Coronavirus Surge to Hit New York Hard and Fast, Governor Warns

By Stephanie Kelly and Susan Heavey

March 25, 2020

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned on Tuesday that the worst of the coronavirus outbreak would hit his state faster and harder than previously thought, as the World Health Organization said the United States could emerge as the epicenter of the global pandemic.

A day after President Donald Trump said he might consider lifting restrictions on travel, socializing and working together to help the economy recover from the health crisis, Cuomo said that easing the limits too early would cost lives.

"If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it's no contest. No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life," he said at a convention center in Manhattan that is being converted into a 1,000-bed temporary hospital.

Cuomo's state is the worst hit by the outbreak, which has infected more than 43,000 people in the United States and killed at least 620. The death toll in New York from the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by coronavirus has reached 157.

The expected need for hospital beds in New York at the peak of the outbreak has jumped to 140,000, Cuomo said, compared with 110,000 projected recently. Only 53,000 beds are now available.

The rate of infection is now doubling every three days in New York and the worst of the outbreak, known as the apex, could arrive in 14 to 21 days, putting huge pressure on health services, Cuomo said.

A week after New Yorkers and millions of other Americans began taking shelter at home from the coronavirus, state officials and financial investors warned on Tuesday against easing restrictions too soon even though the clampdown is devastating the U.S. economy.

Trump said on Monday he was considering how to restart business life when a 15-day shutdown ends next week, even as the highly contagious virus spreads rapidly and poorly equipped hospitals struggle with a wave of deadly cases.

A Republican, Trump is seeking to win re-election in November on a promise of economic growth.

"Our people are full of vim and vigor and energy. They don't want to be locked into a house or an apartment, or some space," Trump told the Fox News Channel on Tuesday. "You can destroy a country this way by closing it down."

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, also a Republican, pushed back on the notion that an easing of restrictions might start anytime soon.

"We don't think that we're going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock," he told CNN on Tuesday.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday warned that the United States has the potential to become the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, citing a "very large acceleration" in infections. So far, Italy and China, where the outbreak began, have been hardest hit.

After criticism from Cuomo and others that Trump was not wielding presidential powers to force businesses to make medical equipment like masks and ventilators, the federal government said on Tuesday it would use the Defense Production Act to procure 60,000 coronavirus test kits.

Trump issued guidelines last week that he said aimed to slow the spread of the disease over 15 days, including curbing unnecessary travel. Economic activity has ground to a halt in major states such as New York and California, with thousands of U.S. businesses shut and millions out of work.

Stephen Moore, an economic commentator said by Trump's aides to be influencing the president, told Reuters on Monday there was a re-examination in the White House of the wisdom of a "full scale" economic shutdown. He said there were some who thought that "if we go on too long with the economy shut down, the human toll for that could be greater than the risk of the virus."


There were signs that nerves had begun fraying after days of people working from home, looking after children whose schools are shut and severely scaling back on everyday activities.

Steve Rubinstein, a small bottle of hand sanitizer dangling from his belt loop, was juggling his two small children as they played in a New York park. Both he and his wife are working from home.

"It's very challenging, my wife and I both work, we have fulltime jobs," he said. "But it's, yeah, it's nonstop, it's relentless," Rubinstein, 35, added about balancing work demands and keeping their children safe and entertained.

Rapidly reopening the economy might backfire, with higher deaths and people remaining fearful of going out, according to investors who remain anxious about the uncertain trajectory of the coronavirus and its economic toll.

"Markets will react badly because they have learned that this approach doesn't work," Axel Merk, chief investment officer of Merk Investments, said. "From a medical point of view, you have to break the exponential growth and you do that with shelter in place policies."


After taking a beating for most days in recent weeks, Wall Street bounced back from three-year lows on Tuesday amid signs that Washington was nearing a deal on a $2 trillion package to rescue the economy from coronavirus. All three main U.S. stock indexes jumped more than 5%.

Negotiators predicted the U.S. Senate could pass the stimulus bill, which includes financial aid for ordinary Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, as soon as Tuesday.

Despite the huge changes to daily life, many Americans still say they are willing to make sacrifices.

Christine Schindler, 58, a former receptionist, was alone waiting for a bus on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Tuesday. She said she thought it was dangerous to lift the restrictions too early for the sake of the economy.

"It's going to come back up anyway, really, once things hit the bottom," she said. "This is supposed to be the number one economy in the world."


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