The US team directing the effort to curb the surge in coronavirus cases said on Tuesday that relatively moderate increases in the states of California and Washington suggest that social distancing measures will help shorten the contagion’s spread in the country, while cautioning that the number of fatalities will continue to increase for the next two weeks.
The US death toll could rise to a range of 100,000 to 240,000, according to models the White House task force is tracking, but could end up lower if people strictly maintain mitigation measures that have been in place since mid-March, based on the experience of the two west coast states.
“What we’re going to see, and that’s why we’ve got to brace ourselves in the next several days to a week or so, we’re going to continue to see things go up,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work.”
The task force is “very much focused on the next two weeks, and the stark reality of what this virus will do as it moves through communities,” said Deborah Birx, deputy to US vice-president Mike Pence on the team.
“I’m reassured by looking at the Seattle line, by looking at the LA line, by looking at what California has been able to do,” Birx said, referring to charts showing the number of infections in California and Washington significantly more flat compared to New York.
Birx and Fauci said testing and mitigation measures were put into place in the two states earlier than they were throughout the rest of the country.
California and Washington state confirmed their first cases of Covid-19 contracted through “community spread”, or without any known connection to a region badly affected by the disease, in the last week of February.
The latest projections about the spread of Covid-19 in the US comes as the country’s death toll from the coronavirus climbed past 3,800 on Tuesday, eclipsing the official count in China, where the spread of coronavirus was first reported at the end of 2019. China has lost at least 3,305 people to the illness, according to the National Health Commission.
Italy, which has the highest Covid-19 death toll, figured into calculations that the spread in the US would begin to abate after another two weeks.
“You can see that [Italy is] beginning to turn the corner in new cases,” Birx said, referring to a chart showing the southern European country’s cases beginning to decline on Saturday.
“They’re entering their fourth week of full mitigation and showing what is possible when we work together as a community, as a country, to change the course of this pandemic together.”
Meanwhile, cases in New York City, currently the epicentre of the US epidemic, continued to climb to nearly 40,000. News earlier on Tuesday that New York-based CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, the younger brother of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, had tested positive for the illness added gravity to the situation there.
Addressing the “war zone” that New York has become, Pence said the area may have experienced community spread long before health authorities there were aware of the problem.
New York “is a city that we really believe may have had exposure to the coronavirus much earlier on than we could have known”, he said.
Other US metropolitan areas tightened social distancing measures, including Washington, where local authorities announced fines of up to US$5,000 for those venturing outside for anything other than essential business such as grocery shopping. The surrounding states of Virginia and Maryland issued similar directives.
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