New York Governor closes city playgrounds to combat virus

(Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday he would close down the playgrounds in New York City in an effort to bolster social distancing and limit the number of coronavirus-related deaths, which are approaching 2,000 in the state.

The move expands on an announcement a day earlier by Mayor Bill de Blasio that he would close 10 of the city’s playgrounds where there had been people crowding in close proximity, threatening to further spread the virus that has hit the nation’s most populous city particularly hard.

“Young people must get this message, and they still have not gotten the message, you still see too many situations with too much density by young people,” Cuomo said. “So we’re going to take more dramatic action. We’re going to close down the New York City playgrounds.”

Cuomo added that open spaces in parks would remain available for people to “walk around, get some sun.”

The governor said that the number of coronavirus cases in his state had increased to 83,712, up from 75,795 from a day earlier, with deaths rising to 1,941, up from 1,550, by far the most in the United States.

(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. coronavirus death toll rises past 3,000 on deadliest day

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.

CHILLING NUMBERS

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)

Navy hospital ship arrives to help New York battle coronavirus

By Stephanie Kelly and Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship docked in Manhattan on Monday and a field hospital was going up in Central Park for coronavirus patients, as officials in New York City, the epicenter of a widening U.S. outbreak, pleaded for more help from Washington.

In an image that captured the hopeful spirit of the national mobilization against the outbreak, the USNS Comfort steamed into New York Harbor, accompanied by a flotilla of support ships and helicopters hovering ahead.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a prominent public figure in the battle to stop the virus, waited at a Midtown Manhattan pier when the converted oil tanker, painted white and adorned with giant red crosses, arrived at about 11 a.m. EDT.

The Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients, including those who require surgery and critical care, the Navy said.

Hospitals in New York City have been overrun with patients suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. New York state accounts for almost half of the country’s 141,883 cases and more than a third of its 2,477 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. The United States has the most cases in the world.(Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T)

Construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Central Park, and the new site was expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

The makeshift facility, provided by Mount Sinai Health Systems and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, will not take walk-ins, and admissions and transfers will be managed by Mount Sinai, de Blasio said.

De Blasio, among a growing chorus of officials who have voiced frustration at the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis, said the death toll in the city would rise soon if Washington did not provide more medical supplies and assistance.

“If we don’t get more consistent federal help in a growing crisis, there’s a danger we start to lose lives that could have been saved,” the New York City mayor said in an interview with CNN. “Sunday is D-Day, we need help by Sunday.”

(Reporting by Dan Trotta, Maria Caspani, Barbara Goldberg and Stephanie Kelly in New York and Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Howard Goller)

CDC warns residents of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut against non-essential travel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday warned residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut against non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.

In a travel advisory posted on its website, the agency said the warning did not apply to employees of “critical infrastructure industries” including trucking, public health, financial services, and food supply professionals.

(Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

U.S. could face 200,000 coronavirus deaths, millions of cases, Fauci warns

By Doina Chiacu and Tom Polansek

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. deaths from coronavirus could reach 200,000 with millions of cases, the government’s top infectious diseases expert warned on Sunday as New York, New Orleans and other major cities pleaded for more medical supplies.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated in an interview with CNN that the pandemic could cause between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths in the United States.

Since 2010, the flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 1918-19 flu pandemic killed 675,000 in the United States, according to the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/pandemic-preparedness.htm.

The U.S. coronavirus death toll topped 2,400 on Sunday, after deaths on Saturday more than doubled from the level two days prior. The United States has now recorded more than 137,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, the most of any country in the world.

Click https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA/0100B5K8423/index.html for a GRAPHIC on U.S. coronavirus cases

Jason Brown, who was laid off from his job in digital media due to the pandemic, said Fauci’s estimate was scary.

“I feel like it’s just growing, growing, growing,” said Brown, who is 27 and lives in Los Angeles, one of the epicenters of the outbreak. “There’s no vaccine. It seems like a lot of people don’t take it seriously in the U.S. so it makes me believe that this would become more drastic and drastic.”

Erika Andrade, a teacher who lives in Trumbull, Connecticut, said she was already expecting widespread deaths from the virus before Fauci’s estimate on Sunday.

“I wasn’t surprised that he said the numbers were coming. They were lower than what I actually expected,” said Andrade, 49. “I’m worried for my mother. I’m worried for the people I love.”

In New York, the usually bustling city was quiet except for the sound of ambulance sirens.

“It feels very apocalyptic,” said Quentin Hill, 27, of New York City, who works for a Jewish nonprofit. “It almost feels like we’re in wartime.”

New York state reported nearly 60,000 cases and a total of 965 deaths on Sunday, up 237 in the past 24 hours with one person dying in the state every six minutes. The number of patients hospitalized is slowing, doubling every six days instead of every four, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Stephanie Garrido, 36, a tech worker from Manhattan, said she has not left her home in 15 days, receiving her groceries by delivery. Too many New Yorkers have underestimated the aggressiveness of the virus as many people continue to socialize and congregate, Garrido said.

“Those people are in denial or just don’t think it will affect them. It’s extremely inconsiderate,” Garrido said. “People need to consider that this will be much longer term.”

The governors of at least 21 states, representing more than half the U.S. population of 330 million, have told residents to stay home and closed non-essential businesses.

Maryland arrested a man who repeatedly violated the ban on large gatherings by hosting a bonfire party with 60 guests, Governor Larry Hogan said on Sunday.

One bright spot on Sunday was Florida reporting about 200 more cases but no new deaths, with its toll staying at 56.

President Donald Trump has talked about reopening the country by Easter Sunday, April 12, despite many states such as New York ordering residents to stay home past that date. On Saturday, he seemed to play down those expectations, saying only “We’ll see what happens.”

Tests to track the disease’s progress also remain in short supply, despite repeated White House promises that they would be widely available.

Trump, who is due to hold a news conference at 5 p.m. ET (2100 GMT), bragged on Twitter about the millions of Americans tuning in to watch the daily briefings.

VENTILATOR SHORTAGE

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whose state has become one the fastest growing areas for the virus, especially in the county that includes Detroit, called the rapid spread “gut-wrenching.”

“We have nurses wearing the same mask from the beginning of their shift until the end, masks that are supposed to for one patient at one point in your shift. We need some assistance and we’re going to need thousands of ventilators,” Whitmer told CNN.

New York City will need hundreds more ventilators in a few days and more masks, gowns and other supplies by April 5, Mayor Bill de Blasio said to CNN.

New Orleans will run out of ventilators around April 4, John Bel Edwards told CBS.

Ventilators are breathing machines needed by many of those suffering from the pneumonia-like respiratory ailment and many hospitals fear they will not have enough.

Dr. Arabia Mollette, an emergency medicine physician at Brookdale and St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, say she now works in a “medical warzone.”

“We’re trying to keep our heads above water without drowning,” Mollette said. “We are scared. We’re trying to fight for everyone else’s life, but we also fight for our lives as well.”

Click https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html for a GRAPHIC tracking the spread of the global coronavirus

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Doina Chiacu and Chris Sanders in Washington, Karen Freifeld in New York, Tom Polansek in Chicago and Dan Trotta; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

White House-led airlift of urgently needed medical supplies arrives in New York

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A planeload of desperately needed medical supplies arrived in New York from China on Sunday, the first in a series of flights over the next 30 days organized by the White House to help fight the coronavirus, a White House official said.

A commercial carrier landed at John F. Kennedy airport carrying gloves, gowns and masks for distribution in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, three hard-hit states battling to care for a crush of coronavirus patients.

The airlift is a product of a team led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, which formed “Project Airbridge,” a partnership between large U.S. healthcare distributors such as McKesson Corp, Cardinal, Owens & Minor, Medline and Henry Schein Inc, and the federal government.

Representatives of those companies were to attend a White House meeting later on Sunday with President Donald Trump to discuss the effort, the official said.

The goal is to expedite the arrival of critical medical supplies purchased by the companies over the next 30 days, using planes instead of ships to reduce the shipping time.

“At President Trump’s direction we formed an unprecedented public-private partnership to ensure that massive amounts of masks, gear and other PPE will be brought to the United States immediately to better equip our health care workers on the front lines and to better serve the American people,” Kushner said in a statement.

Trump, accused of initially playing down the threat from the virus, has been searching for supplies to fill the mounting need for equipment to protect healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients.

Medical workers across the country are clamoring for equipment to protect themselves from infection as they deal with the flood of virus victims.

The first plane, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, carried 130,000 N-95 masks; nearly 1.8 million surgical masks and gowns, more than 10.3 million gloves; and more than 70,000 thermometers.

FEMA will distribute most of the supplies to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut with the rest going to nursing homes in the area and other high-risk areas across the country.

The flight from Shanghai, China, was the first of about 20 flights to arrive between now and early April, the official said. Additional flights will carry similar gear from China, Malaysia and Vietnam, the official said.

“It will be allocated based on need,” the White House official said.

Involved in the effort are the FEMA transportation task force as well as officials at both the U.S. embassy in China as well as the State Department’s East-Asia Pacific team, the official said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Wallis)

Pentagon eyes Chicago, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana as coronavirus spreads

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military is watching coronavirus infection trends in Chicago, Michigan, Florida and Louisiana with concern as it weighs where else it may need to deploy, after boosting aid to New York, California and Washington, a top general said on Friday.

Air Force General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military was doing its own analysis as well as looking at data on infections compiled elsewhere in the government.

“There’s a certain number of places where we have concerns and they’re: Chicago, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana,” Hyten told a group of reporters, when asked where field hospitals could head next.

“Those are the areas that we’re looking at and trying to figure out where to go next.”

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States reached 100,040 on Friday, the highest number in the world, a Reuters tally showed.

The Army Corps of Engineers said on Friday it was aiming to provide facilities for 3,000 people with the coronavirus at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center by April 24 for about $75 million.

Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, the Corps’ commander, said the Corps was looking at potentially converting 114 facilities in the United States into hospitals.

Asked about Hyten’s remarks, Semonite said he continued to be concerned about Michigan, Florida and Louisiana and had spoken with the governor of Louisiana. He said there could be a high demand for medical resources in Florida because of the aging population and added the Corps was developing options for the state.

STRAINS ON MILITARY

The military is already deploying field hospitals to Seattle and New York. A Navy hospital ship arrived on Friday in Los Angeles and another one is expected to reach New York City on Monday, where Hyten said the city was still dredging the harbor to allow the massive ship to dock.

Each ship has a capacity of about 1,000 beds and would not treat coronavirus patients, instead taking pressure off overwhelmed civilian hospitals.

But Hyten cautioned that the U.S. military only had limited medical capacity in the United States and, at some point, it would have to tap the reserve forces — while guarding against drawing medical staff away from civilian facilities.

President Donald Trump on Friday signed an executive order authorizing the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to call up reservists.

“We made a decision about five or six years ago that we would downsize our military (health care) capabilities in the United States … to only really focus on our deployed requirements,” Hyten said.

He estimated that the military only had 1,329 adult hospital beds staffed at any one time in the United States.

“We’re digging into the active duty force really heavily,” he said. “So the next thing that we’re going to need is to look into the reserves.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

One ventilator, two patients: New York hospitals shift to crisis mode

By Jonathan Allen and Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) – At least one New York hospital has begun putting two patients on a single ventilator machine, an experimental crisis-mode protocol some doctors worry is too risky but others deemed necessary as the coronavirus outbreak strains medical resources.

The coronavirus causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19 that in severe cases can ravage the lungs. It has killed at least 281 people over a few weeks in New York City, which is struggling with one of the largest caseloads in the world at nearly 22,000 confirmed cases.

A tool of last resort that involves threading a tube down a patient’s windpipe, a mechanical ventilator can sustain a person who can no longer breathe unaided. The city only has a few thousand and is trying to find tens of thousands more.

Dr. Craig Smith, surgeon-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, wrote in a newsletter to staff that anesthesiology and intensive care teams had worked “day and night” to get the split-ventilation experiment going.

By Wednesday, he wrote, there were “two patients being carefully managed on one ventilator.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who says his staff is struggling to find enough machines on the market, has touted the adaptation as a potential life-saver. “It’s not ideal,” he told reporters, “but we believe it’s workable.”

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which regulates medical device manufacturers, gave emergency authorization on Tuesday allowing ventilators to be modified using a splitter tube to serve multiple COVID-19 patients, though manufacturers still must share safety information with regulators.

Some medical associations oppose the unproven method.

On Thursday, the Society of Critical Care Medicine, the American Association for Respiratory Care and four other practitioner groups issued a joint statement saying the practice “should not be attempted because it cannot be done safely with current equipment.”

It is difficult enough to fine-tune a ventilator to keep alive even one patient with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), the statement said; sharing it across multiple patients would worsen outcomes for all. They proposed doctors instead choose the one patient per ventilator deemed most likely to survive.

At Columbia, Smith noted that they could not split a ventilator across just any two COVID-19 patients, but were only pairing patients with sufficiently similar respiratory needs.

Across Manhattan, Mount Sinai Hospital told staff in an email that officials were “working to figure out” whether they could split ventilators. The hospital has ordered the necessary adapters, a nurse there said in an interview on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Experts at Columbia pointed to a 2006 study where researchers, using lung simulators, concluded that a single ventilator could sustain four adults in an emergency scenario.

One author of that study, Dr. Greg Neyman, cautioned against the application in COVID-19 cases in part because the lungs themselves are infected. If one patient’s lungs were deteriorating faster, he said, it could cause imbalances in the closed system. One patient could starve for oxygen while the other patient’s lungs would get increased pressure.

“Unless they were very very closely monitored, such a set up may end up doing more harm than good,” Neyman wrote in an email to Reuters.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Nick Brown; Editing by David Gregorio)

New York takes new steps against coronavirus as impact spreads across U.S.

New York takes new steps against coronavirus as impact spreads across U.S.
By Maria Caspani and Susan Heavey

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – While the burdens of the coronavirus intensified across the United States, New York City on Wednesday took aggressive new steps to battle the crisis, closing streets and asking people to stop playing basketball and other contact sports in public parks.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said more than 30,800 people had tested positive for the virus in his state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, and more than 17,800 in New York City alone. The state has reported 285 deaths and roughly half the country’s reported infections.

State measures to control the coronavirus appear to be working as the rate of hospitalizations has slowed in recent days, Cuomo said. “Now that is almost too good to be true,…” he said. “This is a very good sign and a positive sign, again not 100% sure it holds, or it’s accurate but the arrows are headed in the right direction.”

He described street closures in New York City, where more than 8 million people live, as a pilot program and said sports like basketball would be banned in city parks, first on a voluntary basis as long as people comply.

With closures to vehicles, the intention is to allow pedestrians to walk in the streets to enable greater “social distancing” to avoid infections.

“Our closeness makes us vulnerable,” said Cuomo, who has emerged as a leading national voice on the coronavirus.

“We will overcome. And we will show the other communities across this country how to do it.”

Even as city officials struggled to contain the health crisis, the impact was increasingly being felt beyond the hot spots of New York, California and Washington state as Louisiana and others faced a severe crush on their healthcare systems.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued the latest major federal disaster declarations for Louisiana and Iowa late on Tuesday, freeing up federal funds to help states cope with the increasing number of cases of the dangerous respiratory disease caused by the virus that threaten to overwhelm state and local resources.

That brings to five the number of states receiving major disaster declarations from the Republican president. New York – the state with by far the most infections and deaths – was given such status last weekend as well as California and Washington state.

Louisiana, where large crowds last month celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans and other locations, reported a spike in infections with 1,388 total confirmed cases and 46 deaths as of mid-Tuesday, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Dr. Rebekah Gee, who until January was Louisiana’s health secretary and now heads up Louisiana State University’s healthcare services division, said that it was the Mardi Gras, when 1.4 million tourists descended on New Orleans, that fueled the city’s outbreak.

“It’s a highly infectious virus and Mardi Gras happened when the virus was in the United States but before the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and national leaders had really educated the public or even acknowledged the extent to which it was in the U.S.,” Gee said. “We had the president saying, ‘It’s just a few people, don’t worry about it.'”

‘FREAKING OUT’

New Orleans restaurant owner Ronnie Evans said everyone in New Orleans was “freaking out.”

“People don’t know what to expect or how long this will last. Everyone is worried about their jobs,” said Evans, 32, whose restaurant Blue Oak BBQ is just few steps from the city’s renowned Bourbon Street. The restaurant is offering takeout orders only.

“People are still coming out, but they’re scared. This is as bad as Katrina or worse,” referring to the hurricane that devastated the city in 2005.

The governors of at least 18 states have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population of roughly 330 million people. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the spread of the pathogen but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

A number of other U.S. states have also applied for major disaster relief status in recent days including Florida, Texas, New Jersey, North Carolina, Missouri, Maryland and South Carolina, as well as Northern Mariana Islands U.S. territory.

Nationwide, more than 53,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that is particularly perilous to the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions, with at least 730 deaths. World Health Organization officials have said the United States could become the global epicenter of the pandemic, which first emerged late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

World Health Organization expert Dr. Bruce Aylward told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program: “The U.S. is a gigantic country so it is very difficult to say something is going to happen right across the whole country. You are going to see this evolve differently in each part of the country.”

Trump on Tuesday said he wanted to re-open the country by Easter Sunday – far sooner than public health officials have said is warranted – but later told reporters he would listen to recommendations from the nation’s top health officials.

Wall Street on Wednesday was unable to sustain strong gains from Tuesday’s session as fears about the pandemic’s economic toll overshadowed optimism about sweeping fiscal and monetary stimulus to aid businesses and households.

U.S. lawmakers and the Trump administration reached a deal for a bipartisan $2 trillion stimulus package to help businesses and millions of Americans hit by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate was due to vote on the legislation on Wednesday. The House of Representatives was not expected to act before Thursday.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Brad Brooks, Maria Caspani, Stephanie Kelly, Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle and Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

Coronavirus impact spreads across U.S. as Congress readies aid

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The burden caused by the fast-spreading coronavirus accelerated across the United States on Wednesday beyond the hot spots of New York, California and Washington state as Louisiana and others faced a severe crush on their healthcare systems.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued the latest major federal disaster declarations for Louisiana and Iowa late on Tuesday, freeing up federal funds to help states cope with the increasing number of cases of the dangerous respiratory disease caused by the virus that threaten to overwhelm state and local resources.

That brings to five the number of states receiving major disaster declarations from the Republican president. New York – the state with by far the most infections and deaths – was given such status last weekend as well as California and Washington state.

Louisiana, where large crowds recently celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans and other locations, has reported a spike in infections with 1,388 total confirmed cases and 46 deaths as of midday Tuesday, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

“I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of state and local governments,” the state’s governor wrote the White House this week in seeking the declaration.

It was not immediately clear why Trump granted Iowa federal disaster relief and not some other states with many more cases. Iowa, where officials announced the state’s first death from the coronavirus on Tuesday, has reported 124 confirmed cases. (https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T)

A number of other U.S. states have also applied for major disaster relief status in recent days including Florida, Texas and New Jersey.

Nationwide, more than 53,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that is particularly perilous to the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions, with at least 720 deaths. World Health Organization officials have said the United States could become the global epicenter of the pandemic, which first emerged late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The governors of at least 18 states have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population of roughly 330 million people. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the spread of the pathogen but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

Trump on Tuesday said he wanted to re-open the country by Easter Sunday, but later told reporters he would listen to recommendations from the nation’s top health officials.

The closures have rocked the U.S. economy with global markets rattled by the pandemic. Wall Street on Wednesday extended its gains from the previous session as lawmakers and the Trump administration reached a deal for a $2 trillion stimulus package to help businesses and millions of Americans hit by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure in Congress would provide a massive infusion of aid, including $150 billion in state and local governments to fight the outbreak, and could be passed by the Senate later on Wednesday. The measure would still have to pass the House of Representatives before Trump could sign it into law.

The plan also includes loan programs for hard-hit industries and small businesses, direct payments of up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families, expanded unemployment aid and billions of dollars for hospitals and health systems.

National Guard troops have been activated to assist with the virus fight, while two U.S. Navy hospital ships have been directed to head to Los Angeles and New York City to help relieve the strain on local hospitals. The U.S. military is preparing field hospitals in New York and Seattle.

NEW YORK UNDER SIEGE

With more than 8 million people densely packed in New York City, New York has become the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak as the number of COVID-19 cases threatens to overwhelm its healthcare system.

The White House on Tuesday advised anyone who has visited or left New York to isolate themselves as the number of cases in the state swelled to more than 25,600 confirmed infections and 210 deaths.

Officials from the state have pleaded for more equipment and hospital beds and lamented a lack of urgency by federal officials in recent weeks as the threat grew increasingly dire.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and Trump have clashed in recent days over the federal government’s response. Cuomo has called for thousands of new ventilators and urged the president to utilize his federal powers to speed up manufacturing for critical health equipment.

Trump, in a Fox News interview on Tuesday, defended his response, adding: “It’s a two-way street. They have to treat us well also.”

On Wednesday, Trump fired back against the reported tensions, tweeting: “I am working very hard to help New York City & State. Dealing with both Mayor & Governor and producing tremendously for them, including four new medical centers and four new hospitals. Fake News that I won’t help them because I don’t like Cuomo (I do). Just sent 4000 ventilators!”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted from March 18-24 showed that 68% of U.S. adults agreed that the coronavirus was a serious existential threat, up 14 percentage points from a similar poll from a week earlier. This includes majorities of Democrats and Republicans, whites, minorities, young, old, urban, suburban and rural residents. The poll found that 33% now said they think it is very or somewhat likely they will be infected within the next year, up 5 percentage points from last week.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Will Dunham)