The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

U.S. death toll from the coronavirus passes 3,700, as authorities say worst is yet to come

A body wrapped in plastic is handled by medical workers in personal protective equipment Tuesday at Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York. (John Minchillo/AP)

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic eclipsed 3,700 Tuesday, surpassing the body count from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and setting another dark milestone in a crisis that officials say will intensify in coming weeks.

Federal and state officials warned that statistical models predict the peak of virus-related deaths in America might not come until mid- to late April. That means until then, the casualties will mount rapidly as the covid-19 outbreak claims lives daily from coast to coast, with new hot spots potentially emerging as it spreads through urban centers and rural enclaves alike.

And even after the peak, the models show, the deadly virus will not simply vanish. More people will fall sick and die, just more slowly than before.

President Trump in February predicted the number of cases would soon “be down to close to zero” and more recently suggested government-imposed restrictions on movement could end by mid-April. During a more than two-hour news briefing Tuesday, he said that the nation must practice social distancing for the next month as “a matter of life and death.”

“This is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks, when you look and see at night the kind of death that’s been caused by this invisible enemy,” Trump said.

The United States recorded its first coronavirus fatality in Washington state a month ago, the leading edge of a viral spread that began across the Pacific Ocean. On Tuesday alone, the United States added more than 800 deaths nationwide to that grim toll. There have now been more than 185,000 coronavirus infections confirmed across the country — by far the most in the world.

Though the figures have been evolving, the U.S. death toll on Tuesday evening had surpassed China, where the virus began. Officials have predicted — and emphasized again Tuesday — that the virus could end up killing more than 200,000 Americans in even the best scenarios.

Coronavirus pandemic could kill 200,000 in U.S., White House warns

At a briefing Tuesday, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx showed a variety of alarming models that forecast what could have happened — and what could still happen.

One, which depicted a reality in which Americans took no mitigation steps, showed the possibility of 2.2 million deaths. Another, which reflected mitigation efforts, still showed 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.

“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” said Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, referring specifically to the 100,000-death figure. “Is it going to be that much? I hope not.”

Yet another graph showed how cases have increased in each state — with New York and New Jersey showing a significantly sharper incline than the other 48. Birx said it was the White House’s goal to “maintain this lower level of new cases” in those 48 states with aggressive social distancing and noted that some of the states with gradual increases were among the earliest affected.

Birx said she was heartened by data from Italy that showed its rate of new cases is slowing. That country, which Birx said is entering its fourth full week of trying to mitigate the crisis with lockdowns, has seen more than 12,000 deaths, the most worldwide.

“You can see that they’re beginning to turn the corner in new cases,” Birx said.

Fauci said officials were beginning to see “inklings” of success, particularly in hard-hit New York, though he still expects deaths to increase there. That, he said, is because officials must first reduce overall cases, which in turn reduces hospitalizations, which in turn reduces deaths.

“In the next several days to a week or so, we’re going to continue to see things go up,” Fauci said. “We cannot be discouraged by that, because the mitigation is actually working and will work.”

Birx and Fauci said it is impossible to determine now whether quicker social distancing measures would have tamped down the virus, because they would need blood testing to get a full picture of where it was circulating before authorities began issuing warnings.

“If there was no virus in the background, then there was nothing to mitigate,” Fauci said.

Coronavirus model touted by White House assumes social distancing will stay in effect through May

New York, so far the U.S. epicenter, announced an additional 330 deaths on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 1,550, and the deaths in New York City topped 1,000.

That marked the first time any state had reported more than 300 fatalities in a single day; that many deaths were seen nationwide on Friday. Three other states — Michigan, New Jersey and Louisiana — reported more than 50 deaths each on Tuesday.

Just fewer than 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, though importantly, thousands of first responders died because of illnesses related to their efforts during the crisis, and tens of thousands more are still being treated.

The pandemic has crushed Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average on Tuesday plunged more than 400 points, or approximately 1.9 percent, for the worst first-quarter finish of its 135-year history. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index also neared historic lows.

Political battles, meanwhile, continued to rage over the White House’s response to the crisis.

Trump suggested at the briefing that his impeachment “probably did” divert his attention when he could have been responding to the coronavirus, though he did not think he would have acted any faster. He said on Twitter that a $2 trillion infrastructure package should be part of Congress’s next response, reviving a 2016 campaign pledge to ramp up construction projects despite public health guidance that Americans should stay home and isolate themselves to the greatest extent possible.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) advised members that even the timing of their return to Washington remains uncertain due to the coronavirus outbreak and that members should be prepared to work through previously scheduled recesses when they come back.

Trump pushes $2 trillion infrastructure package in next coronavirus bill, saying it must be ‘VERY BIG & BOLD’

State leaders continued to express frustration about the lack of testing and medical resources, with some directing their anger at the White House

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said in an interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition” that Trump’s claim that lack of testing is no longer a problem is “just not true,” and that states are “flying blind” because they don’t have enough data to identify the full scope of the epidemic. Trump had told governors that he “hasn’t heard about testing for weeks.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) asserted that the federal government had forced states to bid against one another for needed medical supplies, such as ventilators, driving up the price. Then, he said, the Federal Emergency Management Agency joined the fray.

“It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator,” said Cuomo, whose brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, revealed Tuesday that he had been diagnosed with the virus. “And now FEMA is bidding on top of the 50. So FEMA is driving up the price. What sense does this make?”

Trump said states “shouldn’t be doing that,” apparently reversing his direction earlier this month that governors should try getting such supplies on their own.

Trump and Vice President Pence sought to highlight the aid the federal government has given to states, including sending ventilators, masks and even Navy ships to serve as hospitals. Trump said the federal government, though, is reserving 10,000 ventilators in its stockpiles despite states and localities clamoring for the lifesaving devices.

“We have to hold them back because the surge is coming, and it’s coming pretty strong,” Trump said.

McConnell claims impeachment ‘diverted the attention’ of Trump administration from coronavirus response

Americans remained mostly in stasis Tuesday, with numerous states having commanded residents to venture out only if their trips were essential. Walmart announced it would begin checking workers’ temperatures and providing them with protective gear. The Federal Bureau of Prisons announced it was keeping inmates across the federal prison system in their cells — with limited group gatherings for laundry, showers and using the phone — for a 14-day period.

Officials emphasized that such steps, while sometimes onerous, are necessary to slow the rate of infection and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Their models, they said, could be affected greatly by adherence to social distancing policies and the availability of hospital resources. One, in fact, assumed White House guidance on distancing would continue through May, though Trump so far has extended it through the end of April.

Scramble for medical equipment descends into chaos as U.S. states and hospitals compete for rare supplies

There was some evidence Tuesday that the public was at least partially heeding public officials’ messages. In a Gallup poll conducted Friday to Sunday, 83 percent of U.S. adults reported they had “avoided small gatherings of people, such as with family or friends.”

That was an increase from 68 percent a week earlier.

The acceptance, though, was not universal. On Monday, cameras caught New Yorkers crowding along the waterfront to watch the USNS Comfort naval hospital ship dock, prompting the city’s mayor to remind residents that if they go outside for nonessential reasons, they could face fines.

“That’s unacceptable,” Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said during an appearance on the “Today” show Tuesday.

Fauci said Tuesday on CNN that the White House’s coronavirus task force is considering advising more Americans to wear masks but that it is important to ensure “we don’t take away the supply of masks from the health-care workers who need them.”

Health officials say masks can have some benefit in preventing people from spreading the virus, though they also can have the unintended consequence of persuading people to abandon social distancing, which is a more effective measure. Trump said people should consider using a scarf to cover their faces.

“It’s not a bad idea, at least for a period of time,” Trump said.

CDC considering recommending general public wear face coverings in public

The experience internationally seemed to reflect that in the United States.

Britain, for example, recorded its largest single-day death toll — 381 — bringing the total number of fatalities there to 1,789. A separate batch of statistics published Tuesday found that the death toll relating to covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was 24 percent higher if the tally included non-hospital deaths. Similarly, officials in France reported Tuesday that nearly 500 people had died in the past day, bringing the country’s total death toll to 3,523.

Italy reported that another 837 people had died. Buildings across the country flew flags at half-staff in a sign of solidarity with families who have lost loved ones to the virus.

Cuomo noted that even when cases here peak, they will still “have to come down the other side of the mountain.”

“Calibrate yourself and your expectations,” he said, “so you’re not disappointed every time you get up.”

Karla Adam, Lateshia Beachum, Max Bearak, Jacob Bogage, Scott Clement, Erin Cox, Marisa Iati, Meryl Kornfield, Shibani Mahtani, Siobhán O’Grady, Felicia Sonmez, Jeff Stein, Taylor Telford and John Wagner contributed to this report. Adam reported from London.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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