U.S. deaths, joblessness mount as coronavirus exacts toll on Americans

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The coronavirus pandemic triggered a record 6.6 million jobless claims in a week and killed nearly 1,000 Americans in a single day, the latest data show, as the crisis led officials to order more than 80% of the U.S. population to stay home.

The number of Americans who filed for unemployment benefits last week shattered the previous high reached just a week earlier, the U.S. government said, as urgent measures to contain the pandemic slammed the brakes on the economy.

“It takes your breath away,” said Justin Hoogendoorn, head of fixed income strategy and analytics at Piper Sandler in Chicago. “Obviously the immediate reaction to something like that is going to be fear.”

Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Nevada told people to stay home on Wednesday, raising to 39 the number of states with such orders. Public health experts call the measures an urgent necessity but economists say they could lead to economic contraction of 30 percent or more in the second quarter.

As if 10 million Americans losing their jobs in two weeks were not enough, the U.S. death toll soared by 950 on Wednesday to a total of more than 4,800, marking the third day in a row of record increases.

Another 26,000 Americans tested positive for the coronavirus, increasing confirmed U.S. cases 214,000, nearly double that of Italy, with the second most, according to a Reuters tally of official data..

Globally, the number of confirmed infections approached 1 million with nearly 49,000 fatalities on Thursday, led by Italy with over 13,000 dead, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

To deal with the mounting number of fatalities, the U.S. Defense Department is looking to provide up to 100,000 body bags after the Federal Emergency Management Agency placed an order for that many, a Pentagon official told Reuters on Wednesday.

New York City crematories are extending their hours and burning bodies into the night, with corpses piling up so quickly that city officials are surveying cemeteries elsewhere in the state for temporary interment sites.

Funeral homes and cemetery directors describe a surge in demand unseen in decades as COVID-19 cases, the respiratory ailment caused by the novel coronavirus, surpassed 40,000 infections in the city, killing more than 1,000.

“We’ve been preparing for a worst-case scenario, which is in a lot of ways starting to materialize,” said Mike Lanotte, executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association.

The White House task force on the pandemic estimates the pandemic could kill 100,000 to 240,000 people even if lockdown orders remain in place and Americans abide by them.

The coronavirus is even more lethal in New Orleans, which has a per-capita death rate much higher than in New York City. Doctors, public health officials and available data say the Big Easy’s high levels of obesity and related ailments may be part of the problem.

“We’re just sicker,” said Rebekah Gee, head of Louisiana State University’s healthcare services division.

The outbreak will get worse and social distancing is the only way to contain it, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We just have to do it,” Fauci told NBC’s Today show on Thursday. “That is our major weapon against this virus right now. We don’t have a vaccine that’s deployable. This is the only thing we have.”

An emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the U.S. government has nearly run out of protective gear for doctors and nurses, as governors and healthcare providers across the country clamor for protective gear and medical equipment such as ventilators, which help COVID-19 patients breathe.

New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, has appointed former police commissioner James O’Neill to oversee the city’s medical supply chain.

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called on Trump to follow suit and appoint a national czar with military experience to oversee the production and distribution of medical supplies.

“The system that the administration has in place is horrible,” Schumer told MSNBC, adding he would send a letter to Trump later on Thursday.

Fellow Democratic Senator Dick Durbin echoed Schumer, telling CNBC, “We are begging, pleading, scratching around at every way, shape or form to bring in the protective equipment that we need” for his state of Illinois.

Trump tweeted that New York has received more federal aid than any other state and said the man he describes as “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” and local officials should stop complaining, saying they should have stocked up long ago.

Trump also said on Twitter that 51 large cargo planes with medical supplies were on their way to the states and the federal government was “sending many ventilators today” without giving details.

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