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NYC mayor urges national enlistment program for doctors

NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Friday for a national enlistment program for doctors and nurses to handle an expected surge in coronavirus cases in New York and other places around the country where virus cases are straining existing health care systems.

“Next week in New York City is going to be very tough — next week in New York City and Detroit and New Orleans and a lot of other places,” de Blasio said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And unless the military is fully mobilized and we create something we’ve never had before, which is some kind of national enlistment of medical personnel moved to the most urgent needs in the country constantly, if we don’t have that we’re going to see hospitals simply unable to handle so many people who could be saved.”

De Blasio said on CNN that the country should be on a wartime footing to meet the coronavirus threat. “We’re fighting a war against an invisible enemy that is increasingly taking the lives of Americans in vast numbers,” he said.

De Blasio first broached the idea of enlisting civilian health care workers Thursday but did not explain how such a program might work.

“I think it’s time for our nation to enlist our medical personnel on a national basis,” the mayor said at a coronavirus briefing. “We don’t have the same kind of draft we used to have, but we’re going to have to create something new right now at this moment in history to enlist all available medical personnel around the country, and I mean civilians. Anyone with medical training anywhere in the country who can be spared by their city, their town, their state to come to the front.”

WATCH: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gives coronavirus update

The new virus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with chronic health problems, it can cause more severe illness and can be fatal.

Public health officials say more than 1,500 people in New York City have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. There have been nearly 50,000 confirmed cases and more than 10,000 hospitalizations.

Funeral homes see strain

Funeral homes in New York and around the globe are in crisis as demand surges amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Funeral directors are being squeezed on one side by inundated hospitals trying to offload bodies and on the other by the fact that cemeteries and crematoriums are booked for at least a week.

Pat Marmo’s Brooklyn funeral home is equipped to handle 40 to 60 cases at a time. It was taking care of 185 on Thursday morning. “This is a state of emergency,” he said. “We need help.”

Temporary hospitals planned

Tennis courts, college dorms and a cruise ship terminal are among the New York City facilities that are set to be converted into temporary hospitals in the coming weeks as the coronavirus crisis deepens. but officials worry whether the massive effort will be enough in the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the outbreak’s expected peak was still seven to 30 days away.

Officials say New York will need 140,000 hospital beds when the peak arrives, compared to the 53,000 it had before the virus reached the U.S. So many seriously ill patients are anticipated that New York City is preparing to turn all its 20,000 permanent hospital beds into intensive care ones while trying to add 65,000 temporary beds for other patients.

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