(HealthDay News) — As the number of U.S. coronavirus cases surged past 200,000 and deaths neared 5,000 on Wednesday, Americans braced for bad news on unemployment claim numbers due out Thursday morning.
Several estimates put the unemployment claims figure at roughly 5 million, the Washington Post reported. That would come on top of the more than 3 million claims reported last week.
As the troubling numbers climbed, state officials across the country said they were running out of face masks, gloves and other protective equipment amid reports that the federal government’s emergency medical supply stockpile was rapidly dwindling, the Washington Post reported.
While Vice President Mike Pence warned that America’s situation is most comparable to Italy’s massive struggle with the virus during a Wednesday media briefing, President Donald Trump held out the possibility of potential flight restrictions between hard-hit areas of the United States, the Post reported. However, he noted that it would be difficult to entirely suspend air travel.
“I am looking where flights are going into hot spots,” Trump said during the media briefing.
Such measures may be needed, as the White House coronavirus task force delivered a particularly grim statistic to Americans on Tuesday: The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could climb to 240,000, even with social distancing policies in place.
During a media briefing, Trump warned citizens to brace for a “hell of a bad two weeks,” the Associated Press reported.
“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump said.
“This is going to be one of the roughest two or three weeks we’ve ever had in our country. We’re going to lose thousands of people.”
Still, public health officials suggested that number could drop if everyone followed national social distancing guidelines to the letter.
“We really believe we can do a lot better than that,” task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said during the Tuesday media briefing.
“There’s no magic bullet,” Birx said. “There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors. Each of our behaviors, translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic.”
The death toll in the United States reached 4,800 on Thursday and it continued to outpace other nations with more than 200,000 confirmed infections, the New York Times reported.
New York City struggles with cases
New York remains the hardest hit area of the country. Nearly 2,400 people have died in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut half the national total, the Post reported. More than 1,300 of those deaths were in New York City.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that 12,000 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized across New York State and more than 3,000 were in intensive care. Though the health care system has not yet reached capacity, but Cuomo said he expected that moment to come in seven to 21 days, the Post reported.
Meanwhile, the leaders of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., issued stay-at-home orders on Monday for the more than 15.2 million residents of those three states, the Post reported.
While all three jurisdictions had already banned gatherings, closed businesses and schools, and urged people to stay home, the new orders are mandatory and breaking them could include fines and potential jail time.
In the face of rapidly rising coronavirus case numbers and deaths, Trump on Sunday backed down on plans to re-open the country by Easter — instead extending strict social distancing guidelines for the country to April 30.
“During this period, it’s very important that everyone strongly follow the guidelines. Have to follow the guidelines,” Trump said during a media briefing Sunday afternoon. “Therefore, we will be extending our guidelines to April 30 to slow the spread.”
Birx added that without any social distancing measures, the same computer models project that nearly 2 million Americans could die from COVID-19.
As the U.S. economy continues to falter, Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package into law last Friday.
The legislation will send $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, along with $500 per child. It will also give an additional 13 weeks in unemployment aid and a four-month enhancement of jobless benefits, the New York Times reported.
Hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic will also get $100 billion, the Times reported.
The help comes not a moment too soon, as more than 294 million Americans in 37 states have been ordered by their state’s governors to stay home, the Times reported Thursday.
New York state is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with at least 83,889 cases and 1,941 deaths, according to the Times.
Things are particularly dire in New York City, as hospitals there have become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and now face a shortage of many medical supplies, the Times reported.
More than 2,000 nurses, along with 500 paramedics and emergency medical technicians, were joining the U.S. Navy and the National Guard to help New York’s health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, the home of the U.S. Open in Queens was being turned into a triage center, and hospital tents were being set up in Central Park, the newspaper reported.
Cases are just starting to spike elsewhere, particularly in the South: Louisiana, Florida and Georgia are facing alarming increases, with 18,937 cases and 527 deaths reported in those three states alone, the Times reported Thursday.
Some health officials are warning that parts of Michigan and Illinois could be the next epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reported.
Around the world, countries have taken drastic steps to slow the spread of coronavirus: India ordered a 21-day shutdown of a country in which 1.3 billion people live, while Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach agreed to postpone the Summer Olympics in that country. The games will now be held in July 2021, CNN reported. Wimbledon, the famed tennis tournament held in England every June, was canceled on Wednesday.
The United Kingdom has also ordered a shutdown of its country, while Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, was diagnosed with coronavirus on Wednesday, CNN reported. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 last Friday, CNN reported.
As different nations wonder what is in store for their citizens in the coming months, one glimmer of hope has emerged: China has lifted travel restrictions on the Hubei province, which was hardest hit by coronavirus earlier this year. Public transportation was re-opened this week in Wuhan, the city that was the original epicenter of the outbreak, the Associated Press said.
The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Italy.
Italy has passed China for coronavirus cases, reporting 110,574 cases and nearly 13,155 deaths, a Johns Hopkins tally showed Wednesday morning. The virus has been especially deadly for older Italians. But the country has recently seen a slowing in the rate of new infections, the Times reported.
States race to contain virus
In the meantime, the public lives of Americans have come to a halt, as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted officials across the country to close, cancel or postpone any event or activity that might foster the spread of COVID-19.
New York, New Jersey and California have been hard hit by coronavirus cases in the United States. New York has almost 84,000 cases, New Jersey has more than 22,000 cases and California’s case count is nearing 10, 000, according to the Times.
However, signs of hope emerged in Washington state, where strict social distancing measures may be contributing to a leveling off in new cases, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, announced a 30-day stay-at-home order on Wednesday that tells nearly 21 million residents to stay indoors unless they are pursuing “essential services or activities,” the Post reported. Florida now has more than 7,700 cases, with 100 deaths.
State officials were still trying to decide on Wednesday whether to let the coronavirus-plagued cruise ship Zaandam dock in Florida after more than two weeks at sea searching for a port it can enter, the AP reported. Dozens on the ship have reported flu-like symptoms and four people have died. The company said eight have tested positive for COVID-19, but 2,300 other passengers and crew are in good health, the wire service reported.
Worldwide, the case count was 941,949 while the death toll topped 48,000 by Thursday morning, according to a Johns Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.