xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

President Trump extends coronavirus shutdown until April 30

Bracing the nation for a grim death toll, President Donald Trump on Sunday extended the voluntary national shutdown for a month, bowing to public health experts who told him the coronavirus pandemic could claim over 100,000 lives in the U.S., perhaps significantly more, if not enough is done to fight it.

It was a stark shift in tone by the president, who only days ago mused about the country reopening in a few weeks. From the Rose Garden, he said his Easter revival hopes had only been “aspirational.”

Advertisement

The initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal government expires Monday, and Trump had expressed interest in relaxing the national guidelines at least in parts of the country less afflicted by the pandemic. But instead he decided to extend them through April 30, a tacit acknowledgment he’d been too optimistic. Many states and local governments have stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.

Trump’s impulse to restore normalcy met a sober reality check Sunday from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, who said the U.S. could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections from the pandemic. Trump’s decision to extend the guidelines reflected a recognition that the struggle will take place over the longer haul and the risk of deaths spiraling into the hundreds of thousands is real.

Advertisement

“I want our life back again,” the president told reporters in the Rose Garden.

Trump, who has largely avoided talk of potential death and infection rates, cited projection models that said potentially 2.2 million people or more could have died had the country not put social distancing measures in place. And he said the country would be doing well if it “can hold” the number of deaths “down to 100,000.”

“It’s a horrible number,” Trump said, but added: “We all together have done a very good job.”

After the extension was announced, Fauci said, “We want to make sure that we don’t prematurely think we’re doing so great.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room on March 27, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room on March 27, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens.(Alex Brandon / AP)

The federal guidelines recommend against large group gatherings and urge older people and anyone with existing health problems to stay home. People are urged to work at home when possible and avoid restaurants, bars, nonessential travel and shopping trips.

The extension would leave the federal recommendations in place beyond Easter, April 12, by which time Trump had hoped the country and its economy could start to rev up again. Alarmed public-health officials said Easter was sure to be too soon.

By Sunday night, the U.S. had over 140,000 reported infections and 2,400 deaths, according to the running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases is thought to be considerably higher because of testing shortages and mild illnesses that have gone unreported.

Worldwide, more than 720,000 infections were reported, and deaths topped 33,000, half of them in Italy and Spain, where the health system is at the breaking point.

New York state — where the death toll passed 1,000 — remained the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with the vast majority of the deaths in New York City. But spikes in infections were recorded around the country, not only in metropolitan areas but in Midwestern towns and Rocky Mountain ski havens. West Virginia reported its first death, leaving only two states — Hawaii and Montana — with none linked to the outbreak.

The virus is moving fast through nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other places that house elderly or otherwise vulnerable people, spreading “like fire through dry grass," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Since the U.S. saw its first major outbreak of the coronavirus earlier this month — centered at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington — a stream of similar facilities have battled infections among residents and staff.

A week ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 147 nursing homes in 27 states had patients with COVID-19. The problem has only worsened since.

Advertisement

In Woodbridge, New Jersey, a nursing home relocated all of its residents after two dozen were confirmed infected and the rest were presumed to be. In Louisiana, at least 11 nursing homes, largely in the New Orleans area, have reported cases. In Mount Airy, Maryland, a death linked to the virus was recorded in a home where 66 people were confirmed infected.

Residents' loved ones are being kept away to try to slow the spread.

Willa Robinson, whose husband, Vernon, died Thursday, said she last saw him healthy on March 13 — the day before his nursing home in Burbank, California, prohibited visitors. She brought him his favorite meal of baked chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and carrots and left with their customary farewell.

“I love you," she told him. “I love you more,” he replied.

She sat outside his hospital room about a week ago and watched through a glass window as he struggled to breathe. Now she must mourn her husband of 55 years in isolation.

“Nobody can come to me,” she said.

Others feared they may get no goodbye.

“I have a feeling that I very likely may never see my mother again,” said James Preller, whose 94-year-old mother, Ann Preller, is a resident at Peconic Landing, a retirement community on New York's Long Island where seven have died recently.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and lead to death.

In New York, the virus is overwhelming some of the city's poorest neighborhoods, with data showing high rates of infection in densely packed areas with big non-English-speaking populations.

Dr. Craig Smith, who heads the surgery department at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, said the hospital will probably be forced into “apocalyptic scenarios” in the coming weeks in which ventilators and intensive care unit beds will need to be rationed.

Trump spoke of the haunting images he had seen on television this week of bodies being removed from Elmhurst Hospital in his native Queens and put in large refrigerated trucks.

“Body bags all over, in hallways,” Trump said. “I've seen things that I've never seen before.”

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio asked the federal government to deliver 400 more ventilators and warned that the city will run out of masks, gowns and other supplies in a week if they don't get reinforcements.

Worry for the poorest was being echoed around the world.

An Indian railway employee works to convert a train coach into an isolation ward for the fight against the new coronavirus in Gauhati, India, on March 29, 2020.
An Indian railway employee works to convert a train coach into an isolation ward for the fight against the new coronavirus in Gauhati, India, on March 29, 2020.(Anupam Nath/AP)

In India, a lockdown covering the country's 1.3 billion people has put untold numbers out of work and left many families struggling to feed themselves. Tens of thousands in New Delhi were forced to flee their homes, with no way to pay the rent, journeying back to their native villages. Women in saris held babies on their hips. Others toted their belongings in bags normally used for cement.

Advertisement

Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologized for the hardships that the lockdown brought but said, “These tough measures were needed to win this battle.”

Though the U.S. leads the world in reported cases, five other countries have higher death tolls: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France.

Italy reported more than 750 new fatalities Sunday, bringing the country's total to nearly 10,800. But the number of new infections showed signs of easing, with officials expressing cautious optimism that the most severe shutdown in the industrialized West is showing results.

Italy’s civil protection agency said more than 5,200 new cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, the lowest number in four days, for a total of almost 98,000 infections.

Spain moved to tighten its lockdown and ban all nonessential work as it hit another daily record of almost 840 dead. The country's overall official toll was more than 6,500.

Egypt shut its beaches as cases in the Mideast surpassed 50,000. Police in the Philippines stepped up arrests of quarantine violators, and more tourists were evacuated from Mount Everest and the Indonesian island of Bali.

Russia ordered borders to close on Monday, Moscow all but confined its 12 million residents to their homes, and the head of the Russian Orthodox called on believers to stay away from churches and pray at home instead.

A prominent French politician with the virus died, the country's first death of a senior official.

Restrictions that would have been unthinkable weeks ago have been imposed in Europe and elsewhere. Parisians are fined if they try to leave the city, South Africans can't buy liquor, and Serbians are upset over a ban on walking their dogs. In Italy, burials are being held with only one family member.

Rhode Island Air National Guard Sgt. William Randall, right, hands an information sheet to New York resident Reha Kocatas, who is self-quarantining at his home in Westerly, Rhode Island, on March 28, 2020. The Rhode Island National Guard started going door to door in coastal areas to inform any New Yorkers who may have come to the state that they must self-quarantine for 14 days.
Rhode Island Air National Guard Sgt. William Randall, right, hands an information sheet to New York resident Reha Kocatas, who is self-quarantining at his home in Westerly, Rhode Island, on March 28, 2020. The Rhode Island National Guard started going door to door in coastal areas to inform any New Yorkers who may have come to the state that they must self-quarantine for 14 days.(David Goldman/AP)

Some U.S. states began to try to limit exposure from visitors from harder-hit areas. Rhode Island National Guard troops went door to door in coastal communities to find New Yorkers. Florida is setting up checkpoints to screen visitors from Louisiana. Texas said it would require drivers from Louisiana to self-isolate for two weeks.

As others tightened controls, China continued to ease its restrictions: Flights from Hubei province at the epicenter of the country’s outbreak resumed Sunday.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement