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U.S. federal agency says it's prepared to build as many as 340 makeshift hospitals

U.S. officials want to build hundreds of temporary hospitals across the country to cope with the thousands of new coronavirus cases being diagnosed daily after the United States endured its deadliest day yet on Monday with 575 fatalities.

New York still 'headed up the mountain,' governor says, with 332 deaths since Monday

Beds are set up in front of a large Starbucks sign at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle, which is being turned into a military field hospital for non-coronavirus patients during the COVID-19 outbreak in the area of Washington state's biggest city. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

U.S. officials want to build hundreds of temporary hospitals across the country to cope with the thousands of new coronavirus cases being diagnosed daily after the United States endured its deadliest day yet on Monday with 575 fatalities.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which converted a New York convention centre into a 1,000-bed hospital in the space of a week, is searching for hotels, dormitories, convention centres and large, open spaces to build as many as 341 temporary hospitals, the chief of corps said on Tuesday.

"The scope is immense," Lt.-Gen. Todd Semonite told Good Morning America on Tuesday. "We're looking right now at around 341 different facilities across all of the United States."

Semonite said eight facilities were currently being built up around the country, without specifying exact locations. He said the agency is using analytics to pinpoint potential locations, with staff in contact with governors and local officials around the U.S.

"I've got a bunch of engineers in a back room who are looking at where we do see us having big shortages in two or three weeks," he said.

Some hospitals overwhelmed

The U.S. caseload increase has seen some overwhelmed hospitals that are running out of doctors, nurses, medical equipment and protective gear.

The number of U.S. deaths climbed past 3,000 with 575 coronavirus-related fatalities reported on Monday, as the overall caseload rose to more than 163,000, according to a Reuters tally of official statistics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday reported 163,539 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 22,635 cases from its previous count, and said the number of deaths had risen by 455 to 2,860.

The CDC figures, which reflect the state of affairs at 4 p.m. ET the previous day, do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

National Guard troops set up beds on March 29 as a medical station at the Los Angeles Convention Center, a site that normally hosts meetings, trade shows and exhibitions. (Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti via The Associated Press)

The U.S. government's top infectious disease expert said Tuesday there were "glimmers" that social distancing efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus were having an impact, even though the nation was still in a very dangerous situation.

"We're starting to see glimmers that that is actually having some dampening effect," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the  National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN in an interview. "But that does not take away from the seriousness … We clearly are seeing cases going up."

Fauci cautioned that while stay-at-home restrictions were starting to produce some results, Americans remained at risk.

"We really have to hang in there and abide by the mitigation strategies. We do believe it's working."

NYC mayor fears 'horrible onslaught'

The engineering arm of the U.S. army joined with New York state officials to convert New York's Jacob Javits Convention Center into a facility to treat non-coronavirus patients. The conversion will relieve the pressure on hospitals treating patients with COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the novel coronavirus.

In addition, construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Manhattan's Central Park. Provided by the Mount Sinai Health System and non-profit organization Samaritan's Purse, the makeshift facility is expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The converted convention centre is blocks away from the pier where the U.S. navy hospital ship Comfort docked on Monday. The floating hospital will take up to 1,000 non-coronavirus patients starting on Tuesday. Another temporary New York hospital is planned for the Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the U.S. Open tennis championship is played.

The U.S. navy ship Comfort arrived in New York City on Monday. The ship can be equipped with 1,000 hospital beds. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The temporary hospitals are aimed at freeing all of the city's 20,000 hospital beds for coronavirus patients, de Blasio said. The city is still short on doctors and nurses, and de Blasio asked the U.S. military for help.

"We are going to need a lot more military presence. We're going to need a lot more help from the federal government, including medical personnel from the military, very, very quickly," de Blasio told NBC's Today.

"I told that to President Trump. We need folks by Sunday, starting this Sunday, to get ahead of that horrible onslaught we expect in the next week or two."

WATCH l New York pleads for relief, front-line workers at risk:

Even as a U.S. navy hospital carrying 1,000 beds sails into New York City, the state pleads for more health-care workers and relief as hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 cases and deaths. 2:02

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his daily briefing Tuesday that the state was "still headed up the mountain."

"When will it be over? Nobody knows. But I can tell you it's not going to be soon," he said.

The latest state figures, according to Cuomo, were as follows:

  • 1,550 deaths, an increase of 332 since the previous day's reporting.
  • 10,900 hospitalizations, an increase of 1,412.
  • 4,975 discharges from hospital, an increase of 771.
  • 57 per cent of known cases are in the New York City area.

Hospitalizations rising elsewhere

In Los Angeles, the USNS Mercy, similar to the Comfort, is already treating patients. Throughout California, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations had nearly doubled over the past four days and the number of ICU patients had tripled, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

Authorities in New Orleans were setting up a field hospital at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the same site where thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees gathered in 2005, to handle an expected overflow of patients.

U.S. health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders until the end of April to contain the spread of the virus, which originated in China and has infected about three-quarters of a million people around the world.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said he was frustrated to see people gathering in large groups, defying state orders and federal social distancing guidelines.

"People need to stay at home," Adams told Fox News. "We're working around the clock to get supplies to cities across the country – to mayors and to governors. But we are not going to supply our way out of this problem. The way we solve this problem is by everyone coming together, stopping the spread, by eliminating large gatherings, staying at home."

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