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Vigilance urged as outbreak shows signs of leveling off in New York, New Jersey

Reuters | Updated: 07-04-2020 05:50 IST | Created: 07-04-2020 05:50 IST
Vigilance urged as outbreak shows signs of leveling off in New York, New Jersey

Governors of New York, New Jersey and Louisiana pointed to tentative signs on Monday that the coronavirus outbreak may be starting to plateau but warned against complacency as the death toll nationwide topped 10,000 and the number of known infections surpassed 360,000.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said statewide fatalities from COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus, were up 599 from Sunday, on par with an increase of 594 during the previous 24 hours and 630 on Friday. The state's overall tally of confirmed cases grew by 7% from the previous day to 130,680. But hospitalizations, admissions to intensive care units and the number of patients put on ventilator machines to keep them breathing had all declined - signs the crisis may be leveling off, Cuomo said

"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 trend line formed when infections, deaths and other data are plotted on a graph. "If we are plateauing, we are plateauing at a high level." The tentative signs of progress sent U.S. stocks up sharply, with all major indexes closing at least 7% higher on the day. Despite Monday's bounce, the broad-based S&P 500 remained down more than 21% from its Feb. 19 peak, compared with its March low, when it was off 30 percent from its apex.

In neighboring New Jersey, the state with the second-highest number of cases and deaths, Governor Phil Murphy told reporters, "Our efforts to flatten the curve are starting to pay off." He cited a 12 percent day-to-day growth rate in confirmed positive cases on Monday, half the rate from March 30. All told, New Jersey has confirmed more than 41,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19. And Murphy warned that a relaxation of social-distancing and hand-washing guidelines would trigger a renewed surge in cases that could yet overwhelm the healthcare system.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards likewise expressed cautious optimism that efforts to contain transmission of the virus were working in his state, also among those hardest hit by the pandemic. "New hospital admissions are trending downward," he told an afternoon news conference. "But this will only become a trend if we keep mitigation efforts up."

The rates of increase also appeared to be slowing in the New York-adjacent state of Connecticut, where Governor Ned Lamont said, "Our healthcare system is bending but not breaking." To keep his state from back-sliding, Cuomo extended until April 29 an order to keep non-essential businesses and schools closed, and doubled the maximum fine for ignoring social distancing rules to $1,000.

At least one key analysis offered hope that the death rate was slowing in the United States. The University of Washington's research model - one of several cited by leading health authorities - now projects 81,766 U.S. coronavirus fatalities 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 American lives may be lost in the pandemic, even if sweeping orders to stay home are followed.

'PEAK DEATH WEEK' Despite the upbeat signs, a national U.S. health official said the country was entering what is likely to be its most lethal week of the pandemic.

U.S. fatalities, numbering 10,600 on Monday, were rapidly closing in on Italy and Spain, the countries with the greatest loss of life to date at more than 16,000 and over 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.

More than 90% of Americans were under stay-at-home orders issued by state governors in recent weeks, with South Carolina joining on Monday. Eight states have yet to impose such restrictions. Political leaders and medical professionals have voiced alarm for weeks over crippling scarcities of personal protective gear for first-responders and front-line healthcare workers, as well as shortages of ventilators, drugs and other supplies.

Citing the dire needs of New York and other states, California Governor Gavin Newsom said his state would loan 500 of its ventilators to the largely depleted Strategic National Stockpile of medical equipment. Deaths in New York reached 4,758 as of Monday - 45 % of the national total.

California still faces a projected ventilator shortage of its own next month. Newsom said California was in the process of procuring additional machines but had enough to spare for the time being. 'NEED HEROES'

In Michigan, the governor said three major health systems are expected to exhaust their supplies of face shields in less than three days, and surgical gowns in less than six. Medications administered to patients on ventilators are also running low, said John Fox, president of Beaumont Health, one of Michigan’s largest healthcare systems.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said a shortage of medical professionals was replacing a lack of equipment as the city’s main difficulty, with an additional 45,000 clinical personnel needed to get through April. New York City alone accounts for two-thirds of all coronavirus-related deaths in the state, the U.S. epicenter of the epidemic.

"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 a park, said Mark Levine, chair of the New York City Council health committee.

"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."


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