On March 8th, Juliette Kayyem, a former Department of Homeland Security official and author of Security Mom, warned that the U.S. isn’t ready for the rapid spread of the COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic.
“If the number of COVID-19 cases spikes quickly, hospitals could soon be deluged with patients seeking care,” she wrote in The Atlantic.  “This is a predictable consequence of any epidemic, but few Americans’ personal experiences gives them any reason to understand how disruptive these changes could be if the epidemic continues to worsen.”
In countries where the coronavirus got an earlier start, this scenario is already playing out with frightening consequences.
Shocking new footage released from a hospital in the Italian city of Bergamo, one badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, shows a hospital in chaos and a community in crisis. The video was broadcast by Sky News on March 19th. It shows an emergency arrivals ward at the Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital. Due to the intensive-care units being full, the emergency arrivals ward has been converted into another ICU ward.
In Bergamo, more than 4,600 people have tested positive for COVID-19 as of March 20th. It has more cases than any other city in Italy.
In the footage, the hospital staff is clearly overwhelmed by the number of critical patients they must tend to.
“It’s a very severe pneumonia,” says Dr. Roberto Cosentini, the head of emergency care at Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital. “And so it’s a massive strain for every health system, because we see every day 50 to 60 patients who come to our emergency department with pneumonia, and most of them are so severe they need very high volumes of oxygen.”
“And so we had to reorganize our emergency room and our hospital — three levels of intensive care,” he added.
A city in crisis
The fatalities from coronavirus have been so high that other public services are straining under the pressure. Bergamo’s morgues and its one crematorium, which has the capacity to cremate 25 people per day, are said to be overwhelmed. Bodies from Bergamo have been sent to crematoriums in 12 other Italian cities following the Mayor’s request for help.  Churches, which are not permitted to hold services in order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, are being used as coffin storage facilities. A gymnasium at Ponte San Pietro Hospital has been forced to become a mortuary. 
The situation in Italy underscores the importance of social distancing and “flattening the curve.” Flattening the curve is a term used to refer to practices, like isolation, self-quarantine, and social distancing, that can slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the rate of infection.
“A large number of people becoming very sick over the course of a few days could overwhelm a hospital or care facility,” writes Dr. Lisa Lockerd Maragakis in John Hopkins Medicine.  “Too many people becoming severely ill with COVID-19 at roughly the same time could result in a shortage of hospital beds, equipment or doctors.”
If individuals abide by social distancing measures and stay at home more often than not, fewer people will become ill and fewer patients will visit the hospital each day, thus not pushing our health systems past their breaking point.
Lessening the impact of coronavirus starts with you
It’s important to know what to do if you feel sick,” says Dr. Maragakis. “The coronavirus pandemic is making everyone aware of handwashing and protecting others from coughs and sneezes. Along with those essential steps, practices such as social distancing, and self-quarantine and isolation when appropriate can slow the rate of infection in a city, town or community.”
“The pandemic can seem overwhelming, but in truth, every person can help slow down the spread of COVID-19. By doing your part, you can make a big difference to your health, and that of others around you.”
Keep Reading: 20 Coronavirus Myths Busted
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