U.S. officials are increasingly confident they will avoid the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 coronavirus deaths that spooked Americans last week but warned Wednesday of a “second wave” of infections if folks get sloppy and start to go out before the end of the month.
The White House said Americans can beat dire forecasts by doubling down on good behaviors, even as key states reported their deadliest days of the pandemic.
“Soon we’ll be over that curve, we’ll be over the top and we’ll be headed in the right direction,” President Trump said. “Some terrible days ahead, but we will have some wonderful days ahead.”
Vice President Mike Pence told Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, specifically, to practice social-distancing so they don’t have to “endure” the type of pain that has hit other cities.
A model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which has been cited by the White House, projects roughly 60,400 deaths through early August.
While jarring, that’s down from the 80,000-95,000 deaths it projected earlier in April and graver predictions last month.
“I think we’re just doing much better than those numbers,” Mr. Trump said.
IHME researchers at the University of Washington estimate the number of deaths per day will peak on Easter, at about 2,200.
Coronavirus deaths occur at end of the infection’s arc, so the toll is mounting rapidly even as officials highlight glimmers of hope on the horizon.
More than 14,600 people in the U.S. have died, meaning the coronavirus has killed more Americans in several weeks than the H1N1 pandemic did in all of 2009, according to federal estimates.
Deborah Birx, the U.S. coronavirus response coordinator, on Wednesday warned that positive trends shouldn’t cause Americans to start congregating and dismissing federal guidance on avoiding crowds.
“If people start going out again and socially interacting, we could see a very acute second wave very early,” Dr. Birx said.
Underscoring fears of an extended outbreak, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday moved to postpone the primary election in his state from June 2 to July 7.
“Citizens exercising their right to vote should not have to risk their safety and the safety of others in order to make their voices heard,” said Mr. Murphy, a Democrat.
The action came a day after Wisconsin pressed forward with a chaotic primary election. The courts blocked a last-ditch effort from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to postpone it, though virtually every other state has moved to postpone their elections or sharply curtail in-person voting amid the outbreak.
Mr. Murphy reported a single-day high of 275 coronavirus-related deaths in New Jersey, bringing its total to more than 1,500.
It is the second-highest tally in the nation after New York, which reported another one-day record for deaths — 779 — on Wednesday, bringing its toll to an astounding 6,268.
Deaths in New York City alone now exceed that of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The bad news isn’t just bad — the bad news is actually terrible,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “That death toll probably will be this high, or near this high, or even higher, for the next several days.”
However, the governor said social distancing measures appear to be “flattening the curve” of transmission. Hospitalization rates are declining and, if that continues, the system should stabilize over the next few weeks.
“It’s not a time to get complacent,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We have to remain disciplined going forward.”
The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December and killed thousands in East Asia before spreading to every corner of the globe. The pandemic has upended normal life by forcing people to work and learn from home, watch church services online, and veer off sidewalks to stay six feet away from neighbors.
Mr. Trump is itching to get the economy revving again, even as he implores Americans to stay home until at least April 30.
“It would be nice to be able to open with a big bang,” Mr. Trump said. “I would say we’re ahead of schedule.”
Mr. Trump said he will rely on his experts before opening things up. Earlier Wednesday, he tweeted that people will mourn lost loved ones but he would like the country to put the pandemic out of their minds once the coast is clear.
“Once we OPEN UP OUR GREAT COUNTRY, and it will be sooner rather than later, the horror of the Invisible Enemy, except for those that sadly lost a family member or friend, must be quickly forgotten. Our Economy will BOOM, perhaps like never before!!!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Scientists say returning to normal will depend on the country’s ability to detect remaining cases and isolate those individuals, so the disease doesn’t flare up again.
Top Senate Republicans urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to leverage a part of the new coronavirus-relief law that extends free diagnostic and antigen tests to Americans.
“We are dealing with an issue of confidence. For weeks, Americans have watched 24/7 news coverage of the dangers of COVID-19. Even if the government says you can go back to work and back to school, many Americans may be reluctant to leave their homes,” Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Roy Blunt of Missouri said. “The availability of two types of free tests — one, a diagnostic test to determine if you have COVID-19, and two, an antibodies test to determine whether you have had it and are likely immune, at least for the short term — will give Americans confidence that it is safe to go back to work and school and restart the economy.”
Former President Obama weighed in on Twitter, saying social distancing is having an impact but the nation must plan for what comes next.
“Social distancing bends the curve and relieves some pressure on our heroic medical professionals. But in order to shift off current policies, the key will be a robust system of testing and monitoring — something we have yet to put in place nationwide,” Mr. Obama tweeted alongside a New York Times article about reopening the nation.
The newspaper published an extensive report making the case that Mr. Cuomo, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and other state and local officials were comparatively slow to act and come to grips with the scope of the problem in New York.
Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the paper that if the state and city had adopted widespread social distancing measures a week or two earlier, the estimated death toll from the outbreak might have been reduced by 50% to 80%.
Mr. Cuomo defended his state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak Wednesday, saying they weren’t late to the game and that if anything, he has been criticized for being too aggressive.
“No, no. I think New York was early and I think the actions we took were more dramatic than most and frankly were criticized as being premature,” Mr. Cuomo said.
“People thought I closed the city schools prematurely — that was the ongoing debate. Look, if anything in retrospect, it shows what we did is right,” he said.
As chief executive of the hardest-hit U.S. state, Mr. Cuomo has been the most prominent U.S. governor during the outbreak. He has received constant national attention and has had to bat aside speculation about his joining the 2020 Democratic presidential ticket.
He has received comparatively more attention than other state chief executives such as California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose early intervention in concert with localities in his state arguably prevented the scope of the problem from escalating into what the tri-state area is suffering through.
Mr. Newsom announced this week that his state managed to procure a monthly supply of a whopping 200 million protective masks for a state with close to 40 million residents.
That level of supply could allow California to distribute excess supplies to other states in need — a role many governors have said the federal government should play during the crisis.