By Nathan Layne and Peter Szekely
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The governors of New York and New Jersey said on Monday their states were showing tentative signs of a “flattening” of the coronavirus outbreak, but they warned against complacency as the nationwide death toll topped 10,000 and the number of cases reached 350,000.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said confirmed coronavirus-related deaths reached 4,758 as of Monday, an increase of 599 from Sunday, compared with an increase of 594 during the previous 24 hours. On Friday, the state’s death toll increased by 630.
Cases in the state, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, increased by 7 percent in 24 hours to 130,680, Cuomo said. Hospitalizations, admissions to intensive care units and intubations – the process of inserting a breathing tube for use in mechanical ventilation – had all declined, signs of a “possible flattening of the curve.”
“While none of this is good news, the possible flattening of the curve is better than the increases that we have seen,” Cuomo told a daily briefing, referring to the shape of the curve when deaths are illustrated on a graph.
The tentative signs of progress sent U.S. stocks sharply higher, with the S&P 500 index up nearly 5.5%. The broadly based index is now down about 22 percent from its Feb. 19 peak. At its March low, it was more than 30 percent off its apex.
Cuomo warned that the numbers remain grim and that it was uncertain the state had turned the corner, saying: “If we are plateauing, we are plateauing at a high level.”
In neighboring New Jersey, the state with the second-highest number of cases and deaths, Governor Phil Murphy told a briefing, “Our efforts to flatten the curve are starting to pay off.” There was a 24 percent per day increase in positive cases on March 30 and it was a 12 percent increase on Monday.
All told, New Jersey has confirmed more than 41,000 cases and more than 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths,
Murphy warned that if social-distancing and hand-washing guidelines were relaxed, a surge of cases would overwhelm the healthcare system with “disastrous” results.
To stop his state from backtracking, Cuomo extended until April 29 an order to keep non-essential businesses and schools closed. He also doubled maximum fines for ignoring social distancing to $1,000.
“This virus has kicked our rear end,” Cuomo said. “Now is not the time to slack off from what we are doing.”
At least one model offered hope that the death rate was slowing in the United States. The University of Washington model, one of several cited by U.S. and some state officials, now projects U.S. deaths at 81,766 by Aug. 4, down about 12,000 from a projection over the weekend.
White House medical experts have forecast that between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die in the pandemic, even if sweeping orders to stay home are followed.
‘PEAK DEATH WEEK’
Despite the hopeful tone in New York and New Jersey, a national U.S. health official said the country was entering what he called the “peak death week.”
The U.S. death toll, numbering 10,297 on Monday, was rapidly closing in on Italy and Spain, the countries with the most fatalities to date at nearly 16,000 and more than 13,000 respectively, according to a Reuters tally of official data.
“It’s going to be the peak hospitalization, peak ICU week and unfortunately, peak death week,” Admiral Brett Giroir, a physician and member of the White House coronavirus task force, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday.
He raised particular alarm for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Detroit, Michigan.
“Whether you live in small-town America or you live in the ‘Big Apple,’ everyone is susceptible to this and everyone needs to follow the precautions we’ve laid out,” Giroir said on NBC’s “Today” show.
More than 90% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders issued by state governors while eight states still were holding out on imposing such restrictions.
In Michigan, the governor said three major health systems have less than three days until face shields run out and less than six days until surgical gowns run out.
Certain medications that hospitals must give patients when using ventilators are also running low, said John Fox, president of Beaumont Health, one of Michigan’s largest health care systems.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that a shortage of medical professionals was replacing a lack of equipment as the city’s primary need and called for an additional 45,000 clinical personnel for April.
“More and more, the challenge is going to be personnel,” de Blasio told reporters outside a surgical gown manufacturing facility. “We need these supplies, but we also need heroes to wear them.”
The city has reported more than 3,100 deaths, and it may resort to temporarily burying the dead in an unspecified park, said Mark Levine, chair of the New York City Council health committee.
“Soon we’ll start ‘temporary interment’. This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right). Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line,” Levine wrote on Twitter. “It will be done in a dignified, orderly – and temporary – manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take.”
Levine later told Reuters that the city has not yet identified any parkland as a temporary burial site if needed.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne, Peter Szekely and Barbara Goldberg; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool; Editing by Frank McGurty, Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)