By Jonnelle Marte and Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The mayor of New York City, the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus epidemic, on Sunday described the outbreak as the biggest domestic crisis since the Great Depression and called for the U.S. military to mobilize to help keep the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.
“If we don’t get more ventilators in the next 10 days people will die who don’t have to die,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, as the nation’s most populous city saw COVID-19 cases top 8,000 and deaths hit 60.
Nationwide, cases have topped 29,000 with at least 385 dead, according to a Reuters tally. The number of cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness in the United States and Spain are exceeded only by China and Italy. Italy reported record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths last week.
“This is going to be the greatest crisis domestically since the Great Depression,” de Blasio told CNN, referring to the economic crisis of the 1930s. “This is why we need a full-scale mobilization of the American military.”
Nearly one in four Americans, or 80 million, were under orders to shelter at home as New York, California, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey instituted statewide lockdowns.
Around the globe, billions are adapting to a new reality, with countries like Italy, Spain and France on lockdown and several South American nations taking similar measures to try to stay ahead of the contagion, as global cases exceeded 300,000 and deaths top 13,000.
The lockdown affecting large segments of the American public to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus is likely to last 10 to 12 weeks, or until early June, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday.
Lawmakers in Washington are nearing a deal that could pump a record $1 trillion into the economy to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mnuchin said the package would give an average U.S. family of four a one-time payment of $3,000.
De Blasio said the city is not getting needed medical supplies from the federal government to contend with the rapid spread of the sometimes deadly illness.
“If the president does not act, people will die who could have lived otherwise,” de Blasio told NBC.
Hospitals are scrambling for protective equipment for healthcare workers and for ventilators as they brace for a wave of patients who will need help breathing as severe cases often lead to pneumonia and decreased lung function.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged the federal government to take over acquisition of medical supplies so states do not have to compete with each other for desperately needed resources. He also repeated a request for the Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary hospitals.
Over the past week, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been pushing for aggressive steps to stem the economic hit, after Trump spent several weeks downplaying the virus’ risks.
Trump said on Twitter on Sunday that U.S. automakers Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co and Tesla Inc had been given the green light to produce ventilators and other items in short supply during the coronavirus outbreak.
Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Sunday said the White House recognized the urgency of New York’s situation.
“Not only is New York trying to get resources themselves, but we’re going to be pouring it in from the federal government,” he told CBS News.
U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co Inc said it delivered 500,000 donated masks to New York City on Sunday morning.
The help is not coming quickly enough, Cuomo said.
“Time matters, minutes count, and this is literally a matter of life and death,” he said.
He also chastised New York residents who were congregating in parks and other places and not practicing social distancing. He noted 53% of the cases in New York are between the ages of 18 and 49.
“It’s insensitive, arrogant, self-destructive…and it has to stop, and it has to stop now,” he said. “This is not a joke and I’m not kidding.”
(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Bill Berkrot)