U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Could Reach 240,000, Task Force Warns

News Picture: U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Could Reach 240,000, Task Force WarnsBy Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporters

WEDNESDAY, April 1, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The White House coronavirus task force delivered a tough statistic to Americans late Tuesday, warning that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could climb to 240,000, even with social distancing policies in place.

During a media briefing Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump warned citizens to brace for a "hell of a bad two weeks," the Associated Press reported.

"I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead," Trump said."This is going to be one of the roughest two or three weeks we've ever had in our country. We're going to lose thousands of people."

Still, public health officials suggested that number could drop if everyone followed national social distancing guidelines to the letter.

"We really believe we can do a lot better than that," task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said during the media briefing. But all Americans must take their role in preventing the spread of coronavirus seriously, she added.

"There's no magic bullet," Birx said. "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."

As of Wednesday morning, there were 188,247 COVID-19 cases and 3,921 deaths, pushing the United States ahead of China's death count of 3,305, the New York Times reported.

New York City struggles with cases

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday asked health care workers in less hard-hit areas of the country to help battle coronavirus in New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

"If you don't have a health care crisis within your community, please come help us now," Cuomo said, CBS News reported. "Today it's New York, tomorrow it will be somewhere else. This is the time for us to help one another."

Cuomo's plea came the same day that the leaders of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., issued stay-at-home orders for the more than 15.2 million residents of those three states, the Washington Post reported.

While all three jurisdictions had already banned gatherings, closed businesses and schools, and urged people to stay home, the new orders are mandatory and breaking them could include fines and potential jail time.

In the face of rapidly rising coronavirus case numbers and deaths, Trump on Sunday backed down on plans to re-open the country by Easter -- instead extending strict social distancing guidelines for the country to April 30.

The president was apparently convinced by the data his public health experts have shown him, indicating that easing social distancing could quickly escalates the number of cases and deaths. So, he said all Americans must continue to avoid nonessential travel, going to work, eating at bars and restaurants, or gathering in groups of more than 10 for at least another month.

"During this period, it's very important that everyone strongly follow the guidelines. Have to follow the guidelines," Trump said during a media briefing Sunday afternoon. "Therefore, we will be extending our guidelines to April 30 to slow the spread."

Birx added that without any social distancing measures, the same computer models project that nearly 2 million Americans could die from COVID-19.

Economic help

In an unprecedented move last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged residents of three states surrounding New York City -- New York, New Jersey and Connecticut -- to refrain from travel to other states over the next 14 days, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

As the U.S. economy continues to falter, Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package into law last Friday.

The legislation will send $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, along with $500 per child. It will also give an additional 13 weeks in unemployment aid and a four-month enhancement of jobless benefits, the Times reported.

Hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic will also get $100 billion, the Times reported.

The help comes not a moment too soon, as more than 250 million Americans in 29 states have been ordered by their state's governors to stay home, the Times reported.

New York state is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with at least 76,030 cases and 1,552 deaths, according to the Times.

Things are particularly dire in New York City, as hospitals that have become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and now face a shortage of many medical supplies, the Times reported.

New hotspots

More than 2,000 nurses, 500 paramedics and emergency medical technicians were joining the U.S. Navy and the National Guard to help New York's health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, the home of the U.S. Open in Queens was being turned into a triage center, and hospital tents were being set up in Central Park, the newspaper reported.

Cuomo did offer up some good news last week, saying that social distancing measures might be working. The state's hospitalization estimations were down markedly, from a doubling of cases every two days to a doubling every four days.

And in New Rochelle, N.Y., drastic measures to contain a cluster there appeared to be paying off with a slowing in new cases, the Times reported.

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But cases are just starting to spike elsewhere, particularly in the South: Louisiana, Florida and Georgia are facing alarming increases, with 16,095 cases and 450 deaths reported in those three states alone, the Times reported Tuesday.

Some health officials are warning that parts of Michigan and Illinois could be the next epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reported.

Global crisis

Around the world, countries have taken drastic steps to slow the spread of coronavirus: India ordered a 21-day shutdown of a country in which 1.3 billion people live, while Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach agreed to postpone the Summer Olympics in that country. The games will now be held in July 2021, CNN reported.

The United Kingdom has also ordered a shutdown of its country, while Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, was diagnosed with coronavirus on Wednesday, CNN reported. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 last Friday, CNN reported.

As different nations wonder what is in store for their citizens in the coming months, one glimmer of hope has emerged: Last week, China lifted travel restrictions on the Hubei province, which was hardest hit by coronavirus earlier this year. Public transportation was re-opened on Monday in Wuhan, the city that was the original epicenter of the outbreak, the Associated Press said.

On Wednesday, Chinese officials reported just 36 new coronavirus cases, claiming that all came from overseas travel, the AP reported.

The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Italy.

Italy has passed China for coronavirus cases, reporting close to 106,000 cases and nearly 12,500 deaths, a Johns Hopkins tally showed Wednesday morning. The virus has been especially deadly for older Italians. But the country has recently seen a slowing in the rate of new infections, the Times reported.

States race to contain virus

In the meantime, the public lives of Americans have come to a halt, as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted officials across the country to close, cancel or postpone any event or activity that might foster the spread of COVID-19.

New York, New Jersey and California have been hard hit by coronavirus cases in the United States. New York has more than 76,000 cases, New Jersey has nearly 19,000 cases and California's case count is near 8,600 cases, according to the Times.

However, signs of hope emerged in Washington state, where strict social distancing measures may be contributing to a leveling off in new cases, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, officials in Florida have closed all beaches in the state after young spring breakers ignored social distancing guidelines and partied with abandon on the sand. Florida now has more than 6,700 cases, with 85 deaths.

State officials were trying to decide whether to let the coronavirus-plagued cruise ship Zaandam dock in Port Canaveral after more than two weeks at sea, the AP reported. Dozens on the ship have reported flu-like symptoms and four people have died. The company said eight have tested positive for COVID-19, but 2,300 other passengers and crew are in good health, the wire service reported.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has already said the state's health care resources are stretched too thin to allow the ship to dock.

Worldwide, the case count passed 874,000 while the death toll topped 43,000 on Wednesday, according to a Johns Hopkins tally.

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References
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, March 28, 2020; March 24, 2020, media briefing with President Donald Trump; CNN; Associated Press; The New York Times; CBS News
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