New York on verge of becoming next virus hot spot
NEW YORK — An order requiring most New Yorkers to stay home from work and not gather in groups outside their families was set to go into effect Sunday in an attempt to slow a pandemic that has swept across the globe and threatened to make the state one of the world’s biggest coronavirus hot spots.
Meanwhile, officials worldwide warned of a critical shortage of medical supplies.
The order to close all nonessential businesses in New York state and require nonessential workers to stay home was set to officially take effect 8 p.m. Sunday, but officials have been urging people to begin implementing it since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced it Friday.
He and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also called for getting everything from masks to gowns, as well as doctors and other medical workers to New York.
De Blasio on Sunday asked President Donald Trump to have the U.S. military take over the logistics of making and distributing medical supplies. Cuomo warned that hard-hit states are outbidding one another for ever scarcer supplies, sometimes doubling or tripling prices.
“I can’t be blunt enough. If the president doesn’t act, people will die who could have lived otherwise,” de Blasio told NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
The top infectious disease expert in the U.S. promised New York City and the other hardest-hit places that critical supplies will not run out.
The medical supplies are about to start pouring in and will be “clearly directed to those hot spots that need it most,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”
Hours later, Trump said he had ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ship mobile hospital centers to Washington, California and New York. For New York, that would mean another 1,000 hospital beds.
“No American is alone as long as we are united,” Trump said.
Meanwhile, negotiators from Congress and the White House resumed top-level talks on a $1.4 trillion economic rescue package, urged by Trump to strike a deal to steady a nation upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Trump appeared confident about the nation’s ability to defeat the pandemic soon even as health leaders acknowledged that the U.S. was nowhere near the peak of the outbreak.
Global pandemic: Worldwide, more than 316,000 people have been infected, and nearly 13,600 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. About 150 countries now have confirmed cases.
There were more than 27,000 cases across the U.S. and 375 deaths. New York state accounted for 114 deaths, mostly in New York City, where there were more than 4,400 infections, but officials warned the concentration may be more because of increased testing.
On Sunday, New York passed Washington state, the initial epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, in the number of fatal cases. Only China, Italy and Spain have reported more cases than the U.S.
Cuomo spent Saturday scouting places to build makeshift hospitals and told existing hospitals to figure out ways to increase their current beds by at least 50% because predictions from health officials are that COVID-19 cases needing advanced medical care will top 100,000 in New York state in the next month or so. Such a deluge could overwhelm hospitals in a city that has about 53,000 beds.
Still gathering: In the face of an invisible danger, New Yorkers were still gathering in large groups in parks, playing basketball or having block parties. Similar scenes played out around the country.
Cuomo expressed exasperation Sunday that people were still ignoring orders to stay away from one another, saying he’s still seeing people clustering in groups acting like it was just another spring weekend.
“It’s insensitive. It’s arrogant. It’s self-destructive. It’s disrespectful to other people,” Cuomo said. “It has to stop, and it has to stop now.”
He asked local officials to figure out a plan that could include closing parks, closing playgrounds or opening streets, typically teeming with traffic but now quiet, only to pedestrians.
Along with the staggering numbers, there were individual reminders Sunday of the reach of the virus. Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky became the first U.S. senator to announce he was infected. Opera superstar Plácido Domingo announced he has COVID-19, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel put herself into quarantine after a doctor who gave her a vaccine tested positive.
Death tolls soar: Elsewhere in the world, the coronavirus raged on. Italy and Iran reported soaring new death tolls.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte went on live TV to announce that he was tightening the country’s lockdown. Italy now has more than 59,000 cases and 5,476 deaths.
“We are facing the most serious crisis that the country has experienced since World War II,” Conte told Italians during a broadcast at midnight.
Iran’s supreme leader refused U.S. assistance Sunday to fight the virus, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that the outbreak could be an American plot. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments came as Iran faces crushing U.S. sanctions over its nuclear actions. Iran says it has 1,685 deaths and 21,638 confirmed cases of the virus — a toll that experts from the World Health Organization say is almost certainly under-reported.
Worldwide concern: The world kept shutting down, too. The long-haul airline Emirates — a major East-West carrier — said it will suspend all passenger flights beginning Wednesday over the outbreak. Singapore said it will fully shut its borders beginning Tuesday.
Sunday was Mother’s Day in Britain and the government had a stark message for millions: visiting your mother could kill her. Instead of parties, lunch or tea, Prime Minister Boris Johnson implored Britons to call Mom on a video chat.
Doctors in Britain made urgent pleas for more protective equipment as the number of coronavirus patients in U.K. hospitals soared to more than 5,000. Almost 4,000 medical workers signed a letter to the Sunday Times saying front-line staff felt like “cannon fodder.” They warned that medics would die if they did not receive better equipment.
In Spain, Europe’s hardest-hit country after Italy, intensive care units in some areas were close to their limits even before Sunday’s new tally of more than 28,500 infections and 1,750 deaths. A field hospital with 5,500 beds was going up in a convention center in Madrid, and health officials warned more than 10% of the country’s health workers were now infected with coronavirus.
“We can’t just repeat the slogans that we will get through this together,” said Dr. German Peces-Barba, a lung specialist at Fundación Jiménez Díaz hospital in Madrid.
But there were some signs of hope. The Chinese city of Wuhan — where the global pandemic was first detected and the first city to be locked down — went a fourth consecutive day on Sunday without reporting any new or suspected cases.
Parks and other public gathering places were reopening in China as people return to work and businesses resumed. However, the country has placed increasing restrictions on those coming from overseas.
Services streamed: Pope Francis again held his weekly Sunday blessing in his private library. He has streamed the last several services since the virus started sweeping through Italy.
“To the virus pandemic, we want to respond with the universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness,” the pope said, also asking all Christianity across denominations to join in reciting the “Our Father” prayer on Wednesday at noon.
Pope Francis also plans to lead a global blessing to an empty St. Peter’s Square on Friday. The “Urbi et Orbi,’’ blessing is normally reserved for Christmas Day and Easter.