New York state virus toll spikes as officials plea for volunteers

by Maggy DONALDSON
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A body is moved to a refrigerated truck serving as a temporary morgue outside Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn, New York on April 4, 2020

New York state's coronavirus toll continued rising at a devastating pace Saturday, as authorities issued an emergency plea for volunteers to assist at US outbreak epicenter.

The state has recorded 3,565 deaths as Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the worst was yet to come.

Cuomo said infections could peak in the state in four to 14 days -- but he cautioned that already strained hospitals were not yet prepared.

"Part of me would like to be at the apex and just, 'let's do it.' But there's part of me that says it's good that we're not at the apex because we're not yet ready," he said.

- 'Like an entire lifetime' -

The death toll in the state was up from 2,935 the previous day; the additional 630 deaths represented the largest 24-hour spike recorded there.

New York's statewide total is now roughly 6,000 shy of hard-hit Italy's total number of cases.

New York City, meanwhile, has tallied 63,306 confirmed cases and 2,624 deaths.

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Saturday that projections estimate patterns of spread in the United States are approximately 12 days behind Italy and Spain.

Cuomo said recent weeks have felt "like an entire lifetime."

"I think we all feel the same, these stresses, this country, this state -- like nothing I've experienced in my lifetime."

He said the federal government will now staff and equip the overflow hospital set up at Manhattan's sprawling Javits Convention Center -- which has 2,500 beds -- to treat coronavirus patients.

President Donald Trump said 1,000 military personnel, mostly doctors and nurses, would be deployed to New York City to "assist where they're needed the most."

"That's the hottest of all the hot spots," the president said at the White House.

Some 85,000 volunteers -- including 22,000 from out of state -- have signed up to help in New York.

Hours earlier, New York City sent a wireless emergency alert to its 8.6 million residents urging licensed health workers to volunteer.

"Anyone who's not already in this fight, we need you," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, urgently seeking help from "any health care professional: doctor, nurse, respiratory therapist, you name it."

The mayor has estimated the city will need 45,000 more medical personnel to fight the pandemic through April and May.

Cuomo said he would sign an executive order allowing medical students poised to graduate this spring to begin practicing now.

That process was already underway at New York University, where fourth-year medical student Gabrielle Mayer will begin her internship in the city's hospital system early.

"Knowing that we have the skill set that seems needed and valuable right now, it was an easy decision to make," Mayer said at a recent press conference.

- 'Disorienting experience' -

New York state is continuing its hunt for urgently needed ventilators, Cuomo said, before thanking the Chinese government for donating 1,000 of the life-saving devices.

But only 2,500 ventilators from a separate order for 17,000 from China had arrived so far, he said.

Cuomo warned that infections in counties on the city-adjacent Long Island were like "fire spreading."

The densely populated area hosts 22 percent of those hospitalized statewide, with cases growing steadily over the past 10 days and spreading away from the city.

"The shift is undeniable," Cuomo said, without elaborating when asked whether it had resulted from city residents fleeing to coastal vacation homes.

The governor cited another "serious problem" in neighboring New Jersey, which has more than 29,000 cases and more than 640 deaths, far below New York but the second-highest infection count in the nation.

In a rare positive sign, Cuomo said that despite a climbing death toll, data show some two-thirds of hospitalized New Yorkers are beating the virus and getting discharged.

"This is a painful, disorienting experience," he said.

"We will get through it, we will get to the other side of the mountain. But we have to do what we have to do between now and then."

A body is moved to a refrigerated truck serving as a temporary morgue outside Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn, New York on April 4, 2020

A tattered American flag hangs across the street from Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn, New York

An ambulance from Ohio arrives in Brooklyn, New York on April 4, 2020 to help hard-pressed emergency workers cope with the pandemic

A funeral home worker arrives to pick up a body at Brooklyn's Wyckoff Hospital on April 4, 2020 as New York struggles to cope with the coronavirus pandemic