By Doina Chiacu, Maria Caspani
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Americans must persevere with social distancing now that their efforts are showing signs of slowing the spread of coronavirus, U.S. medical and state officials said on Thursday, as New York posted another spike in deaths while hospitalizations ebbed.
In a sign that the disease’s curve was flattening in New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said new hospitalizations fell to a fresh low of 200. But at the same time, the state recorded a record-high 799 deaths on Wednesday, for a total of 7,067.
“We are flattening the curve by what we’re doing and we’re flattening the curve so far,” Cuomo said, referring to the shape of a graph showing the number of new cases. “You can’t relax. The flattening of the curve last night happened because of what we did yesterday.”
Several officials have hailed the apparent success of mitigation efforts as reflected in death projections that have been scaled down to 60,000 from more than 100,000. Still, Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top U.S. infectious disease expert, said it was important that people continue to stay home.
“We’ve got to continue to redouble our efforts at the mitigation of physical separation in order to keep those numbers down and hopefully even get them lower than what you’ve heard recently,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CBS “This Morning.”
Stay-at-home orders that have closed non-essential workplaces in 42 states have drastically slowed the once-humming U.S. economy and thrown millions of people out of work.
With several state unemployment insurance offices deluged in recent weeks, 6.6 million workers applied for jobless benefits in the week ended April 4, the U.S. Labor Department said on Thursday. That followed 6.9 million jobless applications the week before, the most since the Great Recession of 2008.
In all, some 16.8 million American workers have applied for jobless benefits in the past three weeks.
Fauci, appearing on several morning television programs, affirmed that recent models showing fewer deaths than previously projected were evidence that social distancing and other efforts at keeping people apart were slowing the spread of the virus.
“So I believe we’re going to see a downturn in that, and it looks more like the 60,000 than the 100,000-200,000,” Fauci said on the NBC “Today” program.
A University of Washington model often cited by U.S. and state officials projects that COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by coronavirus, will claim 60,415 American lives by Aug. 4, with the peak coming on Easter Sunday this weekend, when it projects that 2,212 will die.
U.S. deaths due to coronavirus topped 15,700 on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally. Only Italy has reported more deaths. More than 432,000 U.S. residents had tested positive for the virus by Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
LOOK FINE, FEEL FINE
Veteran doctors and nurses have voiced astonishment at the speed with which some coronavirus patients were deteriorating and dying.
Patients “look fine, feel fine, then you turn around and they’re unresponsive,” said Diana Torres, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, the center of the nation’s worst outbreak.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said while the situation may not be as bad as originally feared, widespread transmission of the virus persisted and will continue to do so in the city for weeks to come.
“I think it’s going to be a long tough April, I’ve said for a long time, get ready for a long tough May,” de Blasio said.
Small businesses and workers, particularly in the service industries, have been bearing the brunt of the lockdown measures.
Outside Grand Rapids, Michigan, 22-year-old Jocelyn Ockerse, recently lost her job as a hairdresser while her husband, a drivers’ education instructor, also is out of work. Neither has been approved for unemployment benefits.
“We are struggling mentally and financially but if further restrictions slow this thing down and help save lives, then I’m all for it,” Ockerse told Reuters through Twitter messages.
Keith Howard, 60, said he has been relying on the local food bank and waiting for his unemployment benefits to arrive since he was laid off last month from his job as a cleaner at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“The only thing I can do is go about it one day at a time,” Howard told Reuters by phone.
Members of U.S. President Donald Trump’s economic team have been bullish on re-opening of the economy, however.
Asked on CNBC on Thursday whether he believed the U.S. economy could be reopened as soon as next month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “I do.” As soon as Trump “feels comfortable with the medical issues,” he said.
The federal government was doing everything necessary to ensure “that American companies and American workers can be open for business and that they have the liquidity that they need to operate their business in the interim,” Mnuchin said.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Maria Caspani, Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Nathan Layne, Stephanie Kelly and Peter Szekely; Writing by Peter Szekely and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Alistair Bell.