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2 Texas Counties Slammed By Coronavirus Surge Bring In Refrigerated Trucks As Morgues Overfill

TEXAS (CBSDFW/CNN) -- With skyrocketing coronavirus hospitalizations in several states, hard-hit counties in Arizona and Texas are preparing for the worst by bringing in refrigerated trucks as morgues fill up.

Two counties in Texas -- Cameron and Hidalgo -- are sharing a large refrigerated trailer to store bodies of coronavirus patients because of a lack of space at the morgues. San Antonio officials have also said they're requesting refrigerated trucks.

"I'm pleading with everybody in our neck of the woods, help us do your part, people's lives are at stake -- not just the people getting sick, but doctors, nurses working to the bone, EMS personnel, transporting people," Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. told CNN affiliate KVEO.

In South Texas, hospitals in Laredo are full and the federal government is converting a hotel into a health care facility.

The US coronavirus outbreak hit nearly 3.5 million total infections Thursday morning and more than 137,000 reported deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Thirty-nine states reported an increase in the number of new cases from the week before. California, Florida, Arizona and Texas have are now the states to watch as surging coronavirus cases lead to a shortage of hospital beds.

In Arizona's Maricopa County, which has the most COVID-19 cases in the state, the medical examiner's office has ordered four portable coolers with additional ones expected in the coming days, said Fields Moseley, the county spokesman. The medical examiner's office morgue had a total of 156 deceased people -- with a surge capacity of just over 200, Moseley said Wednesday.

It is unclear how many of the deaths are related to the coronavirus -- the county has said fatalities go up in the summer due to the heat.

"Because we hit that surge capacity, multiple phone calls were made to funeral homes all over the county to try to assess their ability to make sure they were taking bodies in a timely fashion," Moseley said.

As infections go up, officials nationwide are rushing to issue restrictions all over again.

Gov. Brian Kemp extended Georgia's emergency coronavirus restrictions and said while people are "strongly encouraged" to wear face coverings -- they're not required. The order, which expires July 31, limits public gatherings to 50 people and mandates social distancing.

But his order also prevents local governments from implementing stricter rules than the state's, including requiring face masks.

The state reported 417 additional hospitalizations -- nearly double Tuesday's total -- and is turning a large convention center in downtown Atlanta into a potential overflow hospital.

California -- the country's most populous state -- set two more records Wednesday with highs for hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

The state announced 11,126 new cases, with a total of 6,786 COVID-19 positive hospital patients and 1,907 patients in the ICU. And in Los Angeles County, the public health director warned another stay-at-home order is likely.

"We can't take anything off the table -- there's absolutely no certainty of what exactly is going to happen next," Dr. Barbara Ferrer said.

California met its goal to have 10,000 contact tracers statewide by July 1, but Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said it's not enough to handle the onslaught of coronavirus cases.

"We did not build the first contact tracing program on this level of transmission," Dr. Ghaly said. "Local and states across the nation have recognized the need to be targeted with some of our contact tracing at this moment in time."

Florida reported 301,810 positive cases statewide Wednesday with 19,334 people hospitalized. More than 50 hospitals have reached intensive care unit capacity and show zero beds available, according to according to data released by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). Eight of those hospitals are in Miami-Dade County.

Arizona health officials announced they're bringing nearly 600 critical care and medical-surgical nurses from out of state to help as they enhance their internal surge plans to fill staffing gaps.

"COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona have increased with hospitals reporting nearly 3,500 inpatients and more than 900 patients in their intensive care units," the Arizona Department of Health Services said in a statement.

Public health experts say the end of the pandemic remains out of sight, and several states took steps to mandate the wearing of masks.

Alabama and Montana said they are required in public. In Montana, face coverings are mandatory in certain indoor group settings where more than 50 people gather and social distancing is not possible. More than 30 states now have mandates on face coverings in public.

And in Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt said he's tested positive for COVID-19 the same day the state reported a record high number of new cases.

Stitt attended President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Tulsa last month and was spotted in the crowd without a mask. But based on contact tracing, the state's health officials said he did not contract coronavirus at the rally.

There were 22,813 total cases in the state, up 1,075 from Tuesday, health officials said. At least 561 people are hospitalized due to the virus.

Thousands more Americans will die from the virus before a vaccine is developed, an influential model says.

The model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is projecting 224,000 people will die from the virus by November 1 -- an increase of almost 16,000 from the week before.

That jump is due to skyrocketing cases around the country, particularly in Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, said Dr. Chris Murray, chair of the IHME.

On Wednesday, Texas again set a new high with nearly 10,800 new cases, along with a record 110 deaths.

The rising toll includes 35 deaths that officials on the Texas-Mexico border said happened Wednesday morning alone in Hidalgo County. That was more than twice the number of new deaths reported in Harris County — which has five times the population — and where Texas' largest school district decided that Houston public schools would not only postpone the first day of class but conduct the first six weeks of learning online.

"For those people who think this virus is a joke, that it's made up, not real, that it's not having an impact, I want you to take a look at that chart," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, waving to a graphic listing biographical details about the new deaths.

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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN Wire contributed to this report. The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report. All rights reserved.)


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