‘Hell’ at New York’s coronavirus ground zero

The empty streets, closed shops and grim daily tally only tell half the story.

Dr Steve Kasspidis tells it straight: “It’s hell, biblical. I kid you not,”

And he should know. He’s right in the thick of it, at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens – the most infected district in what is now the most infected city in the world, New York.

“People come in, they get intubated, they die, the cycle repeats. The system is overwhelmed all over the place.

“My daughter is an intern in Brooklyn, first year resident. She starts the ICU today, I couldn’t sleep last night. It’s scary.”

Deaths from COVID-19 in the US have now topped 1,000 with almost 70,000 infections. New York State alone accounted for more than 30,000 cases and close to 300 deaths, most of them in New York City.

Another ambulance carrying a COVID-19 victim arrives at a Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens
Image:Another ambulance carrying a COVID-19 victim arrives at a Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens

New York is no stranger to disaster but you get the feeling it is on the cusp of something it’s never experienced before.

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Coronavirus: The infection numbers in real time

Coronavirus: The infection numbers in real time

“9/11 was nothing compared to this,” Dr Kasspidis says. “We were open waiting for patients to come who never came, ok? Now they just keep coming.”

Even part of Mount Sinai's waiting area has been turned into a ward
Image:Even part of Mount Sinai’s waiting area has been turned into a ward

In an internal email, Mount Sinai’s Chief Medical Officer told staff it was the “humanitarian mission of their lifetimes”.

Every hospital in New York has been ordered to increase its bed capacity by 50% because at the moment the city is about 90,000 beds short of what they predict they might need.

Mount Sinai Queens has screened off part of its reception area to create a makeshift ward. Every little space is used.

A makeshift morgue outside a New York hospital
Image:A makeshift morgue outside a New York hospital

“Right now it’s every day, it’s non-stop, literally,” said Doron Goldman Barkan, a Respiratory Therapist.

“Unfortunately it might get to a situation where you have to pick and choose what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.

“A lot of people come, they expire and you put the same machine on another person and you can’t really process the situation because it’s so hard to think about this”.

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There are more people than they expected being hospitalised every day and New York is still 21 days away from the peak.

It doesn’t matter how modern or advanced the health care here is, if they don’t get the supplies they need, it simply won’t cope. It is literally a race against time.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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