By Stephanie Kelly and Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic climbed past 3,000 on Monday, the deadliest day yet in the country’s mounting crisis, while New York cheered the arrival of a gleaming 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship as a sign of hope in the city’s desperate fight.
In a grim new milestones marking the spread of the virus, total deaths across the United States hit 3,017, including at least 540 on Monday, and the reported cases climbed to more than 163,000, according to a Reuters tally.
People in New York and New Jersey lined both sides of the Hudson River to cheer the U.S Navy ship Comfort, a converted oil tanker painted white with giant red crosses, as it sailed past the Statue of Liberty accompanied by support ships and helicopters.
The Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients, including those who require surgery and critical care, in an effort to free up other resources to fight the virus, the Navy said.
“It’s a wartime atmosphere and we all have to pull together,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was among the dignitaries to greet the ship’s arrival at the Midtown Manhattan pier.
Hospitals in the New York City area have been overrun with patients suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. Officials have appealed for volunteer healthcare workers.
“We can’t take care of you if we can’t take care of ourselves,” said Krystal Horchuck, a nurse with Virtua Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. “I think a lot of us have accepted the fact that we are probably going to get this. It’s just that we want to survive. We’re all being exposed to it at some point.”
The United States has the most confirmed cases in the world, a number that is likely to soar when tests for the virus become more widespread.
President Donald Trump told a White House briefing that more than 1 million Americans had been tested for coronavirus – less than 3% of the population. While the United States has ramped up testing after a series of setbacks, it still lags countries like Italy and South Korea on a per capita basis.
In California, another hard-hit state, Governor Gavin Newsom said the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations had nearly doubled over the past four days and the number of ICU patients had tripled. Officials there also appealed for medical volunteers.
CENTRAL PARK HOSPITALS
To ease the pressure in New York, construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Manhattan’s Central Park. The white tents being set up evoked a wartime feel in an island of green typically used by New Yorkers to exercise, picnic and enjoy the first signs of spring.
The makeshift facility, provided by the Mount Sinai Health System and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, is expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday, de Blasio said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of the most prominent public figures of the coronavirus crisis, told a news conference the state might have to step in to close playgrounds in the country’s most populous city in order to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of the virus.
Cuomo and de Blasio are among a growing chorus of officials who have voiced frustration at Trump’s handling of the crisis and a shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment.
“I am not engaging the president in politics,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said of Trump, a Republican. “My only goal is to engage the president in partnership.”
Ford Motor Co said on Monday it will produce 50,000 ventilators over the next 100 days at a Michigan plant in cooperation with General Electric’s healthcare unit, and can then manufacture 30,000 a month.
Officials in states hard hit by the pandemic have pleaded with the Trump administration and manufacturers to speed up production of ventilators to cope with a surge in patients struggling to breathe. On Friday, Trump said he would invoke powers under the Defense Production Act to direct manufacturers to produce ventilators.
U.S. health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders until the end of April to contain the spread of the virus, which originated in China and has infected about three-quarters of a million people around the world.
“If we do things together well – almost perfectly – we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities,” Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told NBC’s “Today” show.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a White House briefing that he expected a coronavirus outbreak in the fall, as well, but he said the nation would be better prepared to respond.
Authorities in New Orleans were setting up a field hospital at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center – the same site where thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees gathered in 2005 – to handle an expected overflow of patients.
Dr. Thomas Krajewski, an emergency room doctor at St. Barnard Parish hospital in New Orleans, said he had watched patients be admitted to the hospital and seem ready to get better only to get worse.
“Many of them have passed away already in a way that … it’s not normal,” he said. “It’s not something that any of us had prepared to do. And we’re kind of writing the book as we go.”
The governors of Maryland, Virginia and Arizona issued “stay-at-home” orders as cases rose in those states, as did Washington, D.C.
At the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, 12 prisoners were hospitalized and several required ventilators, while 77 more showing symptoms were isolated at the facility, officials said.
Renowned country and folk singer John Prine was among the latest celebrities – including several members of Congress – to come down with the virus. Prine was in stable condition on Monday after being hospitalized with symptoms of the illness, his wife said on Twitter. Prine, a 73-year-old cancer survivor, lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
(This story refiles to add dropped word “care” in the 7th paragraph)
(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Daniel Trotta in Milan, Barbara Goldberg and Stephanie Kelly in New York and Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Paul Simao and John Whitesides; Editing by Howard Goller, Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)