Coronavirus: US braces for 'darkest days in medical history'

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

As the coronavirus pandemic goes from bad to worse in the United States, doctors are bracing themselves for dark days ahead.

Dr Joseph Varon, chief medical officer at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Centre, says he hasn’t had a day off since March. He doesn’t know when he will get another one as his home state of Texas – and the country at large – stares down the deadliest period in its history.

Speaking to CNN, he said he was “running out of fumes”, but he “can't get a day off, because nobody cares for the patients that I can care for”.

As millions of Americans travelled for the Thanksgiving holiday, Dr Varon doesn’t see a slowing of hospitalisations any time soon.

“My concerns for the next six to 12 weeks is that if we don't do things right, America is going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history,” he said.

Staff in the nursing station as the numbers on the wall indicate the days since the hospital opened its Covid-19 ICU at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Source:  Getty
Staff at the Houston hospital where numbers on the wall indicate the days since its Covid-19 ICU opened. Source: Getty

On the wall at Dr Varon’s Texas hospital, staff keep track of the number of days since it opened its Covid-19 intensive care unit. At the time of writing, the number that adorned the wall was 251 – the same number of days since Dr Varon had a day off.

Cases and deaths have been surging in recent weeks as cooler weather pushes people indoors where the virus spreads more easily.

Despite pleas from health officials to limit travel, millions of Americans packed airports and clogged highways ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday this week.

“My hospital is full. I just opened two new wings so that I can accommodate for the next few days, because I know that a lot of people are going to get sick after Thanksgiving,” Dr Varon told CNN.

A Covid death every 40 seconds in US

The expected surge in infections will come at a time when daily virus deaths surpassed 2,000 for the first time since May this week and with hospitals across the country already full.

The daily new death toll reached 2,157 on Tuesday – one person every 40 seconds – with another 170,000 new infections officially recorded.

Since the global pandemic began, the US has seen nearly 260,000 deaths and 12.6 million infections – an unenviable record which leads the world in terms of sheer numbers.

“All the Thanksgiving travel ensures no one will catch us, either,” said Dr Tatiana Prowell, from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“The US ‘each person for himself’ mindset is killing hundreds of thousands of us. Devastating to watch,” she posted on Twitter.

With caseloads soaring, more than half the nation’s governors imposed or reimposed statewide measures this month. But despite more stringent face mask requirements, curfews and limits on bars and restaurants, the metrics of the virus have only worsened.

Covid hospitalisations have hit a new peak in the US. Source: Covid Tracking Project
Covid hospitalisations have hit a new peak in the US. Source: Covid Tracking Project

On the eve of Thanksgiving, the US Supreme Court stepped in to prevent New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus.

The justices split 5-4 on the ruling with recent Trump appointee Justice Amy Coney Barrett the decisive vote.

The move was a shift for the court. Earlier this year, when Barrett’s liberal predecessor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was still on the court, the justices divided 5-4 to leave in place pandemic-related capacity restrictions affecting churches in California and Nevada.

with AP

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