New York state, the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus, is nearing a plateau in number of patients hospitalized, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday, a hopeful sign even as deaths in his state and neighboring New Jersey hit single-day highs.
In addition, the U.S. surgeon general said the pandemic may kill fewer Americans than had been projected.
Tempering the cautiously optimistic tenor, authorities provided data showing the pandemic having a disproportionate impact on African Americans.
New York state's death toll rose by 731 to 5,489 over the past day, Cuomo said, though he called that a "lagging indicator" illustrating past trends. He said the state was "projecting that we are reaching a plateau in the total number of hospitalizations" due to the coronavirus.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said his state recorded 232 coronavirus deaths in the past day - also a new high - bringing its total death toll to 1,232.
New York 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.
The total number of U.S. cases equals roughly the combined number of cases reported in the next three countries combined: Spain, Italy and Germany.
Italy, with a population of about 60 million, and Spain, with 47 million, still have recorded much higher death rates per capita than the United States with a population is about 330 million. New York state's population is close to 20 million, with more than 8 million in New York City.
Public health steps to curb the pandemic have hammered the U.S. economy, with many businesses closing or scaling back while unemployment soared. More than 90% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders issued by state governors.
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.
'LET'S NOT GET COMPLACENT'
President Donald Trump a day earlier said the economy would be able to reopen "sooner than people think."
The White House coronavirus task force projected a death toll of 100,000 to 240,000 last week, saying containing deaths to that range was possible if strict social distances measures were respected, implying it could go even higher.
"Let's not get complacent," Cuomo told a news conference. "Social distancing is working. ... That's why you see those numbers coming down."
Murphy said he would order all state and county parks closed in New Jersey.
"We have seen far too many instances where people are gathering in groups in our parks erroneously thinking that since they’re outside social distancing doesn't matter. Nothing could be farther from the truth," Murphy said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose U.S. city is the most populous, 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.
"The number of people showing up in our hospitals who need a ventilator - that situation has improved a bit in recent days," he said, and that was giving authorities more time to acquire more ventilators.
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."
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," U.S. Surgeon General Jerome 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.
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.
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