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
An unpublished document prepared for the White House coronavirus task force says 18 states in the coronavirus “red zone” for cases should roll back reopening measures amid surging cases.
The “red zone” is defined as areas “that during the last week reported both new cases above 100 per 100,000 population, and a diagnostic test positivity result above 10%.”
Georgia is among the 18 states in the “red zone” for cases and among the 11 states in the zone for test positivity.
As some states struggled to tame the virus, the debate over wearing face coverings is heating up. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Thursday over her efforts to require face masks in public places. Friday on CNN, Bottoms accused Kemp of playing politics and wasting taxpayer money with the suit. President Donald Trump this week visited, and Bottoms pointed out he was breaking city law by not wearing a mask.And in Utah, a public meeting about a mask policy was abruptly canceled when people without face coverings packed the room. The crowd booed when it was called off.
“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.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told CNN on Friday he used data to implement a statewide mask mandate for public indoor spaces.
“We care about our economy and saving lives and we need to learn from our cities and counties that led the way and mask-wearing economy,” he said.
Thursday, Polis announced residents must wear masks when they are in public indoor spaces and are not able to social distance. The order took effect at midnight.
A top corporate lobbying group on Friday renewed calls for “consistent federal and state guidelines on safety measures, including face coverings.”
The Business Roundtable said it’s been lobbying for those mandates since April, according to a press release. The group, chaired by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, represents the CEOs of America’s biggest companies.
Several major companies, including Walmart, will require customers at all their US stores to wear masks.
More tough numbers in Florida
For five consecutive days, Florida has led the nation in coronavirus cases per capita.
Currently, Florida is averaging just over 55 cases per 100,000 people according to analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
Florida took over the top spot from Arizona on Monday. Arizona — which had held the top spot for over a month — dropped to third, behind Louisiana.
The main floor of Florida’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee has been emptied out for cleaning and is closed until Monday after 12 workers tested positive, Jason Mahon, Florida Division of Emergency Management communications director, told CNN on Friday.
Miami-Dade “hospitals have more COVID patients in ICU beds than they have available ICU beds,” a spokesperson from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez told CNN in a statement.
The ICU capacity is “above 100 percent,” the statement says.
“Some hospitals have begun to operate more ICU beds than they would normally operate. Our target was for that metric to be at or below 70%. In other words, we wanted to have 30 percent of beds available for non-COVID purposes,” according to the statement.
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.
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. Some are fainting and ending up in the emergency room, Akhter told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday night.
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.
CNN’s Rosa Flores, Brandon Miller, Melissa Alonso, Joe Sutton, Jon Passantino, Sarah Moon, Jennifer Henderson and Maggie Fox contributed to this report.