New York, New Jersey see early signs of coronavirus ‘flattening’

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.

‘NEED HEROES’

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)

With hospitals stressed, U.S. enters ‘peak death week’ in coronavirus crisis

By Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States entered what an official called the “peak death week” of the coronavirus on Monday while a watchdog report said hospitals were struggling to maintain and expand capacity to care for infected patients.

The U.S. death toll, now at more than 9,600, was rapidly closing in on Italy and Spain, the countries with the most fatalities to date at nearly 16,000 and about 12,500 respectively, according to a Reuters rally 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 the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the city of Detroit.

Results of a national March 23-27 survey showed that “severe shortages” of testing supplies and long waits for test results were limiting the ability of hospitals to keep track of the health of staff and patients, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General said. https://bit.ly/2xOZfof

“Hospitals also described substantial challenges maintaining and expanding capacity to care for patients,” said the report, described as a snapshot of the issues hospitals faced in mid-March. Efforts were being made to address those issues, it said.

The survey, which included information from 323 hospitals, confirmed reports that shortages of beds, ventilators and protective gear were creating chaotic conditions, with patients, isolated from their families, dying alone.

Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of Americans are under stay-at-home orders issued by state governors.

The watchdog said hospitals reported “that changing and sometimes inconsistent guidance from federal, State, and local authorities … confused hospitals and the public.” Widespread shortages of personal protective equipment put hospital staff and patients at risk, it said.

GLIMMER OF HOPE Despite the grim warnings, at least one model offered hope that the death rate was slowing.

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.

The model, which is frequently updated with new data, projects the peak need for hospital beds on April 15 and for daily deaths at 3,130 on April 16.

Trump, who has oscillated between issuing dire warnings and expressing optimism that contradicts the views of his medical experts, tweeted “USA STRONG!” and “LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!” on Monday.

Trump has deferred to state governors for issuing stay-at-home orders.

Eight states, all with governors from Trump’s Republican Party, have yet to order residents to stay home: Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Georgia, which has recorded 6,600 cases and more than 200 deaths, ordered residents to stay home but then allowed some beaches to reopen.

In Washington, D.C., and other places, some people flouted the social distancing guidelines over the weekend. Sunshine and warm weather brought hordes of people out to bike trails and open spaces near the Potomac River. While a number of people wore masks, some groups moved together in close proximity.

TASK FORCE CLASH

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Monday acknowledged that members of the White House coronavirus task force disagreed over the weekend about the efficacy of a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, for use against the disease.

Navarro had clashed with Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Axios reported. Fauci and other top health advisers have argued there have not been enough studies done to prove the drug was effective against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made his opinion on the drug well known and personally pressed federal health officials to make the drug available to treat coronavirus, two sources have told Reuters. [nL1N2BS06Q]

In an interview on CNN on Monday, Navarro said 29 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine were sitting in a warehouse.

He told CNN that at the task force meeting on Saturday, “there was unanimous agreement” that the Federal Emergency Management Agency “would immediately begin surging hydroxy into the hot zones to be dispensed only between a doctor and a patient decision not the federal government.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Peter Szekely; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller)

 

U.S. braces for ‘hardest, saddest’ week as virus deaths surpass 9,000

(Reuters) – The United States enters one of the most critical weeks so far in the coronavirus crisis with the death toll exploding in New York, Michigan and Louisiana and some governors calling for a national order to stay at home.

New York, the hardest-hit state, reported on Sunday that there were nearly 600 new deaths for a total of 4,159 deaths and 122,000 total cases.

Bodies of victims of COVID-19, the flu-like respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, were stacked in bright orange bags inside a makeshift morgue outside the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, according to photos provided to Reuters.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said new hospitalizations had fallen by 50% and, for the first time in at least a week, deaths had fallen slightly from the prior day, when they rose by 630.

But he cautioned that it was not yet clear whether the crisis in the state was reaching a plateau.

“The coronavirus is truly vicious and effective at what the virus does,” Cuomo told a daily briefing. “It’s an effective killer.”

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned on Fox News Sunday that hard times were ahead but “there is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part for the next 30 days.”

“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly. This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized,” he said. “It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.”

Places such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Washington, D.C. are starting to see rising deaths. The White House coronavirus task force warned this is not the time to go to the grocery store or other public places.

Most states have ordered residents to stay home except for essential trips to slow the spread of the virus in the United States where over 321,000 people have tested positive and more than 9,100 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

However, a few churches were holding large gatherings on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week in Christian churches.

“We’re defying the rules because the commandment of God is to spread the Gospel,” said Tony Spell, pastor at the Life Tabernacle megachurch in a suburb of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He has defied state orders against assembling in large groups and has already been hit with six misdemeanors.

Louisiana has become a hot spot for the virus, on Saturday reporting a jump in deaths to 409 and more than 12,000 cases.

Governor John Bel Edwards told CNN on Sunday that the state could run out of ventilators by Thursday.

White House medical experts have forecast that between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could be killed in the pandemic, even if sweeping orders to stay home are followed.

President Donald Trump warned on Saturday that there were “very horrendous” days ahead.

Still, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature decided to hold in-person voting for its presidential primary on Tuesday, when Democratic-led Colorado will also go ahead with local elections.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, whose state recorded the country’s first confirmed COVID-19 infection but has since seen cases flatten after early action to shutter activity, said if other states do not also impose strict measures, the virus will simply circulate.

“It would be good to have a national stay-at-home order,” he told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” program. “Even if Washington gets on top of this fully, if another state doesn’t, it could come back and come across our borders two months from now.”

Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, however, defended his refusal to order statewide restrictions, saying the situation was being watched closely and that his more “targeted approach” was still slowing the spread of the virus.

“We will do more as we need to,” he told NBC.

Kate Lynn Blatt, 38, a property manager from rural Pottsville, Pennsylvania, said she was astounded that her state’s governor, Tom Wolf, waited until April 1 to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.

“We were shocked. I can’t believe Trump hasn’t issued a nationwide order and I still can’t believe there are states that are still open,” Blatt said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Amanda Becker in Washington and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Sweden’s liberal pandemic strategy questioned as Stockholm death toll mounts

By Johan Ahlander and Philip O’Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – A spike in novel coronavirus infections and deaths in Stockholm has raised questions about Sweden’s decision to fight the outbreak without resorting to the lockdowns that have left much of Europe at a standstill.

Governments across Europe have closed schools and taken draconian measures to limit exposure to possible carriers with Germany for example enforcing bans on more than two people meeting in public.

Among Sweden’s Nordic neighbours, Denmark has closed its borders and shut its schools, as has Norway, while Finland has isolated its main urban region.

Yet Swedes are able to go to restaurants, get a haircut and send their children to school even as the number of confirmed cases and deaths have mounted, above all in Stockholm which accounts for more than half the fatalities.

An analysis of smartphone location data showed that while visits to public places has fallen steeply in most European countries, Sweden is bucking the trend.

But Sweden’s liberal approach, which aims to minimise disruption to social and economic life, is coming under fire as the epidemic spreads in the capital.

“We don’t have a choice, we have to close Stockholm right now,” Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis at the Karolinska Institute, told Reuters.

She is one of around 2,300 academics who signed an open letter to the government at the end of last month calling for tougher measures to protect the healthcare system.

“We must establish control over the situation, we cannot head in to a situation where we get complete chaos. No one has tried this route, so why should we test it first in Sweden, without informed consent?” she said.

Sweden reported 612 new cases on Friday, bringing the total to around 6,000. The death toll has reached 333, with fatalities now running at about 25-30 a day, according to the Swedish Health Agency.

A STORM IN STOCKHOLM

There are growing signs the virus is spreading at elderly care homes, again mainly in the capital, where some staff at hospitals and nursing homes have publicly warned of a lack of protective equipment such as masks.

Facing what a local official has called “a storm” of COVID-19 cases, Stockholm has opened a field hospital at a convention complex south of the city centre and called on anyone with medical training to help care for the sick.

At a news conference this week centre-left Prime Minister Stefan Lofven fielded questions over whether the rising number of cases at Sweden’s nursing homes was evidence of a failing strategy.

“I don’t think it is a sign of that. This is what things look like around Europe,” he said. “We have said all along that things will get worse before they get better.”

Sweden has focused on isolating and treating the sick rather than closing down swathes of society.

Gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned, high schools and universities have moved teaching online and people have been told not to take unnecessary trips, all quite low-key measures in a European context.

The public face of Sweden’s pandemic fight, Health Agency Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, only months ago a little known civil servant but now rivalling the prime minister for publicity, has questioned how effectively lockdowns can be enforced over time.

“It is important to have a policy that can be sustained over a longer period, meaning staying home if you are sick, which is our message,” said Tegnell, who has received both threats and fan mail over the country’s handling of the crisis.

“Locking people up at home won’t work in the longer term,” he said. “Sooner or later people are going to go out anyway.”

(Additional reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Giles Elgood)

France passes 4,000 coronavirus deaths

PARIS (Reuters) – French health authorities reported 509 new deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, taking the total to 4,032, making the country the fourth to pass the 4,000-fatalities threshold after Italy, Spain and the United States.

After speeding up the previous two days, the rate of increase of deaths has decelerated in France, which is now in its third week of lockdown to try to slow the spread of the virus.

The daily government tally still only accounts for those dying in hospital but authorities say they will very soon be able to compile data on deaths in retirement homes, which is likely to result in a big increase in registered fatalities.

State health agency director Jerome Salomon told a news conference that the number of cases had risen to 56,989, a rise of 9%, versus +17% Tuesday.

Salomon said 6,017 people were in a serious condition needing life support, up 8% compared with Tuesday.

France has increased the number of beds in intensive care units from 5,000 to about 10,000 since the start of the crisis and it is scrambling to reach 14,500.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Alison Williams)

U.S. CDC reports 186,101 coronavirus cases, 3,603 deaths

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday reported 186,101 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 22,562 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 743 to 3,603.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus, as of 4 p.m. ET on March 31 compared to its count a day ago.

The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

Trump warns Americans of a tough two weeks ahead in coronavirus fight

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump warned Americans on Tuesday of a “painful” two weeks ahead in fighting the coronavirus, with a mounting U.S. death toll that could stretch into the hundreds of thousands even with strict social distancing measures.

In perhaps his most somber news conference to date about the pandemic, Trump urged the population to heed guidance to limit groups to no more than 10 people, work from home and not dine in restaurants or bars.

“It’s absolutely critical for the American people to follow the guidelines for the next 30 days. It’s a matter of life and death,” Trump said.

White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx displayed charts demonstrating data and modeling that showed an enormous jump in deaths to a range of 100,000 to 240,000 people from the virus in the coming months.

That figure was predicated on Americans following mitigation efforts. One of Birx’s charts showed as many as 2.2 million people were projected to die without such measures, a statistic that prompted Trump to ditch a plan he articulated last week to get the U.S. economy moving again by Easter on April 12.

The president said the next two weeks would be “very, very painful.” The modeling showed the number of deaths across the nation would escalate and peak roughly around mid-April.

“We want Americans to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump said, predicting light at the end of the tunnel after that.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said previously that the pandemic could kill between 100,000 and 200,000 people in the United States, said all efforts were being made to make those numbers lower.

“We’re doing everything we can,” he said.

The federal guidelines, which now are in place through the end of April, include admonitions to avoid discretionary travel, not visit nursing homes, and practice good hygiene.

“There’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors: Each of our behaviors translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days,” Birx said.

Vice President Mike Pence said the mitigation efforts were having an impact. “We have reason to believe that it’s working,” Pence said of the guidelines. “Do not be discouraged.”

Trump said he planned to remain at the White House for the most part over the next 30 days.

He added the White House was looking at a possible travel ban for Brazil.

After the White House earlier discouraged Americans from wearing masks if they were not sick, the president encouraged the practice on Tuesday, but said people should use scarves so as not to divert supplies from healthcare professionals.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham, Alexandra Alper, Eric Beech, Diane Bartz, Carl O’Donnell and Timothy Ahmann; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)

No let-up in coronavirus deaths in Italy, new cases steady death toll 12,428

ROME (Reuters) – The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has climbed by 837 to 12,428, the Civil Protection Agency said on Tuesday, with the daily tally rising, albeit slightly, for a second day running.

The number of new cases was broadly steady, growing by 4,053 against 4,050 on Monday, and bringing total infections since the outbreak came to light on Feb. 21 to 105,792.

Some 5,217 new cases were registered on Sunday and 5,974 on Saturday, suggesting the growth curve of new infections is flattening.

The daily tally of deaths in Lombardy, the worst-affected region, declined sharply, and new infections were also down for at least the third day running, suggesting the situation is improving there faster than elsewhere in the country.

In neighboring Piedmont, on the other hand, the daily death toll of 105 was up sharply from the day before.

Of those originally infected nationwide, 15,729 had fully recovered on Tuesday, compared to 14,620 the day before. There were 4,023 people in intensive care, up from a previous 3,981.

Italy has registered more deaths than anywhere else in the world and accounts for around 30% of all global fatalities from the virus.

Italy’s largest daily toll from the five-week-old epidemic was registered on Friday, when 919 people died. There were 889 deaths on Saturday, 756 on Sunday and 812 on Monday.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer, editing by Gavin Jones)

Top U.S. expert sees ‘glimmers’ social distancing dampening virus spread

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert said on Tuesday there were “glimmers” that social distancing efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus were having an impact, even though the nation was still in a very dangerous situation.

“We’re starting to see glimmers that that is actually having some dampening effect,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci told CNN in an interview. “But that does not take away from the seriousness … We clearly are seeing cases going up.”

Fauci’s comments came after the United States endured its deadliest day yet on Monday with 575 coronavirus-related fatalities. U.S. officials want to build hundreds of temporary hospitals across the country as existing medical centers have come under siege from the coronavirus outbreak.

The number of U.S. dead has now climbed past 3,000, more than the number who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections rose to more than 163,000, according to a Reuters tally of official U.S. statistics.

Fauci cautioned that, while stay-at-home restrictions were starting to produce some results, Americans remained at risk.

“We clearly are seeing cases going up. People in New York

are in a difficult situation,” he said. “We are still in a very difficult situation. We hope and I believe it will happen, that we may start seeing it turn around, but we haven’t seen it yet.

“We really have to hang in there and abide by the mitigation strategies. We do believe it’s working.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Tim Ahmann; editing by Susan Heavey and Bill Berkrot)

UK coronavirus death toll rises to 1,408

LONDON (Reuters) – The number of people who have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the United Kingdom rose to 1,408, according to figures released on Monday, an increase of 180, a smaller rise than the previous set of numbers.

The figures are accurate up to 17:00 local time on March 29.

The previous increase saw the death toll rise by 209.

There are a total of 22,141 positive cases as of 0900 local time on March 30, the health ministry said.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas and Paul Sandle; editing by Stephen Addison)