US cautiously optimistic as coronavirus curve appears to flatten

WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) health officials made cautiously optimistic noises about coronavirus despite high death tolls on Thursday, suggesting Americans might be able to take summer holidays, as falling hospitalisation rates hint at a turning point in the battle against COVID-19.

With unemployment skyrocketing and the economy tanking, US President Donald Trump is keen to lift social confinement measures and get the US open for business again as soon as possible.

Trump’s top pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci warned America cannot be reopened overnight due to the threat of further waves of infections, but said it could be up and running again by the summer months.

That is, he said, providing citizens adhere to social distancing guidelines and widespread stay-at-home orders, which have the vast majority of Americans on lockdown, throughout April.

Nationwide, the US recorded 1,783 death over the past 24 hours, down by 190 from Wednesday’s record-breaking toll.

Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center medical staff stand outside of the emergency room bay in New York City. PHOTO: AFP

The country has suffered more than 16,500 virus-related fatalities – the second-highest number in the world after Italy. And it has emerged as the country with the most coronavirus cases, at more than 460,000.

When asked by CBS This Morning whether he could envision a summer of vacations, baseball games, weddings and family get-togethers, infectious disease expert Fauci replied, “It can be in the cards.”

His comments came as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo struck a similar tone of cautious optimism despite the state reporting a record single-day death toll for the third time this week on Thursday.

New York is bearing the brunt of the US’ deadly coronavirus pandemic, accounting for around half the number of deaths across the country.

Cuomo said COVID-19 had claimed the lives of 799 New Yorkers in the past 24 hours, bringing the state’s death toll to more than 7,000 and outdoing the previous high of 779 announced on Wednesday.

He added though that the curve was flattening because of social distancing orders.

“We had a 200-net increase in hospitalisations, which you can see is the lowest number we’ve had since this nightmare started,” Cuomo told reporters, adding that intensive care admissions were also at their lowest yet.

Meanwhile unemployment is rising at a jarring rate, with data on Thursday showing 17 million have lost their jobs since mid-March, when America began shutting down.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Fauci said the US could be opened by the summer if it is ready to deal with the inevitable spike in infections a relaxing of restrictions will bring.

“It is very likely that we will progress towards the steps towards normalisation as we get to the end of this 30 days.

“And I think that’s going to be a good time to look and see how quickly can we make that move to try and normalise.

“But hopefully, by the time we get to the summer we will have taken many steps in that direction,” he said.

Trump, who veers between sounding ominous warnings about the crisis to threatening to scrap the mitigation measures, said on Wednesday there was “light at the end of the tunnel”.

In recent days, an Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model used by the White House has revised down America’s projected number of COVID-19 deaths from 93,000 to 82,000 and then 60,000.

The model, which is considered too optimistic by some states, suggested the US will reach its peak number of confirmed cases this weekend.

However, some experts said inadequate testing means the extent of the pandemic is not yet realised.

America’s top doctor, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, told CBS the spread was slowing and the next 30 days were crucial.