Misery in America as coronavirus death toll exceeds 100,000

UNTV News   •   May 28, 2020   •   269

The United States reached a grim milestone on Wednesday (May 27) as the coronavirus death toll exceeded 100,000 people, amid the ongoing global scramble to contain the virus and find a vaccine.

Currently, the death toll for coronavirus cases across the United States stands at 100,008 people, according to a Reuters tally.

The loss has largely hit urban areas, especially New York, with elderly people and minorities disproportionately affected.

On the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, nurses and doctors are caring for the living. But there is another front line of those caring for the dead.

Funeral homes in New York are chaotic and overwhelmed. It can be weeks before bodies are embalmed or buried.

Most COVID-19 victims die alone, and when they die, their families are told to quarantine. The women try to find ways for them to say goodbye.

“I don’t want to apologize because I am doing the absolute best I can, but if it’s not good enough, I am sorry. Like, deeply sorry,” says 25-year-old resident funeral director of the International Funeral & Cremation Services Funeral Home Lily Sage.

In early May U.S. President Donald Trump offered his condolences from the Rose Garden in the White House. “We mourn for every life the virus has claimed,” he said. “And we share the grief of all of you who have lost a loved one.”

For medical workers that grief can be overwhelming.

The shifts are long and the scenes are heartbreaking inside a Maryland hospital where nurses and doctors have been treating coronavirus patients for weeks, unable to let family inside to visit loved ones on their death beds.

One of the hardest moments of a recent work day for Biocontainment Nurse Tiffany Fare was, “having to see a family member of a COVID patient, say goodbye over an iPad rooms away.”

At an event in Pennsylvania in mid-May Trump hailed the work of medical workers. “They are warriors…they are running into death, just like soldiers run into bullets,” he said. “It is incredible to see, it’s a beautiful thing to see.

Dr. Erick Eiting, Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s emergency department medical director in New York, has been at the center of the storm aiding patients, whose ages range from people in their 20s to their 80s, as they discover new symptoms and evolving treatments. He said the hospital’s visitor policy was recently changed so that novel coronavirus patients nearing the end of their lives don’t have to die alone.

“That’s one of the most tragic pieces of this disease, is because it’s so contagious, that people do end up just dying alone,” he said on one overnight shift.

As bodies pour out of hospitals, 28-year-old Alix Monteleone, has a seat at the front line from the window of her third-floor Brooklyn apartment. “We see it and we’re like, this is very serious,” she told Reuters.

Refrigerated trucks have fanned out across the city to process the pile up of corpses. Their stops include the parking lot right below her window to serve the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.

“This is very real. And we’re seeing so much chaos manifest outside of our home that we can’t imagine how bad it is inside. You know, we stopped counting how many bodies came out,” Monteleone said.

It was at this time in April that Trump once again offered his assurances. “We’re going to have a rough week. We’re going to have maybe a rough a little more than a week. But there’s tremendous light at the end of that tunnel.”

Early data from U.S. states show African Americans are more likely to die from COVID-19, highlighting long-standing disparities in health and inequalities in access to medical care, experts said.

Not all states have released demographic data showing the virus’ toll on different racial groups.

In Louisiana more than half of the deaths have been African American, a far larger percentage than the state’s population of African Americans.

Gary Harrell knew 10 of them. “It’s just hard, You wake up one in the morning and – like yesterday – and you kind of worry about what news you’re going to get. The first thing was a message from a friend who is asking that I assist her with her father’s obituary. He had passed on Sunday,” he recalled. “And then within a few hours, I got another text message as I’m driving. And that text informs me that my aunt had passed away. And, you know, it’s just it just all becomes very surreal.”

In New York, city officials hired contract laborers to bury the dead in its potter’s field on Hart Island as the city’s daily death rate from the coronavirus epidemic reached grim new records.

The city has used Hart Island to bury New Yorkers with no known next of kin or whose family are unable to arrange a funeral since the 19th century.

Typically, some 25 bodies are interred each week by low-paid jail inmates working on the island, which sits off the east shore of the city’s Bronx borough and is accessible only by boat.

Now, about 24 bodies are being buried daily, five days a week, according to Jason Kersten, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, which oversees the burials.

Many of those who have died have been elderly, with nursing homes accounting for a large portion of the deaths in the United States.

Even before the coronavirus had swept through her Seattle-area nursing home, Susan Hailey was already eager to leave.

The 74-year-old had come to the facility for rehabilitative care following knee-replacement surgery, and was due to leave in March before a bad fall left her with a broken ankle and an extended move-out date.

Then a wave of severe respiratory illness swept through the nursing home at the end of February. The facility went into lockdown and residents were forced in quarantine. A week later, Hailey tested positive for the coronavirus. She survived. Others did not.

“I remember one morning getting up because they were going to make my bed. And they called a code blue. And my aid ran across the hall and came back and said ‘he died.’ Just very nonchalant. And I couldn’t get over the callous way that it was put,” Hailey told Reuters.

It was a very different ending for retired firefighter Gary Holmberg who was only supposed to be at the Pleasant View nursing home in Maryland for a few weeks, recovering from a fall at his assisted living center.

Pleasant View has become the site of one of Maryland’s worst outbreaks, 40 miles outside the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C. At least 98 of the facility’s residents and staff tested positive and 17 people associated with the home have died, according to the Carroll County Department of Health.

The 77-year old became one of more than a dozen of the nursing home’s residents who died from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“I think about it every night. I think about, you know, me telling him I’m going to get him out of there, I’m going to get him out of there and not being able to do it in time,” his son Rob Holmberg, 47, told Reuters.

It’s a grief shared by people who rush to the scenes to help, such as Anthony Almojera, a 17-year veteran paramedic and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). In his eyes, this has been one of the most devastating times in the department’s history.

The coronavirus outbreak in New York City has pushed ambulance service to its limits, said Almojera in an interview with Reuters. The department went from an average of 4,000 calls to almost 7,000, putting a strain on EMTs and paramedics.

“I don’t know if any of us will ever be the same after this and that’s something we’re going to have to manage,” he told Reuters.

For registered nurse Julia Trainer the pandemic has given her an important life lesson, “Tell everyone that you love them because you never know when you won’t be able to tell them again.”

That’s a lesson not lost on 18-year-old Minnoli Aya.

The last text message she received from her mother, a physicians assistant in New York was “Home soon,” “Love you.”

“I kept texting her wanting to believe it wasn’t true,” Minnoli told Reuters.

Each night in New York City, neighborhoods around hospitals cheer for healthcare workers to express gratitude for the risks they are taking to save lives. Minnoli watches videos of the applause on social media.

“I can’t help but think, what about the ones who have fallen? What about the ones who are already dead?” Minnoli said.

It took the United States 38 days after recording its first fatality on Feb. 29 to reach 10,000 deaths on April 6 but only five more days to reach 20,000 dead, according to a Reuters tally.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has lead the state with the highest death toll in the United States.

“It is a tough time, but a lot of people have shown a lot of courage and a lot of beauty and they’ve had very tough lives — and let’s appreciate them,” he added.

Every night in New York City, people lean out their windows and flood balconies, applauding essential workers.

In mid-April Brian Stokes Mitchell added star power to the evening salute, belting out ‘The Impossible Dream” from his balcony as part of an ongoing tribute to the responders to the coronavirus in the hardest-hit American city. (Reuters)

(Production: Deborah Lutterbeck)

Iran’s arrest warrant for Trump is a ‘propaganda stunt’ —U.S. official

UNTV News   •   June 30, 2020

U.S. Iran envoy Brian Hook said on Monday (June 29) that an Iranian arrest warrant for President Donald Trump and 35 others over the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani was a “propaganda stunt”.

Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr announced the warrants, asking Interpol for help, according to the Fars news agency.

Hook speaking in Saudi Arabia alongside Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir, said: “This is a political nature. This has nothing to do with national security, international peace, or promoting stability. It is a propaganda stunt that no-one takes seriously.”

The United States and Interpol both dismissed the idea of acting on such a warrant.

The United States killed Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, with a drone strike in Iraq on Jan. 3. Washington accused Soleimani of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on U.S. forces in the region.

Alqasimehr said the warrants had been issued on charges of murder and terrorist action. He said Iran had asked Interpol to issue a “red notice” seeking the arrest of Trump and the other individuals the Islamic Republic accuses of taking part in the killing of Soleimani. (Reuters)

(Production: Mohammed Benmansour, Matthew Stock, Aiden Nulty)

Number of Californians with COVID-19 keeps rising; governor declares budget emergency

UNTV News   •   June 26, 2020

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday (June 25) declared a budget emergency in the most populous U.S. state, blaming expenses and the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Declaring a budget emergency allows the state to tap into its rainy day fund. California anticipates a $54.3-billion budget deficit due to costs and a drop in revenue linked to the pandemic.

The state’s budget crunch lies in the shadow of coronavirus cases that continue to mount.

Nearly 5,350 people tested positive for the coronavirus in California the past 24 hours, Newsom said. The increase was smaller than Wednesday’s (June 24) record of 7,149 new cases. But the number of Californians becoming very ill continued to rise, using about 34% of the available intensive care beds in the state, up from 29% on Wednesday.

A total of 4,240 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday in the state, using about 9% of total available beds, Newsom said.

The surging cases have prompted the state to put 11 counties, representing about half of California’s population, on a watch list of places that might be required to roll back recent efforts to reopen their economies. (Reuters)

(Production: Jane Ross)

U.S. sees second-largest rise in new coronavirus cases since crisis began

UNTV News   •   June 25, 2020

The United States has recorded the second-largest increase in coronavirus cases since the health crisis began, with a rise of 35,588 new infections on Tuesday (June 23) as a dozen states see infections surge, according to a Reuters tally.

Florida saw a record increase on Wednesday (June 24) of over 5,500 new cases. On Tuesday, Arizona, California, Mississippi and Nevada had record rises. Texas set a record on Monday (June 22).

While the United States appeared to have curbed the outbreak in May, leading many states to lift restrictions on social and economic activity, the virus is moving into rural areas and other places that it had not initially penetrated deeply. The surge in cases on Tuesday was the highest since a record of 36,426 new infections on April 24.

The virus is also renewing its surge in states that opened up early to ease the devastating effect of the restrictions on local economies.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday acknowledged “hot spot spikes” were emerging as people return to work and gather in social settings but told reporters “that nobody is talking … about going into another economic lockdown.”

She said that the White House coronavirus task force planned to meet later on Wednesday.

Overall cases rose 25% last week, with 10 states reporting a greater than 50% rise in new infections, according to a Reuters analysis.

While some of the increased numbers of cases can be attributed to more testing, the numbers do not correlate.

The average number of tests has risen 7.6% over the last seven days, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, while the average number of new cases rose 30%.

The percentage of positive tests is also rising.

At least four states are averaging double-digit rates of positive tests for the virus, such as Arizona at 20%. By contrast, New York, formerly the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, has been reporting positive test rates of around 1%.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in his daily briefing on Wednesday that he and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have been discussing the possibility of quarantining people coming to the city from U.S. hot spots where infections are spiking.

He said he would have more to say about that soon.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing documents it had obtained, that European Union nations were considering a ban on travelers from the United States, along with Russia and Brazil, as they reopen to tourists. (Reuters)

(Production: Deborah Gembara)

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