An explosion in the number of coronavirus infections has put the United States at the center of the global pandemic.
By the end of Thursday, more than 85,991 cases of the Covid-19 disease were recorded in the US, surpassing the case numbers in China and Italy — the second and third most affected areas respectively.
The figure represents a snapshot of the number of infections the American authorities were able to detect so far, which is subject to testing capacity, reporting criteria and many other factors.
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China and Italy, which each reported about 80,000 coronavirus cases, do not count people who test positive for the virus but show no symptoms. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend testing someone unless they show signs of the illness.
The lack of testing in the weeks after the US reported its first case, on January 20, has allowed the virus to silently spread in the country.
This became evident after testing efforts ramped up this month and revealed an exponential growth in the number of coronavirus patients, especially in New York.
The governor of the state of Louisiana said it might be experiencing the fastest growth of new cases in the world.
The epidemic is stretching New York’s health care system in similar ways it did to its first epicenter, Wuhan, after the outbreak was first reported in the central Chinese city in December.
Both New York City and Wuhan are densely populated metropolises with large numbers of migrants and travelers. New York City has an estimated population of 8.5 million, while Wuhan has a population of 11 million.
After the infections in Wuhan began surging in January, the hospitals became overwhelmed with patients waiting for a bed. Some people died while waiting to be tested or treated.
At the height of Wuhan’s outbreak, doctors and nurses turned to social media to appeal for donations of protective gear. Many had to refrain from drinking, or wear diapers at work, because they were limited to one protective gown per day.
Now cries for help are coming from health care workers in New York City, who are being inundated by patients and hampered by a severe shortage of protective gear.
Emergency calls to the city’s 911 medical services this week rose to their highest levels since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The death of Kious Kelly, a 36-year-old assistant nurse manager at Mount Sinai West, sparked outrage because co-workers blamed his Covid-19 infection on the lack of protective gear, according to a New York Times report .
One hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan, said it had turned operating rooms into intensive care units, with one ventilator serving two patients.
The crisis in Wuhan began easing in late February, after a month of frenetic public health measures, including the construction of makeshift hospitals, deployment of medical workers from other parts of China and a monthslong lockdown that will be lifted on April 8.
Residents have been confined to their own apartments , while traveling in and out of the city is banned.
In the US, many cities and states have issued stay-at-home orders, banning all non-essential businesses and activities.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday that the government was scouting new sites for several temporary hospitals, with the goal to increase the number of hospital beds from 53,000 to 140,000.
He said more than 52,000 volunteers, including retirees and students, had signed up to work to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
Drastic measures have helped China overcome the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak, at least for now.
But the costs were devastating to many families. At least 3,298 people died after contracting the virus in the country, including an unknown number of medical workers.
This week, long lines were formed at some of Wuhan’s eight funeral homes, opened to the public for the first time since the epidemic began, to collect the ashes of their loved ones who died over the past two months.
“Standing in the queue for hours to collect the ashes of their loved ones, young and old, no one talked,” said Tim Wang, a Wuhan resident who lost his mother and father-in-law in the pandemic.
“I guess Wuhan people had no more tears to shed.”
Additional reporting by William Zheng.
This story originally appeared on Inkstone , a daily multimedia digest of China-focused news and features.
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