The milestones weren’t unexpected, but they were grim nonetheless.
On Thursday, the United States surpassed 1,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus outbreak – 100 alone from the past day in New York. The country surged past 82,000 cases of covid-19, overtaking China and Italy as ground zero of the global pandemic.
Worldwide, the death toll eclipsed 23,000, and the total number of confirmed cases crossed half a million, with few signs of slowing.
Meanwhile, Thursday brought word that more than 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits over the past week, a number that obliterated the previous record set in 1982. The nation’s jobless rate, which stood at 3.5 percent only last month, jumped to 5.5 percent – a figure economists say is certain to climb as the economy remains paralyzed.
“We may well be in a recession,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell acknowledged in an appearance on NBC’s “Today.”
Not every number was bleak. The Dow Jones industrial average soared 1,300 points by day’s end. Congress stood on the brink of approving a $2.2 trillion stimulus package to aid businesses and families reeling from the pandemic.
But rising stocks and legislative dealmaking brought little comfort to many of those on the ground, wrestling with the immediate impacts of a deepening public health crisis.
“People are dying. And that’s the worst news you can have,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, as he ticked off the latest set of unenviable numbers: The state’s death toll had jumped by more than a third overnight, to 385. A total of 37,258 people in New York have now tested positive for the coronavirus – an increase of 6,448 from Wednesday. Of those, 5,327 people are hospitalized, and 1,290 are in the ICU.
The state has 53,000 available hospital beds but will soon require up to 140,000, Cuomo told reporters. It still desperately needs ventilators and is making do by connecting two patients to a single ventilator, Cuomo said. Officials are planning to build 1,000-bed facilities in each of the five boroughs and in four counties, as well as considering whether they could convert dormitories and hotel rooms for emergency use. And a makeshift morgue is under construction outside one Manhattan hospital.
“Believe me, I feel tired,” said Cuomo, who has placed middle-of-the-night calls to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “But when I feel tired, I think of the first responders who are out there every day showing up. I think of the police officers. I think of the firefighters who are up there every day. The grocery store workers who are working double shifts just to keep food on the shelves because people are buying so much food because they’re nervous. The pharmacists who have lines going out the door.”
He spoke of transportation workers showing up day after day to help health workers get to hospitals, where they could help care for the ever-growing numbers of patients.
“Who am I to complain about being tired when so many people are doing such heroic efforts?” Cuomo said.
While New York remained the epicenter of the nation’s struggle against the coronavirus – more than half of all cases in the country are concentrated in the New York metropolitan area – other places continued to face mounting case loads, shortages of critical supplies and the prospect of more harrowing days ahead.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said Thursday that he was concerned about sharp rise in coronavirus cases in his state, including one of the highest mortality rates in the country. The state reported 510 newly confirmed cases of covid-19, bringing its total to 2,305. Officials also reported 18 additional deaths – many of them in the hard-hit New Orleans area – bringing the state’s overall count to 83. One of them was a 17-year-old from Orleans Parish.
Federal officials also are keeping a close eye on the counties that include Detroit and Chicago as the next potential hotspots, said Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, repeated his idea of reopening economic activity in parts of the country with few confirmed cases of coronavirus, even as many public health officials warn that prematurely returning to normal activity could exacerbate its spread.
“People want to go back to work. I’m hearing it loud and clear,” Trump said at a late afternoon White House news conference. He added, “Our country is based on that, and I think it’s going to happen pretty quickly.”
Vice President Mike Pence said the White House coronavirus task force would present different options to Trump this weekend.
Trump on Thursday also sent a letter to the country’s governors advising them that his administration is developing “new guidelines” that can be used at the state and local level for determining the type of social-distancing measures that are appropriate as the pandemic wears on.
The guidelines will categorize each county in the country as low-risk, medium-risk or high-risk, Trump said. In the letter, he said Americans are “hoping the day will soon arrive” when they can return to their normal lives.
Trump has said that if possible, he would like to see the economy “raring to go” by Easter, April 12. But even some members of his own party have shied away from committing to such an ambitious timeline.
“I don’t know that you can predetermine the exact date,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Thursday, declining to embrace the president’s goal of reopening large parts of the country for business in barely two weeks’ time.
McCarthy was asked at a news conference where he stood on the debate over when to ease “social distancing” and other measures advocated by health officials.
“The determination of when you come out of that, I would follow the numbers, when it is safe,” he said. “The one thing we know is what we’re doing is working, and we will eventually get out of this.”
Most Americans seem resigned to a long stretch of uncertainty, and many are already feeling the economic fallout from the spreading coronavirus crisis, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
A majority say the outbreak has caused a family member to lose their job or face a reduction in pay or hours – and even more fearing a recession that could be as bad or worse than the one caused by the financial collapse of 2008.
The survey finds 1 in 3 saying they or an immediate family member have been laid off, while about half report a cut in work hours or pay for someone in their family. Among those who haven’t suffered such setbacks, at least half are concerned that they will eventually face similar problems.
More than 9 in 10 Americans say they think the coronavirus outbreak is likely to cause an economic recession, and more than 6 in 10 predict the downturn will rival or eclipse the Great Recession of a decade ago.
Like that catastrophe, the current pandemic continues to wreak human and economic havoc across the globe.
On Thursday, Italy reported that another 662 people died after being infected by the coronavirus, bringing the country’s total confirmed death toll to 8,165. France reported 365 new deaths linked to covid-19 in the past 24 hours, including a 16-year-old girl. The country’s death toll stood at 1,696.
“This figure is progressing very fast,” said French Deputy Health Minister Jérôme Salomon.
Even the North Pole was not beyond the reach of the coronavirus. After four months in near-total isolation, scientists trying to return home from an expedition on an icebound research vessel encased in Arctic sea ice are finding a world transformed by the pandemic.
Their universities are closed. Their colleagues are sick. And, most urgently, they have no place to land. The port in northern Norway where they had planned to dock is closed to international travelers. Leaders of the expedition are scrambling to find a port willing to accept the international group of scientists and allow them to board flights to the eight countries they call home.
On a day of daunting and disheartening numbers, of record unemployment claims and rising death tolls and case counts that seem only to grow, Cuomo struck a note of hopefulness that brighter days ahead.
“During this difficult time, let’s listen to the voices of our better angels – as individuals, as families, as a community and as a society,” he said. “We’re going to get through this. The only question is how we get through it and when we get through it.”
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The Washington Post’s Abigail Hauslohner, Reis Thebault, Jacqueline Dupree, Marisa Iati, Scott Clement, Dan Balz, Siobhán O’Grady, John Wagner, Felicia Sonmez, James McAuley, Chico Harlan and Sarah Kaplan contributed to this report.