US nears peak death rate as New York confirms more coronavirus cases than any country
(CNN) -- The New York governor signed an order to bring in additional funeral directors as the number of coronavirus cases in the state outpaced all countries except the United States.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order will make it easier for licensed funeral directors from other states to practice in New York.
At least 16,686 people have died of coronavirus in the US -- nearly half of them in New York.Of the 466,299 total confirmed cases nationwide, about 162,000 are in New York, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.
The US is set to reach its highest daily number of deaths on or around Sunday, according to models by the prominent Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.
It estimated that 60,415 in the US would die of coronavirus by August, assuming social distancing policies continue through May. That projection is down from the 82,000 it predicted earlier this week.
Even though the model lowered its nationwide numbers, it issued key differences by region and state. For example, New York saw an increase in total projected deaths.
The New York City's office of Chief Medical Examiner issued a memo extending the time a body is kept in custody to 14 days. Hart Island, which has served as a public cemetery for decades, is serving as a resting place for unclaimed coronavirus victims, New York officials said.
Queens funeral director Patrick Kearns said the extension will help with the influx of victims. He's receiving 30 to 40 calls a day, he said, the same number he'd get in a typical month before the pandemic hit.
Social distancing appears to be working, officials say
While states prepare for the peak period, experts say it appears social distancing is working.
In New York, Cuomo said Thursday that the number of people hospitalized in the state is going down but deaths have gone up. He described the deaths as a lagging indicator, saying those who don't make it tend to have been hospitalized the longest.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, echoed a similar sentiment.
"At the same time as we're seeing the increase in deaths, we're seeing a rather dramatic decrease in the need for hospitalizations," Fauci said. "That means that what we are doing is working and therefore we need to continue to do it."
Social distancing is playing a crucial role in the fight against coronavirus, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We're not defenseless. This virus has a very significant weakness, it can't swim 7 feet," he said.
Some states remain cautiously optimistic with the latest developments. In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont said new hospitalizations are dropping while Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that the state has the lowest number of hospitalizations per 100,000 people compared to other neighboring states.
In Ohio, while the number of coronavirus-related deaths continues to increase, the number of people impacted by the virus is lower than previously projected, Gov. Mike DeWine said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state has seen a 1.9% drop of people in ICU, and the stay-at-home order appears to be working.
"I think we're seeing the consequences of that when we see that our mortality rate is really a lot lower than what have been predicted, and it really shows that this mitigation works," Redfield said. "I think we're coming to the peak, as we sit here today, where we're able to see the other side of the curve, and we'll see this outbreak continue to decline over the weeks ahead."
While maintaining social distancing measures appears to be holding down the spread in some areas, reopening the country will require a strategy and understanding the extent of the transmission, experts say.
"It's not going to be one size fits all. It's going to be using the data that we have from surveillance to really understand where it is the most important places for us to begin to reopen," Redfield said.
Americans have the potential to take summer vacations this year -- as long as they continue aggressive mitigation efforts now and get to a place where they can be modified, Fauci said.
CDC won't recommend hydroxychloroquine, director says
As coronavirus ravages the world, states are rushing to get hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that President Donald Trump has touted as potential treatment and a "game changer."
The drug has not been fully tested but some states are gathering doses for their patients. The CDC's Redfield said he does not recommend the drug.
"At this stage, at this moment in time, we're not recommending it, but we're not, not recommending that," Redfield said. "We're recommending for the physician and the patient to have that discussion."
The CDC removed its website guidelines for doctors on how to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. Trump has pressed federal health officials to make the drugs more widely available despite little reliable evidence that they are effective at treating the virus.
"We're very comfortable in responding when we have data that is compelling," Redfield said Thursday on CNN's Global Town Hall. "CDC, as an organization ... we're not an opinion organization. We're a science-based data driven organization. So I do think this is going to be an independent decision of these health care providers and patients."
Despite the lack of a vaccine, the CDC is preparing for what could happen next year, which is expected to be challenging as well, Redfield said, adding that proactive steps will change the way the country deals with another outbreak.
"That includes early case identification, isolating people who are sick and tracing those that the person has come into contact with while they were contagious," he said. "We don't have to go through the serious mitigation steps that we're taking to get us under control."
The economy takes a major hit
Social distancing is helping keep coronavirus deaths down, but it's also having a major effect on the economy.
About 6.6 million people filed claims for unemployment benefits last week, data released Thursday shows. That means more than 16.8 million Americans have sought unemployment aid since mid-March.
And 45 economists say the United States is already in a recession and will remain that way for the first half of the year. They predicted a sharp, short recession for the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic severely restricts economic activity.
Economic growth likely fell at a rate of 2.4% in the first quarter, and will decline a staggering 26.5% in the second quarter, the survey from the National Association for Business Economics found.
Despite the abrupt downturn, the economists are optimistic the economy will bounce back in the latter half of 2020, growing at a rate of nearly 6% by the end of the year.
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