NEW YORK (Reuters) – Even as medical teams struggled to save an onslaught of gravely ill coronavirus patients and deaths hit new highs, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations seemed to be leveling off in New York state, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday.
New York was one of several states, along with the nation as a whole, to post their highest daily loss of life from COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the virus. A staggering 731 fatalities were reported in Cuomo’s state alone.
But early statistical signs the crisis might be peaking provided little comfort to weary doctors and nurses on the front lines of the outbreak – hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
“People are just so incredibly sick … incredibly sick in a way that I’ve never experienced or seen before,” said Jacqueline Callahan, 33, a New York City nurse who spoke to Reuters on condition that she not identify the hospital where she works.
“So every day is, honestly, the hardest day,” she said. “You just don’t know how it’s going to change, and you just hope it keeps getting better, but – you know – we haven’t turned that corner fully yet.”
In Wisconsin, the outbreak tested the determination of voters to venture out to the polls in the midst of a public health emergency after a series of 11th-hour court rulings forced the state’s presidential primaries and local elections to proceed as scheduled. [nL1N2BV2M
For the United States overall, the tally of known coronavirus infections approached 400,000 on Tuesday, with the number of deaths surpassing 12,700 in a record single-day jump of more than 1,800 nationwide.
New York state accounted for more than a third of all U.S. confirmed coronavirus cases to date, and nearly half of the nation’s cumulative death toll – 5,489 as of Tuesday.
But Cuomo said the rising tallies of deaths were a “lagging indicator” coming days or weeks after the onset of infections.
He pointed instead to slowing rates of coronavirus hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and ventilator intubations as signs social distancing measures imposed last month were working.
The governors of Illinois and Louisiana – two other hot spots in the U.S. pandemic – likewise paired reports of record jumps in COVID-19 deaths with data suggesting the contagion may be reaching a plateau.
The messages seemed calibrated to convey a sense of hope while urging the public to abide strictly by stay-at-home orders imposed by governors of 42 states.
“Let’s not get complacent,” Cuomo told a news conference. “Social distancing is working. … That’s why you see those numbers coming down.”
Across the country, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the infection curve in his state – the first to impose stay-at-home orders – was “bending but it’s also stretching,” with the virus outbreak there expected to peak in mid- to late May.
“The curve continues to rise, but now it is slower,” he told a news briefing.
In another glimmer of good news, the U.S. surgeon general, Jerome Adams, said on Tuesday the pandemic may end up killing fewer Americans than the range of 100,000 to 240,000 projected earlier by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The latest research model from the University of Washington – one of several cited by leading health authorities – has forecast U.S. coronavirus deaths totaling fewer than 82,00 by Aug. 4.
Adams, who is black, also acknowledged early data showing African Americans more likely to die from COVID-19, highlighting longstanding disparities in health and inequalities in access to medical care.
Public health steps to curb the pandemic have hammered the U.S. economy, with many businesses closing or scaling back while unemployment soars.
Trump reiterated at a White House briefing he wanted to reopen the U.S. economy soon.
“We want to get it open soon, that’s why I think maybe we’re getting to the very top of the curve,” Trump said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose city is the focal point of the state’s outbreak, said it was too early to declare a corner had been turned but cited some encouraging developments.
“The number of people showing up in our hospitals who need a ventilator – that situation has improved a bit in recent days,” he said.
Jose Gonzalez, a 30-year paramedic with the New York City Fire Department, said he found the outbreak terrifying.
“New York has been through very hard times and trying moments, but this is different. We are fighting an enemy we cannot see,” he said.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told a news briefing her city had gone from coronavirus cases doubling every one to two days to doubling every nine to 10 days.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, whose state saw coronavirus deaths jump by 232 to a total of 1,232, moved to clamp down further, saying he would order all state and county parks closed.
Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington. Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Susan Heavey, Lisa Shumaker, Peter Szekely, Daniel Trotta, Jan Wolfe, Stephanie Kelly, Makini Brice, Brendan O’Brien, Brad Brooks and Idrees Ali; Writing by Will Dunham and Steve Gorman; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman