The United States, now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, on Friday became the first country to record more than 2,000 virus deaths in one day.
With almost 18,600 deaths overall, the US is closing in on the 18,849 dead in Italy, which has the most fatalities so far in the pandemic.
In the past 24 hours, 2,108 Americans died of the disease, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
The US also surpassed 500,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, by far the most of any country.
The US has led the world in the number of infections since the end of March. With more than a third of all officially declared cases globally, it threatens to overtake Europe, which has recorded more than 850,000 cases.
More than 1.6 million people have been infected globally and the death toll hit 102,753 on Friday — with nearly 70 percent of fatal cases in hard-hit Europe.
The true number of lives lost is believed be much higher because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and cover-ups by some governments. For example, in places like New York, Italy and Spain, many victims who died outside a hospital — say, in a home or a nursing home — have not been part of the count.
More than half of US deaths have been in the New York metropolitan area. New York state on Friday reported 777 new deaths, down slightly from the day before, for an overall toll of more than 7,800. Other hot spots have emerged in places such as Detroit, Louisiana and Washington, DC.
“I understand intellectually why it’s happening,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “”It doesn’t make it any easier to accept.”
But state officials said the number of people in intensive care dropped for the first time since mid-March and hospitalizations are slowing: 290 new patients in a single day, compared with daily increases of more than 1,000 last week.
Cuomo said if the trend holds, New York might not need the overflow field hospitals that officials have been scrambling to construct.
US President Donald Trump on Friday bemoaned the “horrible” number of Americans who have died due to the virus, while pointing to signs of hope.
Trump said “in the midst of grief and pain” the country is seeing “clear signs that our aggressive strategy” is working. That includes a decrease in hospital admissions in some places.
But experts warned that re-opening the country too soon could cause a devastating new spike in infections.
Trump said his decision on when to reopen the US economy, shuttered due to the pandemic, will be the toughest he has ever taken.
“I’m going to have to make a decision and I only hope to God that it’s the right decision. But I would say without question, it’s the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Trump told a press conference.
Trump, who faces a tight reelection race in November, is keen to get the US economy back open after weeks of tough measures that shut down businesses and dramatically cut down on transport across the country to slow the virus’s spread.
The previously strong economy was the biggest selling point in his campaign platform.
With current federal guidelines on social distancing set to expire at the end of the month, expectations are growing that Trump will tell Americans they can start resuming normal activity from May — at least in parts of the country.
The decision will be partly based on medical data, but also heavily swayed by political considerations and advice from the business community which has been devastated by the shutdown, with an abrupt drop in revenues and mass unemployment claims.
In what will mark an important step in the process, Trump says he will be announcing members of a new task force on Tuesday.
The group will include “very great doctors and business people,” as well as probably governors of states, Trump said.
In a sign that Trump will seek broad support for what could be a politically dangerous decision, he said he wanted bipartisan representation from politicians on the council.
“I want to put on both parties,” he said.
In some of the worst-hit countries, Italy and Spain, new infections, hospitalizations and deaths have been leveling off. But the daily tolls remain shocking.
The 605 new deaths announced in Spain were the lowest in more than two weeks. The coronavirus has claimed more than 15,800 lives there, though the rates of contagion and deaths are dropping.
Italy reported 570 additional deaths for a running total of more than 18,800 — the highest of any country — but said the number of hospital admissions is falling along with the number of patients in intensive care.
Britain recorded 980 new deaths, its highest daily total, for close to 9,000 in all.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved out of intensive care on Thursday after spending three nights there being treated for the virus. The 55-year-old remained hospitalized in London. His father, Stanley Johnson, said the prime minister needs to “rest up” before returning to work.
With Christians around the world heading into Easter weekend, public health officials and religious leaders alike urged people to stay home, warning that violating lockdowns and social distancing rules could cause the virus to come storming back. Authorities in Europe put up roadblocks, used helicopters and drones, and cited drivers who had no good reason to be out.
On Good Friday, some churches worldwide held services online, while others arranged prayers at drive-in theaters.
In Paris, services were broadcast from a nearly empty, closed-to-the-public Notre Dame Cathedral, still heavily scarred from a fire a year ago. In Warsaw, Poland, priests wearing masks heard confessions in a parking lot. And in New Orleans, the Catholic archbishop sprinkled holy water from the Jordan River from a biplane traveling overhead.