Coronavirus Live Updates: Scientists Warn the Virus Could Kill Up to 240,000 Americans

Coronavirus Live Updates: Scientists Warn the Virus Could Kill Up to 240,000 Americans thumbnail
The U.S. has more detected cases than any other country, with New York at the epicenter of the American outbreak. President Trump warned of “hard days that lie ahead” as governors scrambled to try and slow the spread in their states.Right NowThe Supreme Court in India is forcing journalists to parrot the government’s message on…

The U.S. has more detected cases than any other country, with New York at the epicenter of the American outbreak. President Trump warned of “hard days that lie ahead” as governors scrambled to try and slow the spread in their states.

Right Now

The Supreme Court in India is forcing journalists to parrot the government’s message on the outbreak, a move seen as an assault on the free press.

Image

Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

The United Nations warned on Wednesday that the unfolding battle against the coronavirus would lead to “enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict.”

As Americans steeled themselves for what President Trump said would be a “very, very painful two weeks,” the scale of the economic, political and societal fallout around the world came into ever greater focus.

“We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that is killing people, spreading human suffering and upending people’s lives,” the United Nations declared in a report calling for global solidarity in the fight.

“This is much more than a health crisis,” the report added. “The coronavirus is attacking societies at their core.”

With more than 30,000 dead across Europe and the virus still spreading ferociously, millions across the continent resigned themselves to hunkering down for weeks more, and possibly months.

Britain, France and Spain all experienced their highest death tolls on Tuesday.

At the White House, the scientists charged with leading the battle against the virus made it clear that there were two distinctly different campaigns underway in the United States.

One was taking place in the New York metropolitan region, where more than half of the nation’s cases have been detected — the death toll in New York City alone surged past 1,000. More than 2,000 nurses, 500 paramedics and emergency medical technicians, as well as 250 ambulances from across the country, were converging on the city, joining the Navy and the National Guard in assisting the region’s front-line medical workers.

Adding to the warlike atmosphere, the home of the U.S. Open tennis championship in Queens was being turned into a triage center, and hospital tents were being set up in Central Park.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the nation’s coronavirus response, pointed to the exponential growth of cases in New York and parts of New Jersey as just the thing that national officials were trying to prevent in other parts of the country.

The charts — with multicolor lines representing the virus in each of the 50 states — looked like the maps used to track hurricanes. And as with the weather, there is a good deal of uncertainty in the predictions.

Dr. Birx said that there had been worrying outbreaks in other metropolitan regions, including Detroit and Miami, but that the second broad campaign at the moment was to keep the lines tracking the virus in the rest of the country from looking like those in New York and New Jersey.

The best tool at the government’s disposal, she said, remained strict adherence to social distancing guidelines.

Even if those guidelines are followed perfectly, officials said, the estimated death toll in the United States is 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.

A chorus of governors from across the political spectrum publicly challenged the Trump administration’s assertion that the United States is well stocked and well prepared to test people for the coronavirus and care for the sickest patients.

In many cases, the governors said, the country’s patchwork approach had left them bidding against one another for supplies.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York — whose younger brother, Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor, has tested positive for the virus — likened the conflicts to “being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator.”

The crisis has gripped the state with stunning speed. Thirty days ago, there was one detected case in New York City. By April 1, there were more than 40,000 infections, and 1,096 deaths from the virus.

Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that the numbers of cases and hospitalizations were expected to continue rising rapidly. The city’s need for equipment and medical workers remained vast and immediate, he said.

“This coming Sunday, April 5, is a demarcation line,” Mr. de Blasio said, zeroing in again on what he has called a critical date. “This is the point at which we must be prepared for next week when we expect a huge increase in the number of cases.”

President Trump officially called for another month of social distancing and warned that “this is going to be a very painful, very very painful two weeks” — even as he added that Americans would soon “start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going through a very tough few weeks,” Mr. Trump said.

He spoke on Tuesday evening at a news conference where the nation’s top scientists displayed to the public the grim models that showed how, even in a best-case scenario, an estimated 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die.

Mr. Trump, who spent weeks playing down the threat of the virus, congratulated himself for the projections, which he said showed that strict public health measures may have already curtailed the death toll. He suggested that as many as 2.2 million people “would have died if we did nothing, if we just carried on with our life.”

By comparison, Mr. Trump said, a potential death toll of 100,000 “is a very low number.”

The International Monetary Fund has declared that the world economy has now entered a recession and recovery is unlikely until 2021. As many as 25 million jobs could simply disappear and the world could lose some $3.4 trillion in labor income. More than 1.5 billion students are currently out of school or university, representing 87 percent of the world’s children and young people, and about 60 million teachers are no longer in the classroom.

That is just a sampling of the radical ways the virus and the fight to slow its spread are reshaping the world, according to a United Nations report.

“Covid-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, said on Wednesday.

The report stated that, “This is the moment to dismantle trade barriers, maintain open trade, and re-establish supply chains.”

“Tariff and nontariff measures, as well as export bans, especially those imposed on medicinal and related products, would slow countries’ action to contain the virus,” the study added. “Import taxes or restrictions on medical supplies need to be waived.”

The report called for “a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response amounting to at least 10 percent of global G.D.P.”

As the virus swept around the world, the first reaction of many nations was to retreat within their own borders, institute travel restrictions and nationalize the fight against the virus.

But the United Nations said that in this global fight, a global approach was needed.

And it is essential that developed countries immediately assist those less developed to bolster their health systems, the report found. Otherwise, the world faces the nightmare of the disease spreading like wildfire in the Global South, according to the report, with “millions of deaths and the prospect of the disease re-emerging where it was previously suppressed.

Putting even more pressure on a news media sector already under assault by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s Supreme Court released an order Tuesday night requiring news organizations to publish everything that the government says about the coronavirus.

The order read: “We do not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic but direct the media to refer to and publish the official version about the developments.’’

Anyone who creates a panic can be punished by up to a year in jail, the court said.

The Indian ruling echoes the actions of other governments, who have used the pandemic as a pretext to grab power or impose authoritarian restrictions.

Many lawyers and journalists in India denounced the order as an attack on India’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, at a time when many problems have cropped up from the Indian government’s severe response to the coronavirus.

The government has imposed the world’s largest lockdown, putting 1.3 billion people essentially under house arrest, ordering them not to leave their homes unless vitally necessary. Hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers have fled cities, marching hundreds of miles to their villages in long lines.

Karuna Nundy, a lawyer at the Supreme Court, said that the government had asked for a “de facto gag” on the news media and that the Supreme Court’s order means every outlet must carry the government’s version of events, though journalists can still present independent reporting.

India has reported around 1,400 coronavirus cases, relatively low compared with other countries. But many Indians fear that their weak public health system will be overwhelmed if cases begin to multiply. Some public health professionals say there are likely many more cases that have not been detected because of limits on testing.

Global desperation to protect front-line medical workers battling the coronavirus epidemic has spurred a mad international scramble for masks and other protective gear. Governments, hospital chains, clinics and entrepreneurs are scouring the world for personal protection equipment they can buy or sell — and a new type of trader has sprung up to make that happen.

The market has become a series of hasty deals in bars, sudden calls to corporate jet pilots and fast-moving wire transfers among bank accounts in Hong Kong, the United States, Europe and the Caribbean.

The stakes are high, and so are the prices. Wholesale costs for N95 respirators, a crucial type of mask for protecting medical workers, have quintupled. Trans-Pacific airfreight charges have tripled.

“It’s a global free-for-all, trying to get capacity,” said Eric Jantzen, the vice president for North America at Vertis Aviation, an aircraft and air cargo brokerage based in Zurich. “And the prices reflect that.”

The hurdles keep rising. On Tuesday, after complaints from Europe about shoddy Chinese masks and ineffective test kits, China’s Ministry of Commerce ordered manufacturers to provide further assurances that their products met standards.

World leaders are moving to get supplies, but they are still grappling with the vast scope of the problem.

China vacuumed up a big share of global supplies after the outbreak emerged in January. It imported two billion masks in a five-week period starting then. Now, China has become a major part of the solution. Already a giant in mask manufacturing, it has ramped up production to nearly 12 times its earlier level of 10 million a day.

A month ago, a cough was just a cough. Now, in the anxious era of coronavirus, a cough can be a crime.

Coughing that is directed at others is increasingly being treated as a type of assault in Europe and the United States. And in some cases, like when health workers or emergency medical workers are targeted, it can now be classified in some places as an act of terrorism.

George Falcone, a 50-year-old New Jersey man, was charged with making a terroristic threat after he intentionally coughed near a supermarket employee and told her he had the coronavirus. Margaret Cirko, 35, was arrested in Hanover, Pa., when she intentionally coughed and spat at a supermarket’s fresh produce after she said she was sick — the charges against her included two counts of terrorist threats and one count of threatening to use a “biological agent,” the Hanover Township Police Department said in a statement last week.

The police in Spain have in the past weeks arrested people for coughing at supermarket workers and at members of the public, and the authorities in Greece have taken similar steps against people accused of spitting at police officers, according to local media reports. In Britain, common assault charges have been leveled against people accused of coughing intentionally at others.

The Crown Prosecution Service in Britain said that those found guilty of coughing to threaten emergency workers, specifically while claiming to have Covid-19, could face 12 months in prison.

Greater Manchester Police, a force servicing an area in northwestern England, charged a 33-year-old man with assault after he coughed at a police officer last week, and the force said it had also charged a 14-year-old boy with assault after he coughed and shouted “coronavirus” at a 66-year-old woman on March 17.

Warrington Police, another force in northwestern England, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that a group of teenagers who had coughed at health workers would be prosecuted, as would their parents.

Max Hill, the director of public prosecutions in Britain, said in a statement last week that he was “appalled” by reports of people claiming to have coronavirus and intentionally coughing on emergency and other key workers.

“Let me be very clear: This is a crime and needs to stop,” he said.

While political leaders have locked their borders, scientists have been shattering theirs, creating a global collaboration unlike any in history. Never before, researchers say, have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single topic and with such urgency. Nearly all research, other than anything related to coronavirus, has ground to a halt.

Normal imperatives like academic credit have been set aside. Online repositories make studies available months ahead of journals. Researchers have identified and shared hundreds of viral genome sequences. More than 200 clinical trials have been started, bringing together hospitals and laboratories around the globe.

On a recent morning, for example, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh discovered that a ferret exposed to Covid-19 particles had developed a high fever — a potential advance toward animal vaccine testing. Under ordinary circumstances, they would have started work on an academic journal article.

“But you know what? There is going to be plenty of time to get papers published,” said Paul Duprex, a virologist leading the university’s vaccine research. Within two hours, he said, he had shared the findings with scientists around the world on a World Health Organization conference call. “It is pretty cool, right? You cut the crap, for lack of a better word, and you get to be part of a global enterprise.”

Dr. Duprex’s lab in Pittsburgh is collaborating with the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the Austrian drug company Themis Bioscience. The consortium has received funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, a Norway-based organization financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a group of governments, and is in talks with the Serum Institute of India, one of the largest vaccine manufacturers in the world.

Laundry, grocery shopping, even walking the dog is fraught with challenges these days. The key to accomplish any essential task is a little preparation, levelheaded thinking and a lot of hand washing before and after. (A few anti-bacterial wipes can’t hurt either.)

As the grim roster of the dead across Europe grows by thousands daily, the reports of young and otherwise healthy people succumbing to the virus have stoked grief across the continent.

In the past week, the deaths of a 12-year-old in Belgium, a 13-year-old in Britain, and a 16-year-old in France have drawn attention to the fact that, while it is rare for teenagers to become seriously ill, it can still happen.

Most fatalities are in older patients with underlying health problems, but they are far from the only victims.

On Monday, a 13-year-old in Britain, Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, died after being admitted to the hospital days earlier and testing positive for the disease.

A post on a fund-raising website set up by a family friend said that the teenager had no previously known health issues.

“Sadly, he died without any family members close by due to the highly infectious nature of Covid-19,” the post read.

A 12-year-old girl in Belgium died after catching the coronavirus, Belgian officials said on Tuesday, but they did not say whether she had other health issues before her illness.

“It is a rare event, but one that devastates us,” Emmanuel André, a spokesman for the Belgian coronavirus response center, said during a news conference on the spread of the disease.

“It’s emotionally challenging because it affects a child, and it also affects the scientific community,” Mr. André said.

“That’s it,” he said, visibly emotional as he ended the daily update.

French news outlets reported the death of a 16-year-old, named in Le Parisien only as Julie, as another victim of the disease.

“We must stop believing that this only affects the elderly,” her older sister, named as Manon, told the news outlet. “No one is invincible.”

Nellie Bowles, who covers tech and internet culture from San Francisco for The New York Times, wrote about her losing battle with screens.

Before the coronavirus, there was something I used to worry about. It was called screen time. Perhaps you remember it.

I thought about it. I wrote about it. A lot. I would try different digital detoxes as if they were fad diets, each working for a week or two before I’d be back on that smooth glowing glass.

Now I have thrown off the shackles of screen-time guilt. My television is on. My computer is open. My phone is unlocked, glittering. I want to be covered in screens. If I had a virtual reality headset nearby, I would strap it on.

The screen is my only contact with my parents, whom I miss but can’t visit because I don’t want to accidentally kill them with the virus. It brings me into happy hours with my high school friends and gives me photos of people cooking on Facebook. Was there a time I thought Facebook was bad? An artery of dangerous propaganda flooding the country’s body politic? Maybe. I can’t remember. That was a different time.

A lot of people are coming around.

Walt Mossberg, my former boss and a longtime influential tech product reviewer, deactivated his Facebook and Instagram accounts in 2018 to protest Facebook’s policies and negligence around fake news. Now, for the duration of the pandemic, he is back.

“I haven’t changed my mind about the company’s policies and actions,” Mr. Mossberg wrote on Twitter last week. “I just want to stay in touch with as many friends as possible.”

The emergency legislation enacted by Congress with support from Republicans and President Trump has intensified a long-running debate about whether the United States does enough in ordinary times to protect the needy.

After Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans spent the last three years fighting to cut anti-poverty programs and expand work rules, their support for the emergency relief — especially in the form of directly sending people checks, usually a nonstarter in American politics — is a significant reversal of their effort to shrink the safety net.

Those who support more government help for low-income families say the crisis has revealed holes in the safety net that the needy have long understood. It is a patchwork system, largely built for good times, and offers little cash aid to people not working. It pushes the poor to find jobs, and supports many who do, but offers little protection for those without them.

Most rich countries have universal health insurance and provide a minimum cash income for families with children. The United States has neither as well as higher rates of child poverty.

And to a degree that casual observers may not understand, the Trump administration has tried both to shrink safety net programs and make eligibility for them dependent on having a job or joining a work program.

But while Republicans have agreed to emergency checks, many did so reluctantly, thinking the safety net is already too large. The $2 trillion rescue package ran into last-minute delays last week when four Senate Republicans said the temporary increase in unemployment benefits was too high and would dissuade people from working.

Conservatives say the limits on public aid are a strength of the American system, and they credit work requirements for cutting child poverty in recent years to record lows. If anything, most would go further in extending work requirements to programs where they have been limited or missing, like food stamps and Medicaid.

The economists Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University and Hilary W. Hoynes of Berkeley found in 2018 that nearly all the growth in federal spending since 1990 had “gone to families with earnings, and to families with income above the poverty line.” They warned the imbalance “is likely to lead to worse outcomes” for the poorest children.

Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Iliana Magra, Austin Ramzy, Keith Bradsher, Andrew Das, Michael D. Shear, Elian Peltier, David D. Kirkpatrick, Kate Kelly, Peter Eavis, Mujib Mashal, Matt Apuzzo and Chris Horton.

  • Updated March 24, 2020

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      Experts are divided on how much protection a regular surgical mask, or even a scarf, can provide for people who aren’t yet sick. The W.H.O. and C.D.C. say that unless you’re already sick, or caring for someone who is, wearing a face mask isn’t necessary. And stockpiling high-grade N95 masks will make it harder for nurses and other workers to access the resources they need. But researchers are also finding that there are more cases of asymptomatic transmission than were known early on in the pandemic. And a few experts say that masks could offer some protection in crowded places where it is not possible to stay 6 feet away from other people. Masks don’t replace hand-washing and social distancing.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.


Read More