US coronavirus outbreak sees its deadliest day yet as a third of Americans are ordered to stay home

Posted at 9:18 AM, Mar 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 11:18:13-04

General stay-at-home orders issued by state governors will cover more than 40% of the US population by Wednesday as health officials give dire warnings about what the next days of the coronavirus pandemic will look like.

The measures come as the US reached a harrowing milestone -- the deadliest day yet, with 100 new coronavirus-related deaths reported Monday.

While President Donald Trump has expressed a desire to soon transition away from social distancing to help the economy, public health experts and physicians are generally urging they stay in place longer, as cases are nearly overwhelming health care systems in New York City and other areas.

"The (distancing) we have put in place over the last eight days ... you won't see the impact of that for at least another seven or 14 days," said Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, on NBC's "Today" show on Tuesday.

"What we're seeing in hospitals right now are people who most likely got exposed and sick more than two weeks ago," she said on "Today."

More than 43,600 coronavirus cases were reported in the country by Tuesday morning -- with about half in New York. At least 543 people in the US have died.

At least 16 states have announced stay-at-home orders, including New York, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, Washington state, Michigan and Hawaii. The 16 orders will be in effect by Wednesday, and generally demand nonessential workers stay home.

In other states, mayors have announced similar orders for their cities, including Atlanta, Denver and San Antonio.

But as city and state leaders have been pushing for more measures to keep residents separated -- from shutting down bars to banning public gatherings to keeping everyone in their homes -- the President says the country will be up and running again "very soon."

"America, will again, and soon, be open for business," Trump said Monday. "A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. Lot sooner."

Meanwhile, Ford announced Tuesday that it's working with 3M to produce more masks for health care workers and working with GE Healthcare to produce more ventilators -- equipment officials around the country are desperately needed to protect medical personnel and treat patients.

And the Trump administration and senators still are negotiating on a roughly $2 trillion plan to provide a jolt to the US economy, possibly including checks of more than $1,000 to some individuals.

Conflicting messages

Last week, the White House released guidelines urging Americans to avoid eating at bars or restaurants and skip out on gatherings with more than 10 people for the rest of March.

And despite saying he had no plans for a nationwide quarantine, Trump said the outbreak could last until July or August in the US. A federal plan obtained by CNN showed the government was preparing for a pandemic that could last for 18 months or longer.

But on Monday evening, the President said "it won't be that long" until things jump back to normal.

"We ... have a large team working on what the next steps will be once the medical community gives a region the OK. Meaning the OK to get going, to get back, let's go to work," Trump said. "Our country wasn't built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this."

But health officials have said a lack of powerful measures and residents ignoring directions of social distancing and isolation could result in more sharp increases of cases and hospitalizations that will overwhelm the country's health system.

"I think we're far away from that, quite frankly," said Dr. Celine Gounder, a CNN medical analyst and infectious disease specialist at New York's Bellevue Hospital Center, on Tuesday morning.

She described eerie conditions at her hospital: Full of patients, but hallways are emptier than usual because families aren't visiting. Roughly every hour, Gounder said, an overhead announcement is made about someone needing to go to intensive care, and a ventilator is needed.

Doctors and nurses around the country are pleading for ventilators and protective equipment, Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor at George Washington University, told CNN Monday night.

"We are seeing things getting out of control with no sense of how we're going to get it under control," Wen said.

"And then to hear the President talk about how we're going to be scaling back restrictions at a time when we have exponential spread of this disease ... it actually sends a confusing message."

NYC mayor: A week of supplies left

In New York City, the epicenter of the US outbreak, Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week medical supplies in public hospitals would likely last through April. On Monday, he said they may last for another week.

"I can only guarantee ... we can get through this week with the equipment and supplies we have," de Blasio said. "That's the blunt reality."

The mayor's office had said the city needs 45 million surgical gowns, coveralls, gloves, and face masks provided in early April. De Blasio said Monday he wanted hundreds of ventilators.

"If we don't get ventilators this week, we are going to start losing lives we could have saved. I can't be blunter than that."

Both de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo -- along with other governors -- have called on the federal government to ensure states will have the supplies they need. Last week Trump said he was invoking the Defense Production Act, which would give him the ability to force factories to produce key equipment and then allocate them as needed. Trump has thus far not ordered American companies under his executive prerogative to scale up production.

"The number of people who we're going to lose can easily be in the thousands," Cuomo said. "And God forbid we say, 'We could have saved them if we had the right equipment.' That's what keeps me up at night."

New York needs 30,000 ventilators, the governor said.

"It's a respiratory disease," he said. "And we're not getting the ventilators."

'Like going to war with a water gun'

The problem isn't unique to New York. Doctors have sounded the alarm on vanishing medical supplies across the country.

When it comes to personal protective equipment, Dr. Jason Halperin of Crescent Care in New Orleans told CNN they were in "urgent need of everything."

Working in a hospital without that protective equipment, a nurse in a South Texas hospital told CNN, is like "going to war with a water gun."

"Everything is limited," the nurse said, "PPE, ventilators, beds, negative pressure rooms, nurses etc."

One Seattle intensive care nurse told CNN she was told to wear a single N95 mask "indefinitely."

"We're being told that we have to use these until they're soiled, and if they get to that point, we have to show them to our (supervisor)."


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