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Coronavirus Cases Steadily Rise In Worcester

WORCESTER (CBS) - Worcester has only 16 confirmed cases of coronavirus, but officials suspect the real number is much higher and will spike as testing ramps up and the virus spreads. If that happens, the DCU Center might play an important role.

At his downtown sandwich shop, Charles Dalli is struggling to preserve the paychecks of his staff despite the empty streets around him. His normal 140 lunch customers have dwindled to 15 take outs.

"We have to be strong, hang around and that's the only way eventually we are going to come out of it," said Charles Dalli of Shawarma Palace.

At a nearly vacant city hall Tuesday, Dr. Michael Hirsh, the city's medical chief, was plain in his warning of what lies ahead. He called President Trump's assertion of a bounce back by Easter "foolhardy".

"The wave has not quite hit," said Dr. Michael Hirsh. "I can't quite understand how that statement is going to do anything but raise false hope."

The Army Corps of Engineers toured the DCU Center Tuesday looking to expand on the city's plan to use it for COVID-19 quarantine.

"Possibly as more of a field hospital site," said Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus. "A little bit more robust."

In the shorter term, Worcester now has a firefighter with COVID-19, forcing seven others into isolation and prompting staffing reviews at both the fire and police departments about what happens if the pandemic knocks out chunks of first responders.

"It would be a very serious threat to our public safety," Augustus said.

And nurses in Worcester worry about the shortage of masks, gloves, and other protective gear.

"We're going to get sick and then who is going to care for the people who really need to be cared for?" Nurse Courtney Morin said.

Morin now displays a heart on her home -- as do many Worcester residents as a show of solidarity in these challenging times.

"That even though we may be socially distancing each other, we still are connected," Augustus said.

The city is reaching out to hundreds of seniors by phone each day to reassure them and still serving hundreds of meals to school kids. The city manager says he doesn't see any way those kids will able to return to class on April 7.

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