The United States enters one of the most critical weeks so far in the coronavirus crisis with the death toll exploding in New York, Michigan and Louisiana, but a few governors still resisted issuing stay-at-home orders and a handful of churches held large Palm Sunday services.
New York, the hardest-hit state, reported on Sunday that, for the first time in a week, deaths had fallen slightly from the day before, but there were still nearly 600 new fatalities and more than 7,300 new cases. Places such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Washington, D.C. are starting to see rising deaths.
Bodies of victims of COVID-19, the flu-like respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, were stacked in bright orange bags inside a makeshift morgue outside the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, according to photos provided to Reuters.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday that new hospitalizations had fallen by 50% over the previous 24 hours, but he cautioned that it was not yet clear whether the crisis was reaching a plateau in the state, which has a total of 4,159 deaths and more than 122,000 cases.
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“The coronavirus is truly vicious and effective at what the virus does,” Cuomo told a daily briefing. “It’s an effective killer.”
Once the peak of the epidemic passes, Cuomo said a mass rollout of rapid testing will be critical to help the nation “return to normalcy.”
‘OUR PEARL HARBOR’
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned on Fox News Sunday that hard times were ahead but “there is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part for the next 30 days.”
“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly. This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized,” he said. “It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.”
Most states have ordered residents to stay home except for essential trips to slow the spread of the virus in the United States where over 332,000 people have tested positive and over 9,500 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
However, a few churches were holding large gatherings on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week in Christian churches.
Pastor Tony Spell, who was arrested last week for holding services, summoned his faithful again, three weeks after Louisiana banned gatherings of 10 people or more.
Hundreds of worshippers converged on Spell’s Life Tabernacle megachurch in a suburb of Baton Rouge, many arriving in 26 buses sent to pick them up. Everyone but immediate family members kept at least six feet apart, a lawyer for the pastor said.
“They would rather come to church and worship like free people than live like prisoners in their homes,” Spell told reporters.
Louisiana has become a hot spot for the virus, reporting a jump in deaths to nearly 500 and more than 13,000 cases. The governor predicted the state will run out of ventilators by Thursday.
Most churches have closed their doors and many are broadcasting services online. Rhode Island’s governor went as far as to discourage the traditional distribution of palms after medical experts determined there was no safe way to do so.
‘IT COULD COME BACK’
White House medical experts have forecast that between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could be killed in the pandemic, even if sweeping orders to stay home are followed.
President Donald Trump warned on Saturday that there were “very horrendous” days ahead.
Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, whose state has seen cases flatten after early action, said if other states do not also impose strict measures, the virus will simply circulate.
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said she might “shut everything down” if residents do not follow current rules as her state’s number of cases approaches 1,000 and deaths rise.
Eight states have yet to order residents to stay home: Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Georgia, which has recorded 6,600 cases and more than 200 deaths, ordered residents to stay home but then allowed some beaches to reopen.
Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson defended his refusal to order statewide restrictions, saying the situation was being watched closely and that his more “targeted approach” was still slowing the spread of the virus.
Adams, the surgeon general, said governors who have not issued month-long stay-at-home orders should at least consider one for the upcoming week.
Kate Lynn Blatt, 38, a property manager from rural Pottsville, Pennsylvania, said she was astounded that her state’s governor, Tom Wolf, waited until April 1 to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.
“We were shocked. I can’t believe Trump hasn’t issued a nationwide order and I still can’t believe there are states that are still open,” Blatt said.
Reporting by Susan Heavey and Amanda Becker in Washington, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Daniel Wallis