The coronavirus outbreak could reach its peak in the United States this week, a top US health official said on Monday as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared “the worst is over” for his state, the US epicenter of the virus.
Even as signs emerged of stabilization, political leaders said a reopening of the economy may hinge on more widespread testing and cautioned that lifting of stay-at-home restrictions too early could reignite the outbreak. The Trump administration has signaled May 1 as a potential date for easing the restrictions.
“We can control the spread: Feel good about that,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing on Monday. “The worst is over, if we continue to be smart going forward. We have a hand on the valve, if we turn the valve, you’ll go right back.”
The United States, with the world’s third-largest population, has recorded more fatalities from COVID-19 than any other country, with more than 22 800 deaths as of Monday morning, according to a Reuters tally.
More than 10 000 people have died in New York state, and the death rate was “basically flat at an horrific level of pain and sorrow,” Cuomo said, referring to a flattening of the curve as seen on a graph.
The number of deaths reported in the United States overall on Sunday was 1 513, the smallest increase since April 6. The largest number of fatalities is still in and around New York City, the most populous U.S. city with about 8.4 million people.
Official statistics, which exclude deaths outside of hospitals, have understated the actual number of people who have succumbed to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, health experts said.
Cuomo and other governors will announce a coordinated reopening plan later on Monday, the New York governor said at his briefing. He wants to cooperate with other governors in the region as much as possible, he said.
The reopening “is a delicate balance and no one has done this before,” he said, adding that the process was in essence “recalibrating” what businesses and activities are essential.
Tensions between state governors and President Donald Trump have bubbled up since the outbreak and surfaced in the debate about when and how to restart economic activity.
“It is the decision of the president, and for many good reasons,” Trump said on Twitter on Monday. He went on to write that his administration was working closely with the governors.
“A decision by me, in conjunction with the governors and input from others, will be made shortly!” Trump’s tweet said.
Legal experts say a US president has limited power under the U.S. Constitution to order citizens back to their places of employment, or cities to reopen government buildings, transportation, or local businesses.
In New York City, three indicators have to show a sustained decline before the city could consider the outbreak to be in a less dangerous phase, Mayor Bill de Blasio said: the daily number of people admitted to hospitals, the number of people in intensive care units, and the percentage of positive tests for the virus.
“I’m pleased to report we do see all the indicators moving in the right direction, moving downward together,” said de Blasio, who stressed the need for widespread testing before the city could lift social-distancing restrictions.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot acknowledged a “tightening” of the supply chain for swabs needed in coronavirus testing, and said it was part of a “national and international challenge” to ramp up testing.
To ease the impact of the shutdown on the U.S. economy, the two top Democrats in the U.S. Congress called on Republicans on Monday to authorize more funding for national testing for the coronavirus.
Two days ago, Republicans renewed their push for a $250 billion measure to help small businesses while doubling down on their opposition to Democratic efforts to broaden the legislation to include other provisions such as funds for testing.