NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York State, the epicenter of the US coronavirus crisis, set a new single-day death record for COVID-19 on Wednesday as doctors and nurses veterans expressed amazement at the speed at which patients deteriorated and died.
On Wednesday, the number of known coronavirus infections in New York State approached 150,000, even as authorities warn that the official death toll may underestimate the actual number as it omits those who perished in the House.
“Every issue is a face,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who ordered flags to be flown over half the staff across New York in memory of the victims.
“This virus has attacked the vulnerable and the weak, and it is our job as a society to protect the vulnerable.”
Doctors and nurses say older patients and those with underlying health conditions are not the only ones who present relatively well at one point and on the verge of death the next. It also happens to young and healthy people.
The patients “are fine, they feel good, then you turn around and they don’t respond,” said Diana Torres, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, the center of the country’s worst epidemic. “I’m paranoid, I’m afraid to leave their room.”
Nearly 430,000 cases of COVID-19, the highly infectious lung disease caused by the coronavirus, were confirmed in the United States on Wednesday afternoon, including more than 14,700 deaths. For the second day in a row, the virus killed at least 1,900 people in 24 hours.
Cuomo said 779 people had died in the last day in his state. New Jersey reported that 275 had died there. Both totals were one day higher than the previous day.
Despite the bleak numbers, Cuomo said the overall trends still look positive. Cuomo cited a drop in new hospitalizations and other data as evidence that New York’s social distancing restrictions “bend the curve,” helping to take some control over the rate of infection.
New York is one of 42 states where governors have issued “stay at home” orders and closed all non-essential workplaces.
While public health experts say such measures are essential to control the contagion, the restrictions have strangled the US economy, leading to widespread layoffs, upheavals on Wall Street and projections of a severe recession.
Cuomo said loss of life is likely to continue at current levels or increase in the coming days as critically ill patients die after prolonged access connected to ventilators.
Coronavirus deaths in the United States surpassed 14,700 on Wednesday, the second highest number reported in the world behind Italy, according to a Reuters count.
New York State represents more than a third of the American total.
Officials have warned Americans to expect an alarming number of coronavirus deaths this week, even as an influential academic model on Wednesday reduced their expected number of pandemic deaths in the United States by 26% to 60,000.
“We are in the middle of a week of heartache,” said Vice President Mike Pence during a White House briefing on Wednesday, but added, “We are starting to see glimmers of hope.” .
Dr. Craig Smith, chief surgeon at Columbia University Medical Center at Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, announced encouraging figures that suggested a trend reversal in the Wednesday edition of his daily staff newsletter.
There were more patient discharges than admissions for two consecutive days, he said, adding, “Hosanna!”
But that comes as cold comfort for some frontline healthcare workers, who told Reuters that they had treated patients while experiencing the symptoms of the new coronavirus themselves without being able to get tested.
In Michigan, one of the few hospital systems performing large-scale diagnostic staff screening, found that more than 700 workers were infected – more than a quarter of those tested.
The continuing shortage of test kits – even for those workers most at risk – is “outrageous” and a serious threat to the patients they treat, said Dr. Art Caplan, professor of bioethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine .
US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday in the White House that he would like to reopen the US economy with a “big bang,” but not before the death toll is down.
Trump did not offer a deadline, but his chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Tuesday that a resumption of trade is possible in four to eight weeks.
Louisiana “is starting to see the flattening of the curve” with the number of new cases of coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours – 746 – lower than in recent days, said Governor John Bel Edwards. Louisiana has been one of the nation’s hotspots.
California, like New York, has had one of its highest daily death rates with 68 people who died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, said Governor Gavin Newsom. The state may not see its infection curve flatten out before the end of May, requiring additional weeks of social distancing, officials said.
New York City officials said a recent increase in the number of people who died at home suggests that the most populous city in the United States may underestimate the loss of life.
“I think it is a very real possibility,” Cuomo said in his daily press briefing.
So far, the number of deaths announced in New York has only reflected laboratory-confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19, mainly in hospitals. According to the authorities, at least 200 people died every day at home in the city during the pandemic.
Pence warned that Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were “cities of particular concern” as possible future flashpoints of the epidemic.
Reports by Peter Szekely, Nick Brown, Jonathan Allen, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Maria Caspani, Brad Brooks, Susan Cornwell, Nathan Layne, Lisa Lambert, Stephanie Kelly and Gabriella Borter; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Written by Will Dunham and Bill Tarrant; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry