BALTIMORE — More than 20,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States, which now has more reported deaths than any country in the world, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. number of deaths surpassed that of Italy on Saturday, which is reporting 19,468 deaths, per Johns Hopkins.
At least 2,074 deaths were reported in the US on Friday, the largest increase in coronavirus fatalities the country has seen since the beginning of the outbreak. At least 519,453 people have tested positive for the virus, according to Johns Hopkins.
Of the deaths reported Friday, 783 occurred in New York state, bringing the statewide death count to 8,627, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday. That was a slight drop from the state’s all-time high in single-day fatalities, which occurred Wednesday with 799 deaths. There were 777 deaths Thursday.
“You can see that the number is somewhat stabilizing, but it is stabilizing at a horrific rate,” Cuomo said. “These are just incredible numbers depicting incredible loss and pain.”
But Cuomo also shared what he called good news, saying the state’s curve “is continuing to flatten.”
“The number of hospitalizations appears to have hit an apex, and the apex appears to be a plateau,” the governor said, where numbers will level out for a period before dropping.
The hospitalization rate is also down, Cuomo said, as are the number of intensive-care admissions.
“Still people getting infected,” he said. “Still people going into the hospital, but again, a lower rate of increase.”
The US likely saw a peak in its daily death toll, according to Dr. Chris Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — who created the model the White House is using to gauge the peak of coronavirus cases.
“We re-run the model, basically, almost every night — and the new returns from different states are suggesting different peaks in different states, but at the national level, we seem to be pretty much close to the peak,” he said Friday.
That model projects about 61,500 Americans will lose their lives to the virus by August — and that’s if the country keeps social distance measures in place until the end of May. If they factor in states that may lift these rules by May 1, the numbers “don’t look good,’ Murray said.
While health experts are encouraged by signs that social distancing measures are having a positive impact, they warn re-opening the country too quickly could set the US back.
Despite the positive signs, the U.S. had not yet reached its peak in cases, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, said Friday.
“So every day we need to continue to do what we did yesterday, and the week before, and the week before that, because that’s what in the end is going to take us up across the peak and down the other side,” she said.
Saturday marked the first time every US state was under a federal disaster declaration simultaneously, after President Donald Trump approved one such declaration for Wyoming.
It was the 55th disaster declaration issued in response to the coronavirus, following others in the other 49 states, Washington D.C., the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico.
Deciding when to re-open the US
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Saturday that schools there would remain closed through the end of the school year while students continued to receive remote instruction.
But that was soon undercut by Gov. Cuomo, who said that “no decision” had been made on closing schools through the end of the year, adding he valued the mayor’s “opinion.”
“We may do that, but we’re going to do it in a coordinated sense with the other localities,” Cuomo said, adding: “It makes no sense for one locality to take an action that’s not coordinated with the others.”
Additionally, Cuomo said no decision has been made on when businesses will reopen. That step, he said, should be coordinated with schools.
The state will gather the best minds to study whether reopening the economy would trigger a “second wave” of infections, Cuomo said.
“The worst thing that can happen is we make a misstep and we let our emotions get ahead of our logic and fact, and we go through this again in any manner, shape or form,” he said.
Meanwhile, local and state officials are cracking down on mass gatherings like church services as Easter weekend begins.
In Kentucky, authorities will record license plates of those who show up to any gatherings and hand that information over to the local health department, which will require those individuals to stay quarantined for 14 days, Gov. Andy Beshear announced.
The state is down to less than seven churches statewide, that are still “thinking about” having an in-person service this weekend, he said.
“I think it’s not a test of faith whether you’re going to an in-person service,” Beshear said. “It’s a test of faith that you’re willing to sacrifice to protect your fellow man, your fellow woman, your fellow Kentuckian, and your fellow American.”
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp urged residents not to attend services in person and to instead opt for online or call-in options.
President Donald Trump, who two weeks ago said he was hoping to have the country open back up by Easter, said Friday he wouldn’t do anything until he knew the country was healthy again.
“I would love to open it. I have not determined anything, the facts are going to determine what I do. But we do want to get the country opened, so important,” he said.
Internally, officials are pushing to reopen the country by next month, with specific discussions underway about May 1, a person familiar with the talks told CNN.
“I’m going to have to make a decision and I only hope to God that it’s right decision,” the President said Friday. “But I would say without question it’s the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
The President said he was looking at what happened in other countries as guidance on how to reopen the US and said he would be open to shutting the country down a second time if cases spike again.
Trump said he will be announcing what he called the “opening our country council” on Tuesday.
The opening may come at different stages, Trump said.