New York pleads for other states to help as U.S. health official projects grim death toll
Dr. Deborah Birx says the U.S. could get over 100,000 deaths from the pandemic in best-case scenario
White House health experts had argued strongly with U.S. President Donald Trump to extend a stay-at-home order for Americans fighting the spread of the coronavirus, so the country could start seeing the rates of infection come down, a top U.S. health official said on Monday.
"We felt that if we prematurely pulled back, we would only form an acceleration, or a rebound of something, which would have put you behind where you were before," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with CNN.
"And that's the reason why we argued strongly with the president that he not withdraw those guidelines after 15 days, but that he extend them. And he did listen."
Trump abandoned a hotly criticized plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April after Fauci said on Sunday as many as 200,000 Americans could die from the outbreak.
The reversal came as the U.S. death toll topped 2,500 from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, with more than 144,000 cases — the most of any country in the world.
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That 200,000 figure was cited again Monday, with one official's assessment appearing to suggest it could be a floor rather than a ceiling.
"If we do things together well — almost perfectly — we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities," Dr. Deborah Birx, co-ordinator of the White House's coronavirus task force, told NBC's Today on Monday.
'We need relief'
Hospitals in New York have been overrun with patients suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. The number of deaths in the state in the most recent 24-hour period was 253, bringing the total to 1,218.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who characterized the death toll as "staggering," called on health-care professionals from across the country to come to his state and help its hospitals deal with the surge.
"Please come help us in New York now," Cuomo told a news briefing. "We need relief."
Cuomo said New York would pay back other states in kind when the virus spreads to greater effect elsewhere in the U.S.
In a hopeful image that captured the spirit of a national mobilization against the coronavirus, a U.S. navy hospital ship docked in the city Monday morning.
Painted a gleaming white and adorned with giant red crosses, the 1,000-bed USNS Comfort sailed up the Hudson River, accompanied by a flotilla of support ships and helicopters hovering ahead, before docking at a Midtown Manhattan pier.
USNS Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients in the city, including those who require surgery and critical care, the navy said in a statement. More than 1,100 navy medical personnel and support staff were on board.
Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were among the dignitaries waiting on the dock when the converted oil tanker arrived. "It's a wartime atmosphere and we all have to pull together," de Blasio said.
With infections and deaths mounting across the country and the economy at a virtual standstill, de Blasio joined a growing chorus of officials in expressing frustration at Washington's handling of the crisis.
This day will be remembered.<br><br>The hospital capacity we add now will save lives.<br><br>God bless New York. <a href="https://t.co/6oniwJbYSx">pic.twitter.com/6oniwJbYSx</a>—@NYGovCuomo
"If we don't get more consistent federal help in a growing crisis, there's a danger we start to lose lives that could have been saved," the New York City mayor said in an interview with CNN.
Meanwhile, construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in New York's Central Park, and the new site was expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday, de Blasio said separately in a statement.
The makeshift facility, provided by Mount Sinai Health Systems and non-profit organization Samaritan's Purse, will not take walk-ins, and admissions and transfers will be managed by Mount Sinai.
The mayor reacted angrily in a separate interview with television station NY1 to a suggestion by Trump at a Sunday news conference at the White House that some medical workers were hoarding masks and other personal protection equipment.
"It's insulting, it's outrageous, it's incredibly insensitive to people right now who are giving their all," he said.
Naval ship assisting West Coast, too
In Los Angeles, another U.S. navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, began accepting patients on Sunday, also to treat non-coronavirus patients.
In New Orleans, another U.S. epicentre of the coronavirus, authorities were setting up a field hospital at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center — the same site where thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees toiled in 2005 — to handle the expected overflow of patients.
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Trump, who initially played down the risk of the outbreak to Americans, said his administration was seeking to secure hazard pay for health-care providers in direct contact with the virus.
"We are looking at that and we are looking at that either as an amendment or something," Trump, who is up for re-election in November, told Fox News a day after he abandoned a much-criticized plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April.
Trump on Friday signed a $2-trillion US package of emergency measures that authorizes direct payments to households, loans to small and large companies, and funding that the Federal Reserve may leverage into as much as $4 trillion more in credit.
He also has extended his original 15-day nationwide stay-at-home order for another 30 days — a step that many Americans accepted with resignation.
While Trump now appears on board with measures reflecting the seriousness of the crisis, he continued to lash out at Democrats on Fox News and in his Twitter feed for trying to include measures in the aid package he deemed unnecessary.
With files from CBC News and The Associated Press