U.S. Prepares for Prolonged Shutdowns as Coronavirus Strains Hospitals

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 rise to more than 775,000 globally; U.S. cases near 160,000, with more than 2,900 dead

The USNS Comfort has been deployed to New York to help out with the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: BRYAN R. SMITH/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The USNS Comfort has been deployed to New York to help out with the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: BRYAN R. SMITH/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

U.S. Navy ship outfitted with 1,000 hospital beds pulled into New York Harbor. Tents sprung up in New York City’s Central Park. The Javits Center, a 1.8 million-square-foot convention center in Manhattan, opened its doors as a makeshift hospital.

They are part of a striking new reality in New York City and across America, as state and federal leaders take steps unprecedented in modern times to fight the global coronavirus pandemic that has infected nearly 160,000 Americans and more than 775,000 people globally.

With nearly half of states now reporting more than 1,000 confirmed infections, governors and mayors across the U.S. are working to secure more medical supplies, adding restrictions and asking the federal government for better coordination.

In New York—the site of the worst outbreak in the country, with more than 66,000 confirmed cases—officials expanded hospital capacity in unconventional ways in the days before the pandemic is expected to reach its peak in the state.

“We believe that we’re dealing with this pandemic at a level, intensity and density that no one has seen before,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said inside the Javits Center on Monday. “And hopefully we’ll learn lessons here that we can then share with people across this nation.”

At the beginning of March, the U.S. had reported fewer than 100 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the pneumonialike disease caused by the virus. It now has more than 159,100 confirmed infections, the most of any country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, though the country’s 2,945 deaths are far less than in Italy and Spain, Europe’s worst-hit nations.

Italy’s death toll climbed Monday to 11,591—the highest of any country. Spain, with 7,340 deaths, is the second hardest-hit country. Both, like the U.S., have surpassed China in total confirmed cases.

Globally, confirmed cases of the new coronavirus have passed 775,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Testing for the deadly respiratory virus hasn’t been uniform across America or globally, making accurate case counts hard to pin down.

National, state and local governments are grappling with how to contain the virus’s spread, even within their own ranks. Israel said Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will go into isolation after an adviser tested positive for Covid-19. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, is also isolating at home after showing signs of the new virus.

U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D., N.Y.) said Monday she had been diagnosed with a “presumed” case, becoming the sixth member of Congress to be diagnosed with the virus or presumed to have the virus.

On Friday, the congresswoman tweeted that she was in Washington, D.C., to pass the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. For health reasons during the growing pandemic, House leaders in both parties had wanted to pass the vote without a quorum call, which requires at least 216 members present in the chamber. But Rep. Thomas Massie (R., Ky.) forced the issue, and members filled the chamber, some standing in the galleries usually reserved for the public to try to observe social-distancing guidelines.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) again pushed back against the idea of quickly shifting to remote voting as one way to keep lawmakers safe. “There’s no way we can get engaged in remote voting without a serious discussion in the House and changing the rules,” she said. “So let’s not waste too much time on something that’s not going to happen.”

The U.S. military, meanwhile, has ordered local commanders not to release the locations where members of the armed services have tested positive for the new coronavirus, saying publicizing those details could compromise operational security. Instead, the Pentagon said each military service as a whole would release a daily summary of its cases.

The change comes amid rapidly growing numbers of coronavirus infections within the ranks. As of Monday, 569 service members tested positive for coronavirus, according to Pentagon statistics. A week ago, the figure was 134.

More states ordered residents to stay at home—with some officials emphasizing their orders are requirements, not suggestions. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued stay-at-home orders for people in their jurisdictions on Monday, barring nonessential outside activity and threatening fines for those who disobey.

“We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home, we are directing them to do so,” Mr. Hogan, a Republican, wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Northam, a Democrat, said the Virginia order will last through June 10, unless altered or rescinded.

Democratic and Republican governors have also called for more supplies, stressing the severe shortages of equipment that medical professionals on the front lines need to do their jobs. A survey of mayors in 213 cities across 41 states and Puerto Rico earlier this month found that 91.5% of cities didn’t have enough face masks for first responders and medical professionals, and 85% didn’t have enough ventilators.

Hospitals will get more flexibility to hire local clinicians to handle a surge in patients, use telehealth in emergency departments and treat patients or quarantine them in separate buildings under changes announced Monday by the Trump administration.

The move to relax some requirements for hospitals who get reimbursed under Medicare and Medicaid aims to expand capacity and make it easier for health systems to respond rapidly to the changing dynamics of the coronavirus.

The action by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services includes other provisions, such as allowing ambulances to transport patients to a wider range of locations and doctor-owned hospitals to temporarily increase the number of licensed beds.

In Chicago, officials said they would temporarily convert parts of the McCormick Place Convention Center to accommodate Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms—creating more availability in the city’s hospital system for those who need intensive care.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the launch of an initiative Monday to recruit thousands of retirees and students near graduation to serve as doctors, nurses and other medical workers as America’s most populous state prepares for an expected surge in Covid-19 cases over the next month.

While California has only about 6,000 confirmed coronavirus cases so far, Mr. Newsom said his office is gearing up to add 50,000 more hospital beds statewide to cope with likely growth.

President Trump said Monday that the U.S. should have enough medical equipment to handle the surge of coronavirus cases when they peak in the coming weeks.

The White House on Sunday extended social-distancing guidelines until the end of April. The decision marked a shift for Mr. Trump, who had said that he hoped to ease restrictions in coming days to limit the economic damage. Oil prices dropped to an 18-year low Monday on the news, while stocks rose. 

The coronavirus pandemic has rapidly transformed into a global economic crisis, slamming airlines, retailers, manufacturers, hotels and companies in numerous industries.

In the U.S., struggling businesses and millions of Americans suddenly out of work are preparing for their first monthly bills since the crisis began unfolding there. Lawmakers are considering another stimulus package after completing a record $2 trillion rescue package to help tide over businesses and households during the economic shutdown.

Macy’s Inc. and Gap Inc. said they will furlough more than 200,000 employees beginning this week. One of Europe’s biggest five carriers, easyJet PLC, grounded its fleet of 344 aircraft.

In China, where the new virus was first identified in December, there is a tentative revival of industry two months after a near-nationwide shutdown of factories, workplaces and retail outlets.

Nearly all of its major industrial companies have resumed production, said Xin Guobin, vice minister of industry and information technology. More than three-quarters of small- and medium-size businesses have also resumed operations, though some export-oriented companies have been badly hit by declining domestic and global demand.

China has gradually lifted its restrictions, including on the movement of people to and from its central Hubei province, where the outbreak originated and claimed the most lives in the country. But “fears of a second outbreak are causing authorities to backtrack on some measures to get the economy up and running,” analysts for Trivium China, a research firm, wrote to clients on Monday, pointing to a government order to close movie theaters just days after reopening many of them.

Lockdowns have become commonplace around the globe as governments look to contain the pathogen. Spain on Monday extended its measures, forcing all workers in nonessential sectors to stay at home for two weeks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin encouraged representatives of federal districts not to be afraid to impose strict measures and he urged authorities to treat those who violate quarantine measures as being guilty of criminal negligence.

“We need to take every measure that is necessary in this situation,” Mr. Putin said in a videoconference call with regional representatives. “Even if some uninformed people consider them excessive. One cannot be too careful.”

Compulsory self-isolation orders have been enacted in at least two dozen regions across the country. Moscow—which has 1,226 of Russia’s 1,836 reported cases—on Monday began an indefinite citywide quarantine that compels all residents to remain in their homes.

Human-rights groups worry some emergency measures being enacted will leave parts of the world less democratic. Hungary’s parliament on Monday gave Prime Minister Viktor Orban the right to rule by decree until his government decides the crisis has ended, defying criticism from European Union leaders that the pandemic is providing cover for his and other governments to crack down on democratic freedoms.

Mr. Orban has pushed back on such criticism. Fighting the virus will require unusual measures for an indefinite period, he said.


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