After two weeks of isolation－I followed the “stay-at-home” guidelines ordered by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo－I visited a hospital last Wednesday after developing a sore throat and intermittent sneezing. I visited Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which is a 20-minute walk from my apartment. It was my first “exposure” after several days and I did not like the atmosphere after those first several steps outside.
I could count on my fingers how many were walking the streets. Most of them were walking briskly and, like me, wearing a mask. The scene was reminiscent of Victor Halperin’s “White Zombie,” a film where people avoided eye contact with each other. I became suspicious. I thought it was a mistake to interrupt my “self quarantine” and I learned that hospital was “not safe” for me.
That day, news had spread about a local hospital experiencing an “apocalyptic” surge in cases of the coronavirus disease, or Covid-19. Elmhurst Hospital is number one in the city when it comes to increases in cases. It was wrong timing. I chickened out and hurriedly returned to my apartment.
The day I decided to visit the hospital was the day the facility was at a breaking point as reports claimed 13 patients died there within a 24-hour period. The 545-bed hospital had been overrun, operating at 125 percent capacity, and is in desperate need of supplies.
According to a spokesperson for the city”s public hospital system, the number of deaths recorded between March 24 and 26 was “consistent with the amount of ICU patients being treated.”
“Elmhurst is at the center of this crisis,” explained NYC Health Department Press Secretary Christopher Miller. “It’s the number one priority of our public hospital system right now.”
“Staff are doing everything in our power to save every person who contracts Covid-19,” he said. “Unfortunately, this virus continues to take an especially terrible toll on the elderly and people with preexisting conditions.”
Sources say nurses likened their experience to “working at a field hospital in the middle of a war zone.” New patients reportedly lined the doors and there weren’t enough beds for them. Equipment is running out faster than they could restock－the situation was something they had never seen before.
According to The New York Times, some have died in the emergency room while waiting for a bed.
“It’s apocalyptic,” Dr. Ashley Bray was quoted in the paper.
Scores of people were seen lining up outside the hospital to get tested weeks earlier.
Additionally, it was learned, within the last 24 hours, Elmhurst added 25 staffers from other hospitals as well as a number of ventilators. The hospital I used to visit for my medical checkups might need a lot more help to sustain itself.
Data shows Queens has been hard hit and accounts for 6,420 cases as of March 25, about a third of all the city’s cases. Meanwhile, the NYC Health Department also cited statistics showing 5,066, or about 30 percent of the city’s cases are Queens residents.
Elmhurst staffers on the frontline were said to be doing a tremendous job with the limited resources they have but the hospital remains “at a critical stage.”
According to Dr. Ben McVane: “Right now, we’re seeing double our average census every day. We’re filling up－we’re filling up－our ICUs. We have several floors now that are devoted only to Covid-19 positive patients. We’re finding ourselves getting close to being overwhelmed by patients. Some of these are very sick patients.”
Elmhurst has a level one trauma center located in one of the most densely populated spots in the city’s most populous borough. It is also the hospital where Rikers Island inmates are rushed in the event of an emergency.
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Alex P. Vidal, who is based in New York City, used to be the editor for two local dailies in Iloilo./WDJ