Coronavirus death toll in U.S. now more than 1,000

The U.S. coronavirus death toll topped the 1,000 milestone, as the pandemic’s mounting economic burden was illustrated by government data on Thursday showing a record number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits and hospitals struggled to treat a surge of infected patients.

Roughly half the United States was under “stay at home” orders to try to curb the spread of the virus, with the side effects of strangling the economy and unleashing a wave of layoffs.

As of 1 a.m. ET Thursday, 999 people had died of the respiratory illness caused by the virus, according to a Reuters tally of reports from state and local officials. One-third of those deaths were in New York state, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned hospitals could soon run out of beds and ventilators. The state accounted for nearly half the national total of some 68,000 cases.  

A running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University showed later Thursday morning that at least 1,046 people had died from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus

Anthony Fauci, head of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview that the virus could return for the next northern winter, and that experts could not predict this novel coronavirus because it was “unique.”

Patients wear masks while maintaining social distancing as they wait in line for a COVID-19 test at Elmhurst Hospital Center on Wednesday in New York City. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

“We hope we get a respite as we get into April, May and June. It is likely to come around next season because it’s a very vigorous virus,” Fauci told WNYC public radio in New York on Thursday.

Fauci called the acceleration of cases in New York “quite disturbing.”

Workers at one New York hospital posted social media pictures of personnel using garbage bags as protective gowns because they had run out of supplies.

Rural Georgia, Louisiana dealing with spikes

The rampant infections in New York City have dominated much of the national conversation about the disease. But far from the coasts, smaller communities are also preparing for things to get worse, as they have in Albany, Ga.

The largest hospital in Georgia’s mostly rural, southwest corner is rapidly running out of space amid the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the entire state. It was believed to have started when a person with the virus came into the region to attend a funeral.

“I can’t tell you how it’s going to be Friday, much less in the week after,” said Scott Steiner, CEO of the four-hospital health system that includes Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany.

At Phoebe Putney, intensive care beds are filled with COVID-19 patients and employees are hand-sewing masks to help stretch dwindling supplies.

Roughly 90,000 people live in Albany and surrounding Dougherty County. The virus’s impact has been outsized compared with the community’s population. Infections countywide have surpassed 100, including seven deaths, making it Georgia’s hardest-hit county outside metro Atlanta.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards gestures to a monitor featuring statewide statistics at a Wednesday news conference in Baton Rouge, La. Nearly 1,800 people in the state were confirmed to have the COVID-19 disease at that point, an increase of 400 from the previous day. (Melinda Deslatte/The Associated Press)

Smaller communities often compete against larger cities or states when it comes to buying the gowns, face shields or masks that are crucial to safeguarding hospital staff. In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards has repeatedly sounded the alarm about how his state has the third-highest rate of confirmed virus cases per capita while also noting the difficulty of getting supplies.

“I hope we can get to a different place nationally soon as to how [personal protective equipment] and ventilators are being managed because quite frankly, Louisiana cannot compete with New York and its purchasing power,” the governor said recently, noting that even New York isn’t getting what it needs.

In New Orleans, doctors and hospital officials are seeing an increased number of patients needing intensive care and working to avoid the possible overwhelming of their systems. Louisiana officials are considering housing patients in hotels and a convention centre in New Orleans.

North Carolina’s largest county, Mecklenburg, had 170 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday morning, and officials ordered all residents to shelter in place for three weeks after hospitals warned that the county had just hours to prevent the virus from overwhelming critical services. The stay-at-home order takes effect Thursday.

“We’ve done hurricanes and we’ve done tornadoes, and we are even prepared for all those kinds of physical things. But to be able to cope with something that’s unknown, that’s transmitted from within each other, it’s just very, very hard,” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said Wednesday during an online news conference.

Fed chair is listening to pandemic experts

Hospitals, laid-off workers and struggling companies will receive badly needed economic aid under the record-setting relief bill approved by the U.S. Senate late on Wednesday in a 96-0 vote. House leaders said they hoped to pass the bill on Friday, and U.S. President Donald Trump has said he would sign the bill into law.

Americans should receive direct deposits for financial aid within three weeks as soon as the bill is signed into law, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday morning in an interview with CNBC.  

Jobless claims soared to a record 3.3 million on Thursday, nearly five times the previous weekly record of 695,000 from the recession of 1982.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned that reactivating the economy would have to wait until the virus was under control, despite Trump’s stated desire to resume economic activity by Easter, April 12.

“The first order of business will be to get the spread of the virus under control and then resume economic activity,” Powell told NBC’s Today Show.

Danni Askini had to fight tooth and nail just to get tested for the coronavirus. Now she’s fighting to cover the cost of her treatment. 7:32

Powell said he expects economic activity “to resume and move back up in the second half of the year.”

“We are not experts in pandemic… We would tend to listen to the experts. Dr. Fauci said something like the virus is going to set the timetable, and that sounds right to me,” Powell said.

Most confirmed U.S. military cases are domestic

The U.S. military, meanwhile, has decided it will stop providing some of the more granular data about coronavirus infections within its ranks.

U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper outlined the plan in an interview with Reuters, saying that he wanted the military to keep providing broader data about infections in the armed forces, which rose by 30 per cent to 227 cases on Wednesday.

U.S. military personnel walk outside a new coronavirus testing center in the Staten Island borough of New York City on March 19. The vast majority of coronavirus cases among air force and navy personnel are located within the U.S., senior military officials said. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

But Esper, a former Army secretary, said he wanted some of the more mission-specific information to be withheld to prevent compromising operational security to perceived enemies.

“I’m not going to get into a habit where we start providing numbers across all the commands and we come to a point six, seven weeks from now where we have some concerns in some locations and reveal information that could put people at risk,” said Esper.

There has been a sharp increase in coronavirus cases among troops inside the United States, which officials tell Reuters have overtaken the number of cases among forces overseas in key branches of military.

The United States was home to about 85 per cent of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. air force, while the navy said roughly 90 per cent of its cases were in the United States.

Esper did not confirm whether the number of cases was higher in the United States or abroad but noted that commanders overseas have greater ability to impose restrictions on troops and their families.

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