- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2020

Coronavirus deaths appeared to be leveling off in New York, Italy and Spain, but the White House told America to keep its foot on the pedal to avoid squandering its gains, as U.S. deaths crossed the somber milestone of 10,000 on Monday.

Members of President Trump’s coronavirus task force said places such as New York City, neighboring New Jersey and Detroit are turning the corner even as they reel from mounting death tolls. Other places in the U.S. may peak in the coming weeks, though officials are hopeful their social-distancing techniques are working as companies race to develop drug treatments.

“There is tremendous light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Trump said at a White House briefing that ranged from positive to anger-filled, as he lost patience with tough questions about his team’s response.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said the increase in the number of coronavirus-related deaths has been effectively flat for two days amid a “possible flattening” of the curve in the country’s hardest-hit state.

Mr. Cuomo reported 4,758 people have died from the coronavirus in New York, an increase of 599, or 14%, from the number he had reported Sunday.

The governor on Sunday had reported 594 new deaths — down from a previous increase of 630 deaths.

“While none of this is good news, the possible flattening of the curve is better than the increases that we have seen,” he said, as the Empire State case count neared 131,000 in a population of 20 million. “New York is still far and away the most impacted state.”

Vice President Mike Pence also said they’ve seen “remarkable progress” in Washington state and California, suggesting efforts to keep people apart and ban large gatherings are beginning to work.

“Listen to your state and local authorities. We really do believe while this will be a week of heartache, it’s also a week of hope,” Mr. Pence said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said some places are ahead of others, but the tactics are working.

As people die from infections that were recorded two or three weeks ago, social efforts to mitigate transmission will reduce infections on the front end.

“Keep it up, because this is going to get us out of it,” Dr. Fauci said.

Wall Street rallied Monday as the rate of new U.S. cases appeared to slow over the weekend and hospitalizations stabilized. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed more than 1,600 points higher, or more than 7%, to 22,680. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite also rose 7%.

Grim news continued to pour in, however, as U.S. deaths reached more than 10,500 overall and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a close ally to Mr. Trump, entered an intensive care unit after his symptoms worsened.

Mr. Johnson was taken into intensive care on Monday, more than a week after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Before entering the unit, he tapped Foreign Minister Dominic Raab to deputize in his place.

“Americans are all praying for his recovery, he’s been a really good friend,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump said four companies are involved in rushing a complex set of drug therapies to the prime minister.

“I found Boris to be a fantastic person. He loves his country,” Mr. Trump said, before alluding to the U.K.’s fight to leave the European Union. “He fought like hell for his country.”

Mr. Trump also had unusually warm words for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who he likely will face in November’s election. On a phone call with the president, Mr. Biden offered suggestions on the response, though Mr. Trump kept the contents private.

“We talked about this [pandemic],” the president said. “He gave me his point of view, and I fully understood that. And he was really good. I appreciate his calling.”

Also Monday, Mr. Trump spoke to top pharmaceutical executives. He’s hopeful that drug treatments to combat the virus are on their way since a vaccine won’t come until 2021 at best. Ten drugmakers are in clinical trials for their therapies and 15 are in the planning stages for a trial, according to the administration.

The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December, and caused thousands of deaths in East Asia before unleashing its fury around the globe. It causes a disease known as COVID-19 that is mild in many people but can lead to severe respiratory distress and death in others, especially the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.

Italy, which has seen a world-leading 16,500 deaths, reported that fatal cases began to tail off over the weekend. So did Spain and France, which also have been hit particularly hard, suggesting their multiple weeks of lockdown are paying off.

Nearly 360,000 cases have been reported in the U.S., according to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University. An estimated 19,000 people in the U.S. have recovered.

Hoping to break the chains of transmission like in Europe, Mr. Trump wants people to stay at home if they can and avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people until April 30.

Five governors haven’t issued shutdown orders and four states have piecemeal orders for parts of their states. Mr. Trump said constitutional concerns prompted him to leave orders up the states, though members of his team said red-state governors in Iowa and Nebraska have “functionally” done enough to slow the spread of the disease.

In New York, meanwhile, stringent quarantine efforts are starting to pay off. Mr. Cuomo said the number of new hospitalizations, the change in daily intensive care unit admissions and the change in daily intubations are all down in recent days.

“We believe we’re turning a corner because of all of the physical distancing we’re doing,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the U.S. testing czar, told NBC’s “Today” show. “Other cities, like New Orleans, will come a little later. So their time is not this week but they’re going to peak a little bit later and we’ll see some rolling peaks across the country as the next few weeks unfold.”

“Whether you live in small-town America or you live in the Big Apple,” he said, “everyone is susceptible to this.”

Pennsylvania officials said the rate of new cases appeared to plateau in recent days but the slowdown isn’t conclusive and cases are still rising at an alarming pace.

“A surge is coming, and the ‘when’ and how bad that surge is really depends on all of us, what we do,” said Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. “We need to continue social distancing, we need to do as much as we can to support our health care systems throughout the commonwealth.”

Despite positive trends, hospitals are worried they will run out of supplies they need to help patients and keep their workers safe before the pandemic ends.

A Health and Human Services Department inspector general report on Monday said hospitals reported severe shortages of personal protective equipment. They also lacked testing kits and even when they could test, the results took a long time, making it difficult to allocate resources.

“Hospitals reported that severe shortages of testing supplies and extended waits for test results limited

hospitals’ ability to monitor the health of patients and staff,” the report from Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi A. Grimm said. The survey of hospitals was conducted in late March.

Mr. Trump flatly rejected the finding and suggested it was a political hit on him.

“If you’d find me his name I’d appreciate it,” he said, assuming the inspector general was a man.

The American Hospital Association, however, called the report “important and timely.”

Mr. Trump also ignored a question from a reporter from Hong Kong who asked about potential cooperation with China to get medical supplies to deal with COVID-19. He spoke about his phase-one trade deal instead and then asked if her outlet was state-owned. She said it was privately owned.

Mr. Trump is tapping wartime-production powers to compel some companies to produce more equipment domestically.

The president said he was able to end a tiff with 3M, a company the White House accused of shipping much-needed masks to other countries, to produce 166 million “high-quality face masks” for health care workers.

He said U.S. companies, generally, are “really going to town” in making ventilators and other equipment.

The USNS Comfort, a hospital ship with about 1,000 beds that recently arrived in New York City, soon will be able to accept COVID-19 patients after it had originally been set up as an overflow facility for non-coronavirus patients.

Mr. Trump said he spoke with Mr. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and that both governors plan to use the ship.

“New Jersey is a hot spot,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “So Gov. Murphy and Gov. Cuomo are going to be using the ship. … It’s set for COVID. Hopefully, that will be very helpful to both states.”

Mr. Trump continued to say that governors appreciate his efforts, despite grumblings from state leaders in media interviews.

The pandemic is also roiling the primary schedule across the U.S.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ last-ditch attempt to postpone Tuesday’s election in response to the coronavirus.

Mr. Evers had issued an executive order earlier in the day that called for the election to be delayed until June 9. The Democrat said that he needed to stop in-person voting in the name of public safety.

The court ruled that Mr. Evers didn’t have the power to move the election.

In the South, meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked houses of worship to remain “innovative” as Passover begins at nightfall Wednesday and Easter Sunday follows on the weekend.

The Republican said he was pleased to see religious leaders turn to online services and outdoor services where people remain in their cars.

“We want people during this time to be spiritually together but to remain socially distant,” Mr. DeSantis said. “Please keep God close, but please keep COVID-19 away.”

Florida, which has a large senior population among its 21.3 million residents, had seen more than 13,000 cases of COVID-19 and 236 deaths as of midday Monday, according to the state health department. Over 1,500 people have been hospitalized due to the disease.

Mr. DeSantis’ recently ordered all Floridians to stay at home through April, though he exempted houses of worship, citing ways to maintain social distance. He urged clergy members to maintain their cooperation.

“I think that they’ve been innovative, and I think that will ultimately be something that matters a lot to people,” Mr. DeSantis said. “But we also pointed out the risk of having a packed gathering right now, given what we’re going through.”

Dave Boyer, Seth McLaughlin and Lauren Meier contributed to this report.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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