US death toll from the virus eclipses China’s official count


By Colleen Long, Karen Matthews and David Rising - Associated Press



NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus climbed past 3,500 Tuesday, eclipsing China’s official count, as the deepening crisis in New York hit close to home for the governor when he disclosed, teary-eyed, that his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, has become infected.

“Luckily we caught it early enough,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said of his 49-year-old brother, now quarantined in his basement. “But it’s my family, it’s your family, it’s all of our families. But this virus is that insidious, and we must keep that all in mind.”

Elsewhere around the world, hard-hit Italy reported that the infection rate appears to be leveling off and new cases could start declining, but that the crisis is far from over. Spain struggled to fend off the collapse of its hospital system. Vladimir Putin’s Russia moved to crack down on quarantine violations and “fake news” about the outbreak. And China edged closer to normal as stores in the epicenter city of Wuhan began reopening.

Worldwide, more than 800,000 people have been infected and over 40,000 have died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Italy and Spain accounted for half the deaths, while the U.S. had around 3,550 by midday, overtaking China’s official toll of about 3,300.

New York was the nation’s deadliest hot spot, with about 1,550 deaths statewide, most of them in New York City.

A 1,000-bed emergency hospital set up at the mammoth Javits Convention Center began taking non-coronavirus patients to help relieve the city’s overwhelmed health system. A Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds that arrived on Monday was expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday.

The indoor tennis center that is the site of the U.S. Open tournament is being turned into a hospital as well.

Chris Cuomo tweeted that he has suffered from fever, chills and shortness of breath and that he would be doing his shows from his basement. He said that he is worried about infecting his wife and children but added: “We will all beat this by being smart and tough and united!”

Meanwhile, New York authorities worked to bring on more volunteer health care professionals and hoped to have them on board by Thursday.

Nearly 80,000 former nurses, doctors and others are already said to be stepping forward to help New York, and the governor said authorities are doing background checks for disciplinary actions and otherwise making sure they are fit for duty.

The city also worked to bring in bring in 250 out-of-town ambulances and 500 paramedics to help its swamped EMS system.

The city’s ambulances are responding to about 6,000 calls a day, or 50% more than average, authorities said. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said a five-day stretch last week was the busiest in the history of the city’s EMS operation.

Figures on deaths and infections around the world are supplied by government health authorities and compiled by Johns Hopkins.

But the numbers are regarded with skepticism by public health experts because of different counting practices, a lack of testing in places, the numerous mild cases that have been missed, and perhaps government efforts to downplay the severity of the crisis.

For example, in Italy, where the death toll was put at about 12,400, the country’s emergency coordinator, Domenico Arcuri, acknowledged that officials don’t have a handle on how many people are dying at home or in nursing homes.

Still, there was a glimmer of hope there: Dr. Silvio Brusaferro, head of Italy’s institutes of health, said that three weeks into a nationwide lockdown, the hardest-hit country in Europe is seeing the rate of new infections level off.

“The curve suggests we are at the plateau,” he said. But “arriving at the plateau doesn’t mean we have conquered the peak and we’re done. It means now we should start to see the decline if we continue to place maximum attention on what we do every day.”

With the country’s health care system buckling under the pressure, a field hospital, built in just 10 days, was unveiled at the Milan fairgrounds.

“We made a promise and we kept it,” said the head of the project, former civil protection chief Guido Bertolaso, who ended up catching the virus while on the job and had to work from his hospital bed.

In Russia, lawmakers approved harsher punishments, including prison sentences of several years, for violating quarantine rules and spreading misinformation. The chief doctor at Moscow’s top hospital for coronavirus patients said he tested positive, a week after shaking hands with Putin.

Spain reported more than 840 new deaths, pushing the toll above 8,000 and forcing Madrid to open a second temporary morgue after an ice rink pressed into service last week became overwhelmed.

Dozens of hotels across Spain have been turned into recovery rooms, and authorities are building field hospitals in sports centers, libraries and exhibition halls.

Israel’s Defense Ministry said it has converted a missile-production facility into an assembly line for ventilators.

Michigan and Louisiana were running out of breathing machines, despite promises by the White House of more equipment. Cuomo described the bidding for ventilators as like being “on eBay.”

Louisiana’s governor said the hard-hit New Orleans region is on track to run out of ventilators by the weekend and hospital beds a week later. The Trump administration has committed to sending 150 ventilators from the national stockpile, but the state hasn’t received an arrival date. Michigan said it needs 5,000 to 10,000 more.

In Florida, the Holland America cruise line pleaded with state officials to let two ships dock and carry off the sick and the dead. Dozens aboard have reported flu-like symptoms, and four people have died.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Fox News: “We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia.

Among the few positive signs: In Britain, where the number of dead reached nearly 1,800, the medical director of the National Health Service’s operations in England said there is evidence that the social distancing is working.

And China reported just one new death from the coronavirus and 48 new cases, all of them from overseas. In Wuhan, people were ready to “revenge shop” as the city that was once at the very center of the outbreak reopened.

Still, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Western Pacific, cautioned that the risk in Asia and the Pacific is not gone.

“This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard,” Kasai said.

By Colleen Long, Karen Matthews and David Rising

Associated Press