(HealthDay News) — The United States passed China as the country with the most coronavirus cases in the world late Thursday, as the U.S. House appeared poised to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package to bolster America’s sagging economy.
The unprecedented legislation would send $1,200 checks to many Americans, create a $367 billion loan program for small businesses and set up a $500 billion fund for industries, cities and states, the Washington Post reported.
The help cannot come too soon, as more than 100 million Americans — nearly 1 in 3 — have been ordered by their state’s governors to stay home.
Nearly 86,000 U.S. COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, with 1,296 deaths, the Associated Press reported Thursday. New York is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with more than 37,000 cases and 365 deaths, the New York Times reported.
“We are in for a bumpy ride for the next 12 to 18 months,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told CNN. “If we are aggressive now about stopping things, shutting down, building up a test regime, we can then open up again …. and most places can go back to work. But only when we are ready. And we are nowhere near ready now.”
Despite the steep rise in U.S. cases and dire projections, President Donald Trump has said he would like to re-open the country by Easter, April 12, the Times reported.
“We can socially distance ourselves and go to work, and you’ll have to work a little bit harder,” Trump said. “You can clean your hands five times more than you used to. You don’t have to shake hands anymore with people.”
On Thursday, Trump tailored his message slightly, suggesting that strict social distancing measures might be eased soon in parts of the country where the virus is not spreading widely.
Most health experts have reacted negatively to Trump’s plan, however.
If people are told they can head back to work, commuting by bus or subway while thousands of new infections are confirmed each day, “the virus will surge, many will fall ill and there will be more deaths,” Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive medicine expert at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, told the Times.
Trump’s remarks also came in sharp contrast to actions other leaders have taken around the world this week: 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 until at least the summer of 2021.
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 also diagnosed with COVID-19 on Friday, the first head of state to do so, CNN reported.
Grim statistics pile up in the U.S.
Things are particularly dire in New York City, where one hospital in Queens saw 13 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, the Times reported.
Doctors scrambled as the number of hospitalized patients jumped by 40 percent in just 24 hours, to 5,327 patients, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday. Of those patients, 1,290 were in intensive care, the Times reported.
Citywide, all of the more than 1,800 intensive care beds are expected to be full by Friday, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing memo obtained by Times.
Cuomo did offer up some good news on Wednesday, saying that social distancing measures might be working. This week, the state’s hospitalization estimations were down markedly, from a doubling of cases every two days to a doubling every four days.
But cases are just starting to spike elsewhere, particularly in the South: Louisiana, Florida and Georgia are facing alarming increases, with more than 4,700 cases and 125 deaths reported in those three states alone, CBS News reported.
New Orleans now has more cases than Los Angeles County, which is 25 times larger. In just over two weeks, the number of cases in Louisiana has skyrocketed to almost 1,800, CBS News reported.
Hot spots, and areas relatively untouched
And some health officials are warning that parts of Michigan and Illinois areas could be the next epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reported.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said Thursday that health officials are concerned that counties like Wayne County, Mich., and Cook County, Ill., are showing a “more rapid increase” in cases.
However, Birx also noted that 40% of the country has “extraordinary low rates of coronavirus,” with roughly 19 states reporting fewer than 200 cases, CNN reported.
Along with Cuomo, at least 21 other governors have announced stay-at-home orders in states including California, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, Washington state and Hawaii, CNN reported.
On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that all residents coming into Florida from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut airports quarantine themselves for 14 days.
Many cases in places like Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach have been tied to travelers arriving from New York, the Times reported.
National public health officials quickly followed suit with a recommendation of their own: Birx told reporters during a media briefing Tuesday night that people leaving New York City should quarantine themselves for two weeks because of the spike in infections there.
Economic help, medical supplies coming
On Sunday, Trump also approved disaster declarations for regions hit hardest by the pandemic, activating the National Guard in three states.
The declarations will bring supplies, medical stations and naval hospital ships to New York, Washington state and California, CNN reported.
Trump has also invoked a wartime law that would allow the federal government to direct companies to produce medical supplies if needed.
As countries around the world wonder what is in store for their citizens in the coming months, one glimmer of hope has emerged: On Tuesday, China lifted travel restrictions on the Hubei province, which was hardest hit by coronavirus earlier this year. And China’s National Health Commission said Thursday that its 67 new COVID-19 cases were all in recent arrivals from abroad, the AP reported. On Saturday, China will begin a ban on foreign travelers to its country, to avoid possible re-infections there, the wire service said.
The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Italy.
On Wednesday, Italy reported more than 80,500 cases and 8,000 deaths, by far the highest of any country, the AP reported. The virus has been especially deadly for old Italians. But the country has seen a slowing in the rate of new infections for the fourth day in a row, the Timesreported.
State, local officials continue shutdowns
Meanwhile, state and local officials across the country continued to order the temporary closings of bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
Last Monday, the Trump administration ramped up its coronavirus “social distancing” advisory to now discourage gatherings of 10 or more people.
In addition to advising against group gatherings of more than 10 people, Trump also discouraged eating and drinking at restaurants, bars and food courts, and any discretionary travel.
The president also said his administration is doubling down on testing for COVID-19. Stores such as Walmart, CVS and Walgreens have set aside part of their parking lots for drive-through testing.
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, Washington state and California have been hard hit by coronavirus cases in the United States. New York has 37,258 cases, Washington state has 3,207 cases and California has 3,006.
Meanwhile, officials in Florida has closed most beaches in the state after young spring breakers ignored social distancing guidelines and partied with abandon on the sand. That state now has 2,484 cases, with 29 deaths.
Worldwide, the case count approached 550,000 while the death toll neared 25,000 on Friday, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.