New York in ‘race against time’ as death tolls jump in U.S. virus hot spots

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two of the main U.S. coronavirus hot spots on Friday reported their biggest jumps yet in COVID-19 deaths, with the number of fatalities so far in New York state alone comparable to the loss of life in the United States in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The figures showed that a wave of lethal coronavirus infections expected to overwhelm hospitals, even in relatively affluent, urban areas like New York, has begun to crash down on the United States.

New York City, the pandemic’s U.S. epicenter, has mere days to prepare for the worst of the novel coronavirus outbreak, said Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose city has suffered over a quarter of the 7,000-plus coronavirus-related deaths to date nationwide.

New York is in an “extraordinary race against time,” de Blasio told a news briefing on Friday, warning that the city desperately needs reinforcements of medical personnel, supplies and hospital beds. He renewed his call for the federal government to mobilize the U.S. military.

“We’re dealing with an enemy that is killing thousands of Americans, and a lot of people are dying who don’t need to die,” he said. “You can’t say, every state for themselves, every city for themselves. That is not America.”

Another hot spot, Louisiana, reported that the number of its deaths from COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, rose from 310 at noon on Thursday to 370 at noon on Friday. That marked the biggest 24-hour increase in fatal cases yet in the Gulf Coast state.

In New York, the U.S. state hardest hit by the coronavirus in sheer numbers of infections and lives lost, the cumulative death toll was on par with fatalities from 9/11, when nearly 3,000 people, most of them at Manhattan’s World Trade Center, were killed in attacks on the United States.

The 24-hour death toll in New York state was 562 by Friday morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, raising its total to 2,935 fatalities since the start of the outbreak.

“Personally, it’s hard to go through this all day, and then it’s hard to stay up all night watching those numbers come in … and know that you’re in charge of the ship at this time,” Cuomo said.

NEW ORLEANS A FOCAL POINT

Along with New York and Seattle in Washington state, Louisiana’s largest city, New Orleans, has emerged as one of the U.S. focal points of a health crisis that has forced much of the country’s workforce to stay at home to avoid spreading infection.

In New Orleans, where Mardi Gras celebrations in late February are believed to have spread the virus before social distancing orders were imposed, the outbreak has proven far more lethal than elsewhere in the United States, with a per-capita death rate twice that of New York City. Doctors, public health officials and available data suggest the Big Easy’s high levels of obesity and related ailments may be part of the problem.

A Healthcare worker arrives at Mount Sinai Hospital, during the outbreak coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in New York City, U.S., April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards called for residents to abide by rules requiring them to stay home and avoid social gatherings as the number of infections statewide surpassed 10,000.

“You are really helping, but for those of you who are not taking the crisis seriously, I am asking you to do a better job,” he told a news conference.

New York City and state have both complained that federal resources have not reached them quickly enough, but Cuomo said President Donald Trump responded swiftly to a request on Thursday to allow a makeshift hospital at a Manhattan convention center to accept COVID-19 patients. It was initially set up to handle only non-coronavirus cases.

New York City alone accounted more than a quarter of the 7,077 U.S. coronavirus deaths tallied by Johns Hopkins University as of Friday morning, while known U.S. infections, approaching 275,000 cases, made up about 25% of the more than 1 million cases reported worldwide. Nearly 30,000 U.S. cases were confirmed on Friday alone.

Many of the terminal patients were dying alone as medical staff forbade relatives to be with them in their final hours for fear of a further spread of infection.

‘PAIN, LONELINESS AND DEATH’

One doctor at a New York City hospital recounted arriving at work on Friday to learn that three of his COVID-19 patients had died that morning. A few hours later, he had intubated two others.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never even heard of something like this in the developed world,” he said, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the media.

Another physician, Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York’s Columbia University Medical Center, described the scene inside tents set up outside hospitals to help contain an increasing influx of patients.

“In those same tents, I saw too much pain, loneliness, and death. People dying alone,” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday night.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy ordered all flags lowered to half-staff for as long as the emergency lasts, saying his state was the first to take such a measure.

Fresh data on Friday highlighted the economic consequences of the public health crisis, confirming that hundreds of thousands of Americans had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Economists said actual job losses were far greater but had yet to be reflected in employment figures as much of the economy had only begun to shut down last month.

Slideshow (23 Images)

“What we are watching in real time is the greatest bloodletting in the American labor market since the Great Depression,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM in Austin, Texas.

The pandemic was posing side-effects even for law enforcement.

New York State Police on Friday reported a 15% increase in incidents of domestic violence in March, compared to the same month in 2019.

Reporting by Maria Caspani and Nathan Layne; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely, Lucia Mutikani, Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman

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