BY GABRIELLA BORTER
Coronavirus-related illnesses killed 630 people in the last day in New York state, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday, in the bleakest 24 hours yet for the U.S. state hit hardest by the pandemic.
The novel coronavirus has now killed 3,565 people in the state and the situation is particularly worrying on Long Island, east of New York City, where the number of cases “is like a fire spreading,” Cuomo told a news conference.
Health experts calculate that New York, home both to bustling Manhattan and hilly farm country stretching to the Canadian border, might be around a week away from the worst point in the health crisis which has killed about 60,000 people worldwide.
“We’re not yet at the apex, we’re getting closer … Our reading of the projections is we’re somewhere in the seven-day range,” Cuomo said.
“It’s only been 30 days since our first case,” he said. “It feels like an entire lifetime.”
The United States has the world’s highest number of known cases of COVID-19, the flu-like respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. More than 300,000 people have tested positive in the United States and over 8,100 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
White House medical experts have forecast that between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could be killed in the pandemic, even if sweeping orders to stay home are followed.
New York City alone accounted for more than a quarter of the U.S. coronavirus deaths tallied by Johns Hopkins University. Hospitals and morgues in the city are struggling to treat the desperately ill and bury the dead.
Crematories have extended their hours and burned bodies into the night, with corpses piling up so quickly that city officials were looking elsewhere in the state for temporary interment sites.
Because of the risk of infection, many people with critically ill relatives in New York City are unable to see their loved ones in their final hours.
A resident at New York-Presbyterian hospital said he and his colleagues have made several death notification phone calls every shift this week.
“There’s something sort of unquantifiably painful about telling a family their loved one died without letting them see them,” he said.
An emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the U.S. government has nearly run out of protective garb for doctors and nurses.
Cuomo announced that the Chinese government facilitated a donation of 1,000 ventilators that will arrive at JFK airport on Saturday.
“This is a big deal and it’s going to make a significant difference for us,” Cuomo said.
The dispatch of the ventilators was a result of a conversation on March 27 between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a source familiar with the discussions said.
The state of Oregon has also donated 130 ventilators.
Staying home — finally
Almost all Americans are under orders from state and local officials to stay home except for essential outings such as grocery shopping or seeing a doctor.
Areas of the country such as Florida and Texas that had been slow to lock down have started practicing social distancing and sheltering at home.
“We see what’s going on in New York now, we see that people are dying,” Rick Scott, a U.S. senator from Florida, told Fox News Channel.
“People are beginning to understand that the best way that we can slow the spread and actually avoid death is by this stay-at-home standard, going out only for essential services,” Texas governor Greg Abbott told the channel. He was among the last governors to issue a statewide order telling residents to avoid leaving their home.
There were still some hold-outs elsewhere, though.
Louisiana pastor Tony Spell said he plans to hold three services at his 1,000-member Life Tabernacle megachurch in a suburb of Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Palm Sunday this weekend, defying state orders against assembling in large groups.
“We’re defying the rules because the commandment of God is to spread the Gospel,” he told Reuters.
Louisiana has become a U.S. hot spot for the virus, on Saturday reporting a jump in deaths to 409.
The Gulf state’s largest city, New Orleans, where Mardi Gras celebrations in late February are believed to have helped spread the virus before social distancing orders were imposed, has become a focal point of the health crisis.
Patients in New Orleans are dying at twice the rate per capita as in New York.
Louisiana Governor John Edwards said he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday – and that he had been promised an additional 200 ventilators from the national stockpile.