reports that National Guard troops have now been deployed to 13 medical facilities in the state, with experts fearing the Christmas and New Year season – and associated festivities – will lead to an even greater surge in cases within days.
It’s a situation seen across California, with ABC7 reporting that the Riverside Community Hospital’s cafeteria had recently been converted into a makeshift emergency department to cope with soaring cases, and over at LA’s Martin Luther King Jr Community Hospital, tents have been erected outside the emergency department.
A separateLA Times report also claims some hospitals have had to turn away ambulances and place patients in gift shops as the crisis escalates.
Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker map shows that the US is leading the world in both coronavirus case numbers and deaths, which stand at 19,940,419 and 345,271 respectively.
Those devastating numbers place America far ahead of developing countries such as India and Brazil, which have also been among the hardest-hit nations as the pandemic continues its deadly spread.