New York braces for COVID-19 onslaught as state’s dead nears 9/11 toll

FILE PHOTO: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appears at an indoor training center at the USTA Billie Jean King United States Tennis Center which will be partially converted into a temporary hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Queens borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Stefan Jeremiah

By Maria Caspani and Nathan Layne

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York state has recorded nearly 500 coronavirus-related deaths in a single day, bringing the statewide total to nearly 3,000, or about the same number killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday.

New York City has mere days to prepare for the worst of the novel coronavirus onslaught, the city’s mayor Bill de Blasio said and pleaded for federal government help to end a shortage of medical staff and ventilators.

The city has suffered more than a quarter of U.S. deaths in the outbreak.

“I think somehow in Washington, there’s an assumption (that) there’s weeks to prepare,” de Blasio said on MSNBC. “There’s not weeks anymore. It is days now.”

Emergency Medical Technicians transport a patient into Bronx-Lebanon Hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid

New York state recorded 2,935 fatalities over 24 hours, up from 2,373 a day earlier, Cuomo said. It was the “highest single increase in the number of deaths since we started,” he said.

The Sept. 11 attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, the majority of them at New York City’s World Trade Center.

De Blasio is asking for 1,000 nurses, 150 doctors and 300 respiratory therapists as the number of COVID-19 cases in the city is expected to rise sharply next week.

New York City has yet to receive a resupply for the up to 3,000 ventilators needed by next week, de Blasio said, urging President Donald Trump to mobilize medical personnel from the U.S. military.

“They are not mobilized for action,” de Blasio, a Democrat, told WNYC radio. “The president has to give that order right now.” Trump is a Republican.

More than 25% of the 6,058 U.S. coronavirus deaths tallied by Johns Hopkins University as of Friday morning were in New York City. Infections in the United States totaling 240,000 account for about 24% of the more than 1 million cases worldwide.

“We all know New York is bad but we know the worst is yet to come,” said Naila Shereen, an internal medicine specialist who rotates through various hospitals in New York.

New statistics on Friday confirmed that hundreds of thousands of Americans had lost their jobs because of the pandemic, although economists say the real figure is far more than that because huge swathes of the U.S. economy began shutting down last month to avoid spreading the virus.

‘BLOODLETTING’

U.S. employers cut 701,000 jobs last month, ending a record 113 straight months of employment growth, the Labor Department said. In the last two weeks, nearly 10 million workers have filed for jobless benefits.

“What we are watching in real time is the greatest bloodletting in the American labor market since the Great Depression,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM in Austin, Texas.

While the economic pain is spread across the country, New York is bearing the brunt of the grim march of the coronavirus in terms of cases, sickness and death. The virus causes the flu-like respiratory illness COVID-19 for which there is no vaccine.

“It’s very painful. You see your friends and people you work with, they’re getting sick,” Thomas Riley, a nurse in New York City who recovered after testing positive for the coronavirus, told CNN on Friday.

He said medical staff had very little protective equipment.

“It feels like we’re in a war, we’re soldiers in a war and we’re being sent out without camouflage, without Kevlar. We have no defenses against this and they’re giving us very little,” Riley said.

Cuomo said on Thursday his state’s apex – or the worst point – of the crisis would likely be on the “shorter end” of a projected range of seven to 30 days ahead. Most of the state’s coronavirus-related hospitalizations have been in the New York City area.

There are more than 102,863 coronavirus cases in New York state, up from 92,381 a day earlier, Cuomo said.

Anthony Fauci, a doctor and leading member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, said social distancing is beginning to work even though the United States is still far from over the worst.

“There’s no doubt…the mitigation activities, the physical separation that we’re doing clearly is having a positive impact. You don’t see it dramatically yet… but there’s no doubt that’s its having an effect,” Fauci told Fox News.

“It’s going to get worse – much worse – before it gets better… but it will turn around,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He said Americans should cover their face in public but remain isolated as much as possible, adding that face masks must be reserved for medical personnel battling the highly-infectious disease. “This is…an addition to the physical separation, not as a substitute,” Fauci said.

On Thursday, the Trump administration appeared ready to join local officials in advising Americans to wear face coverings in public to help curb the spread of the virus.

Deborah Birx, another member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would in coming days add a recommendation on masks to guidelines on protective measures.

New York City’s de Blasio and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have both urged residents to cover their faces when near others in public, even if they have no symptoms.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Nathan Layne; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely, Lucia Mutikani, Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller)

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