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U.S. health system is showing why it’s not ready for a coronavirus pandemic

The growing coronavirus outbreak in the United States is revealing serious gaps in the health system’s ability to respond to a major epidemic, forcing hospitals and doctors to improvise emergency plans daily, even as they remain uncertain how bad the crisis will get.

As California announced its first coronavirus-linked fatality on Wednesday, bringing the U.S. death toll to 11, nursing homes are emerging as especially vulnerable to the virus, with more than a million residents, many of them frail, and many facilities with a history of struggling to contain even mundane infections.

But the gaps are spread out across the country and affect medical facilities of all types.

In Rhode Island, where two cases have been detected, doctors in protective gear were testing patients with mild symptoms in the hospital parking lot rather than allowing them to enter the emergency room. Officials said the emergency measure was being wound down Tuesday as the state’s testing capacity grows.

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