US virus deaths pass 5,000 as Trump predicts ‘horrific’ weeks to come
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US virus deaths pass 5,000 as Trump predicts ‘horrific’ weeks to come

With a total of 5,116 fatalities, US has more victims than China, but still fewer than Italy and Spain; president says states should decide for themselves on stay-at-home orders

Ambulance workers clean a gurney at Mount Sinai Hospital amid the coronavirus pandemic in New York City,  on April 1, 2020. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Ambulance workers clean a gurney at Mount Sinai Hospital amid the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, on April 1, 2020. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

The US death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped 5,000 late Wednesday, according to a running tally from Johns Hopkins University.

As of Thursday morning, 5,116 people had died, the tally showed, on the same day the United States set a one-day record of 884 people dead in 24 hours.

The US death toll is lower than those of Italy and Spain but above the 3,316 recorded for China, where the pandemic first emerged in December.

According to Johns Hopkins, the US leads the world in number of cases of new coronavirus, with over 216,000.

US President Donald Trump, who earlier had downplayed the pandemic’s impact on the US, said Wednesday that “we’re going to have a couple of weeks, starting pretty much now, but especially a few days from now, that are going to be horrific.”

US President Donald Trump takes part in the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC on April 1, 2020. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

The White House released “sobering” new projections on Tuesday that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will likely succumb to the coronavirus even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

However, Trump stopped short of ordering a nationwide lockdown, saying he wants to give governors “flexibility” on whether a stay-at-home policy is the best option for their constituents, but acknowledged that he’s looking at limiting air and rail travel between hot spots within the United States.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Wednesday the nation’s federalist system leaves much of the authority on how to properly respond to catastrophes to individual state governors and local officials.

“We trust the governors and the mayors to understand their people and understand whether or not they feel like they can trust the people in their states to make the right decisions,” Adams said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

A man wearing a facial mask walks across the middle of 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan of New York, March 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

On Wednesday alone, five more states — Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada and Pennsylvania — added or expanded their stay-at-home orders.

But the invocation of federalism in the midst of a crisis that threatens a nationwide body count on par with some of the deadliest American wars suggests that Trump and his advisers are cognizant of the political ramifications of their response. Republican governors in states like Florida, Texas and Nebraska have questioned the necessity of applying strong social distancing rules to rural or exurban areas that haven’t reported much evidence of the virus so far.

The lack of a unified, 50-state response also collides with evidence emerging that coronavirus infections are being spread by people who have no clear symptoms, complicating efforts to gain control of the pandemic. A study conducted by researchers in Singapore and published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday is the latest to estimate that around 10% of new coronavirus infections may be spread by people who were infected with the virus but not experiencing symptoms.

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort passes lower Manhattan on its way to docking in New York, Monday, March 30, 2020. The ship has 1,000 beds and 12 operating rooms. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Even while deferring to governors. the Trump administration has issued guidelines that have urged Americans to work from home if possible, cancel on-site instruction at schools, and avoid large gatherings. The resistance to a more robust response comes even as US Vice President Mike Pence said White House models for the coronavirus toll show the country on a trajectory akin to hard-hit Italy.

Speaking to CNN, Pence said, “We think Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States at this point.” Italy, which has already recorded more than 13,000 deaths, has issued a nationwide quarantine, shutting down almost all industrial production and offices and largely prohibiting residents from leaving their homes.

The White House’s best-case projection for loss of life assumes statewide stay-at-home orders, according to a senior administration official familiar with Trump’s thinking. Trump, the official said, is a believer in federalism and that it is up to individual governors to set restrictions for their states. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

More than 285 million people live in the 40 states where governors have declared statewide shelter-in-place orders or have recommended that residents stay home. In other states — places like Iowa and Nebraska, among others — governors have resisted state-level decisions, but some localities have declared residents should stay at home.

Medical personnel work at the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in New York’s Central Park, April 1, 2020. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

According to a poll published Wednesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 78% of US adults, including 84% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans, favor requiring Americans to stay in their homes except for essential errands. Americans in states that already had stay-at-home orders in place when the survey began are more likely than those in states that did not to approve of their state’s response, 63% to 51%.

Still, Trump — who has conducted long, near-daily briefings on his administration’s response to the virus outbreak over the last three weeks — has been reluctant so far to use his bully pulpit to urge governors to issue orders that would help effectively create a national quarantine.

“There are some states that are different,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “There are some states that don’t have much of a problem.”

Also Wednesday, a Russian military plane carrying medical supplies arrived in the United States, the Russian mission to the UN said.

The Antonov-124, landed at JFK Airport in New York — the epicenter of America’s coronavirus outbreak — pictures and video posted on the mission’s Twitter page showed.

Russia’s defense ministry had earlier announced that the plane “with medical masks and medical equipment on board,” left for the US overnight, without providing further details.

Video released by the ministry showed the cargo plane loaded with boxes preparing to take off from a military airbase near Moscow early Wednesday morning.

“We have to work together to defeat #COVID19. This is why the US agreed to purchase urgently needed personal protective equipment from #Russia,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Wednesday evening.

The supplies, also including ventilators, were given to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in New York, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

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