U.S. Braces for Surge in Coronavirus Patients

U.S. Braces for Surge in Coronavirus Patients

U.S. officials and hospitals braced for an influx of patients as infections of the new coronavirus continued a relentless rise and projections showed the pandemic’s possible heavy toll and lengthy duration.

The U.S. has more confirmed cases than any other country, with more than 175,000 infections, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The death toll, now greater than that of China, stands at 3,416. That is still far less than Italy, where fatalities rose to 12,428 Tuesday, or Spain, which has reported 8,269 deaths.

Projections from the University of Washington show the illness could result in nearly 84,000 deaths in the U.S. by early August, with 2,214 deaths a day at the nation’s peak in two weeks.

Nearly half of the 50 states have now reported more than 1,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. And much of America is expected to experience extended closures of schools, offices, restaurants and other venues as concerns about a coming surge in patients have pushed mayors and governors to take steps unprecedented in modern times to fight the contagion.

The Latest on the Coronavirus

  • More than 800,000 cases globally, with more than 40,000 deaths.
  • China says it will begin reporting infection cases for people with no symptoms.
  • U.S. surpasses 175,000 cases, with 3,416 deaths.

State leaders have extended, and in some cases expanded, stay-at-home orders, while the Trump administration lengthened its social-distancing guidelines through April 30.

The apex of the pandemic is expected to occur sooner in New York, the hardest-hit state with 75,795 confirmed cases and 1,550 deaths so far.

“We underestimated this virus,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “It’s more powerful, it’s more dangerous than we expected.”

Mr. Cuomo said the state was still working to expand hospital capacity and support health-care workers as the growing number of patients becomes more difficult to manage. On Monday, a U.S. Navy hospital ship docked in Manhattan and the Javits Center opened its doors as a makeshift site. Emergency management officials also plan to add 350 hospital beds at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens.

Existing hospitals had already reached their tipping point, straining the health-care system and its workers. “They are physically exhausted,” Mr. Cuomo said of health-care professionals. “Even more, they are emotionally exhausted.”

State officials across the U.S. are working to acquire needed medical supplies, increase hospital capacity by turning arenas and other facilities into temporary hospital wards, and recruit health-care workers. Thousands of retired and inactive doctors and nurses are returning to the field to help.

New York is gearing for the pandemic peak with unconventional hospital set ups, some delivery and grocery workers are walking out over hazard pay and better safety protection, and fresh economic data show China’s economy is slowly coming back to life. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday has the latest on the pandemic. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In an effort to protect front-line workers grappling with shortages, hospitals and research groups are racing to roll out new ways to reuse face masks safely.

General Motors Co.

said masks it is making for workers responding to the coronavirus will be available for delivery next week. GM is among the manufacturers and medical-device giants also gearing up to boost production of ventilators.

The U.S. is reviewing its recommendations for face masks and European governments have ordered their citizens to wear them when outside, signaling a shift among Western officials on one of the most contentious issues in the pandemic.

A Month’s Difference

Confirmed coronavirus cases surged in many parts of the world in March, and the global death toll mounted.

Cumulative deaths, as of March 30

With much of the U.S. and global economy shut down, U.S. stocks are headed toward their worst quarter since the financial crisis.

President Trump called Tuesday for a possible fourth congressional coronavirus relief package to include significant investment in infrastructure, citing an opportunity in low interest rates.

Congress has already passed three major pieces of legislation to address the pandemic: a roughly $2 trillion stimulus bill that includes checks to households, bailouts for airlines and other distressed industries, and loans and grants for small business; an earlier package of tax credits and increases for unemployment benefits and food assistance; and fresh funds for health agencies and virus testing.

Globally, the number of confirmed cases of the virus has passed 826,000, according to Johns Hopkins data. The death toll rose to more than 40,700 on Tuesday. More than 174,000 people world-wide have recovered.

In March alone, the number of reported coronavirus infections world-wide jumped nearly nine times from 86,000 confirmed cases on the last day of February, while fatalities surged more than 10-fold, Johns Hopkins data showed.

Testing for the deadly virus, however, hasn’t been uniform across America or globally, making accurate case counts hard to pin down.

Source: Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering

Underscoring the difficulties of capturing the extent of the pandemic, China said more than 1,500 people who were infected with the virus but haven’t shown symptoms weren’t included in its national tally of confirmed cases.

The National Health Commission said it had asked hospitals to report asymptomatic cases and had asked local officials to place them and their close contacts under two-week quarantine. It couldn’t be learned to what degree that was done.

Chang Jile, a top Chinese health official, said the country would report the number of infected people who aren’t showing symptoms beginning Wednesday.

Scientists don’t have a consensus on the impact of asymptomatic cases. Italian scientists tracing almost 6,000 infections around Lombardy, for instance, found nasal swabs of asymptomatic carriers had similar amounts of virus as those with symptoms, which could make them as contagious, according to a prepublication draft of their research. But they also said the small number of asymptomatic cases turned up in contact tracing may mean such carriers played a limited role in spreading the virus.

Many governments around the world are extending closures and other social-distancing measures to hinder the spread of the disease, while others are weighing a relaxation of restrictions in order to mitigate the impact on their economies.

Russia’s parliament voted to stiffen penalties for violating coronavirus-related restrictions. Moscow was in the second day of a stay-at-home order that has been duplicated in other regions of the country.

Failure to abide by Russia’s lockdown rules and inadvertently causing the deaths of two or more people would be punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to the legislation. Anyone infected with coronavirus who violates quarantine restrictions and causes “mass illness” would be fined up to $12,820. Authorities say they will use electronic monitoring to enforce the lockdown but haven’t indicated how they would determine whether violators infect others.

A doctor who recently hosted a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin at a hospital in Moscow where most coronavirus patients are being treated has tested positive for the illness. At 67 years old, Mr. Putin is in the vulnerable age group for contracting the illness.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that “everything is OK,” and “the president is being regularly tested for coronavirus,” according to the official state news agency, RIA Novosti.

More Coronavirus Coverage

Officials in the U.K., Canada, Israel, Brazil, Iran and several other countries have also been exposed or infected, highlighting the risks to national leaders as they meet face-to-face in emergency sessions to plot ways to curb the contagion.

In Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said a nationwide lockdown imposed March 11 was showing signs of success and could be eased starting in mid-April if Danes stick to the rules. The country has closed its border to noncitizens; shut restaurants, pubs, shopping malls and schools; and banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

In Iran, whose death toll reached 2,898, President Hassan Rouhani said most provinces had the virus relatively under control, but that two or three provinces were having more difficulty.

China is moving more quickly to open up. It has pushed to resume activities that were stalled nationwide since the end of January, reopening factories, malls and other public amenities as new cases of infection slowed sharply in recent weeks. On Tuesday, an official gauge of Chinese manufacturing activity showed a strong rebound in March, reflecting the resumption of work in many industries, though economists said business activity is still far from normal.

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Corrections & Amplifications
A top Chinese health official said Tuesday that China has 1,541 asymptomatic coronavirus carriers. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said this occurred Monday.

Write to Jennifer Calfas at Jennifer.Calfas@wsj.com, Chong Koh Ping at chong.kohping@wsj.com and Dominic Chopping at dominic.chopping@wsj.com

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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