The US government raced to build hundreds of makeshift hospitals to ease the strain on overwhelmed healthcare systems as the United States marked 700 deaths in a single day from COVID-19 for the first time on Tuesday.

That is the equivalent of a person dying every two minutes.

Nearly half those deaths were in New York state, still the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for reinforcements from the Trump administration, saying the worst may still be weeks away.

“This is the point at which we must be prepared for next week when we expect a huge increase in the number of cases. What I asked very clearly, last week, was for military medical personnel to be deployed here,” de Blasio said at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, where a field hospital was being built.

De Blasio, a Democrat, said he had asked the White House for an additional 1 000 nurses, 300 respiratory therapists and 150 doctors by April 5 but had yet to receive an answer from the Trump administration.

All told, more than 3 700 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States during the outbreak, more than the number who died in the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The total confirmed US cases rose to 184 000 up 21 000 from the day before.

White House medical experts have said between 100 000 to 200 000 people could ultimately die from the respiratory disease in the United States this year, despite orders in most major cities confining Americans to their homes except for the most necessary outings.

More than 30 states have ordered people to stay at home to contain the virus, a move that has strangled the economy and left millions without a paycheck, at least temporarily.

The US Army Corps of Engineers was searching for hotels, dormitories, convention centers and large open spaces to build as many as 341 temporary hospitals, Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, the head of the corps, told the ABC News “Good Morning America” program.

The corps, the engineering arm of the US Army, has already joined with New York state officials to convert New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center into a 1 000-bed hospital in the space of a week.