NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York is nearing a plateau in the number of coronavirus patients hospitalized, a sign of optimism even though the number of the deaths in the state hit a single-day high, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday.
Cuomo said his state was “projecting that we are reaching a plateau in the total number of hospitalizations” due to the coronavirus. The U.S. surgeon general said the coronavirus pandemic may kill fewer Americans than had been projected.
In New York state, the death toll rose by 731 to 5,489 over the past day, Cuomo said, though he called that a “lagging indicator” illustrating past trends.
The state overtook Italy on Tuesday, reporting overall coronavirus cases second in the world only to Spain, according to a Reuters tally.
The tally showed New York has 138,836 reported cases compared with Italy at 135,586; Spain has the most cases at 140,510. In total, the United States has recorded 380,000 cases and 11,800 deaths.
Cuomo said it was time to start planning for the eventual restarting of the economy, but added it was not time to let up on mitigation efforts to enact “social distancing” to curb the spread of the virus.
President Donald Trump a day earlier said the economy would be able to reopen “sooner than people think.”
“Let’s not get complacent,” Cuomo told a news conference. “Social distancing is working. … That’s why you see those numbers coming down.”
“This is not a light switch that we can just flick one day and everything goes back to normal,” the governor said. “We’re going to have to restart that economy, we’re going to have to restart a lot of systems that were shut down abruptly. And we need to start to plan for that.”
Encouraging signs came to light elsewhere as well.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told a news briefing that her city has gone from coronavirus cases doubling every one to two days to doubling every nine to 10 days because residents have complied with the state’s stay-at-home order. The city has documented 5,043 cases and 118 deaths.
“It’s obviously progress,” Lightfoot said. “But we are not near the peak so I don’t want to raise false expectations that it’s coming sometime soon based on the modeling that we have seen.”
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said he concurred with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that some research models had projected death totals that may prove too high, though neither would offer an alternate estimate.
Authorities have championed “social distancing” and other mitigation policies, saying they were having a positive effect in fighting the spread of the pathogen in the United States but warned against complacency.
More than 90% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders issued by state governors.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was too early to declare that a corner had been turned in the fight against the coronavirus but he pointed to some encouraging developments.
“I can say in the last couple of days, something is starting to change. We don’t know if it will be sustained but it is meaningful now,” de Blasio told a news conference.
The White House coronavirus task force projected a death toll of 100,000 to 240,000 a week ago, saying containing deaths to that range was possible if strict social distances measures were respected, implying it could go even higher.
Adams on Tuesday told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he was encouraged by recent data showing a possible “flattening” of the outbreak in some areas, referring to the shape of the curve when deaths are shown on a graph.
Early data from U.S. states shows African Americans are more likely to die from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, highlighting longstanding disparities in health and inequalities in access to medical care, experts said.
“We know that blacks are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, lung disease. And I have shared myself, personally, that I have high blood pressure,” Adams, who is black, told the CBS program “This Morning.”
Data from Chicago officials on Monday showed that black residents make up 52 percent of coronavirus infections and 72 percent of deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said on Monday more than 70% of those who have died of the coronavirus in his state are African Americans.
De Blasio cited some signs of progress in the most populous U.S. city.
“The number of people showing up in our hospitals who need a ventilator – that situation has improved a bit in recent days.” That was giving authorities more time to acquire more ventilators, de Blasio added.
Cuomo said his state had about 90,000 available beds, which he called “more than enough.” But the governor said healthcare staffing remained a challenge as healthcare workers fell ill, were overworked and stressed.
About 7,000 additional workers have been hired – retired healthcare workers who came forward, Cuomo said. In terms of medical equipment including protective gear and ventilators, Cuomo said, “every hospital has what they need.”
Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington. Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Lisa Shumaker, Peter Szekely, Daniel Trotta, Jan Wolfe, Stephanie Kelly, Makini Brice, Brendan O’Brien and Idrees Ali; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Will Dunham; Editing by Howard Goller