WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States aims to build hundreds of temporary hospitals to ease pressure on a healthcare system under siege from the coronavirus pandemic, with the U.S. death toll now topping 3,600 – surpassing the total in China, where the outbreak began.

FILE PHOTO: Brigadier General Doug Cherry talks to soldiers and a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the CenturyLink Field Event Center, where a field a hospital for non-COVID-19 cases will be built, as efforts continue to help slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Redmond -=

In the face of such an onslaught, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is searching for hotels, dormitories, convention centers and large open spaces to build as many as 341 temporary hospitals, Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, the head of the corps, told the ABC News “Good Morning America” program.

U.S. officials have said the pandemic could lead to 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in the United States.

Besides straining infrastructure, the pandemic is taking a toll on doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, who are overworked and lack the medical devices and protective gear needed.

“The duration itself is debilitating and exhausting and depressing,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference where he revealed that his brother, CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo, had tested positive for the virus.

“I’m speaking to healthcare professionals who say, ‘Look, more than physically tired, I’m just emotionally tired.’”

The corps, the engineering arm of the U.S. Army, already joined with New York state officials to convert New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center into a 1,000-bed hospital in the space of a week.

Like many temporary hospitals, the center will relieve the pressure by taking non-coronavirus patients. That will allow existing hospitals to focus on patients with COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the coronavirus.

Confirmed U.S. cases surged to nearly 180,000 with 16,000 new positive tests reported on Tuesday. For a second day in a row, the United States recorded over 500 new deaths as the total climbed to nearly 3,600, according to a Reuters tally of officially reported data.

U.S. coronavirus-related deaths still trail those of Italy and Spain with more than 11,000 and 8,000 reported fatalities respectively. China has 3,305. Worldwide, there are now more than 800,000 cases of the highly contagious illness caused by the virus and more than 39,000 deaths reported. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T)

Besides the convention center, New York has a new field hospital in Central Park and another is being built at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center where the U.S. Open is played.

The convention center is blocks away from the Hudson River pier where the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort docked on Monday, ready to take up to 1,000 patients. It is similar to the USNS Mercy, which is already treating patients off Los Angeles.

Authorities in New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago were setting up field hospitals and convention centers. Illinois and the Army Corps of Engineers have identified two other sites in that state, Governor J.B. Pritzker said.

New York remains the epicenter of the outbreak in the |United States. The state reported another 332 deaths on Tuesday, raising its total to 1,550, and another 9,298 new cases.

‘GASPING FOR BREATH’

An intensive care nurse at a major hospital in Manhattan said he had been shocked by the deteriorating conditions of young patients with little or no underlying health issues.

“A 28-year-old, healthy fellow ICU nurse is currently so sick that he has difficulty walking up a single flight of stairs without gasping for breath,” said the nurse, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“The apparent randomness of who gets hit and how hard is the most frightening part,” he said.

In the New York City suburbs, nurses are bracing for a surge of patients. The medical surgery unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Hudson Valley branch has 17 coronavirus patients, more than half its capacity, said nurse Emily Muzyka, 25.

“I had a meltdown and cried to my boyfriend,” Muzyka said after a relatively healthy, 44-year-old patient declined quickly and required ventilation.

No-visitor policies mean very ill patients may die alone.

“I’ve held patients’ hands through their final breaths in the past,” Muzyka said. “It’s a lonely death.”

In a tribute to first responders, New York’s landmark Empire State Building on Tuesday night illuminated the top of its tower in red with a pulsating light on its antenna that simulated an ambulance beacon.

Meanwhile, the captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier called on Navy leadership for stronger measures to save the lives of his sailors as more and more of them test positive.

Captain Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the Theodore Roosevelt, wrote that the carrier lacked enough quarantine facilities and warned the current strategy would fail to halt the virus.

“Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote in a letter confirmed to Reuters. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset – our sailors.”

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Nick Brown, Gabriella Borter, Lisa Shumaker and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller



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