President Trump veers from predicting ‘a lot of death’ to revisiting Easter services.
Veering from grim warnings to baseless assurances in a single news conference, President Trump on Saturday predicted a surging death toll in what may be “the toughest week” of the coronavirus pandemic before also dispensing unproven medical advice. He suggested again that Americans might be able to congregate for Easter Sunday services.
“There will be a lot of death,” Mr. Trump said at the White House, where he and other American officials depicted some parts of the United States as climbing toward the peaks of their crises, while warning that new hot spots were emerging in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
At one point Mr. Trump, who initially set Easter Sunday as a target date for reopening the country before backing off, said that the holiday would be a particularly “sad” day for Americans prohibited from gathering in large numbers. He said he would again like to consider relaxing social distancing rules for Easter services and that he had told advisers, “maybe we could allow special for churches” gatherings that were possibly outside with “great separation.”
“It’s something we should talk about,” he added, but he did not announce any changes to existing federal recommendations. “But somebody did say that, well then you’re sort of opening it up to that little, you know, do we want to take a chance on doing that when we’ve been doing so well?”
More than 8,000 people have died so far in the United States, but the White House has said its projections show that at least 100,000 people could die because of the virus.
“The next two weeks are extraordinarily important,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe and that means everybody doing the six-feet distancing, washing their hands.”
Dr. Birx also said that Detroit, New York and Louisiana — the current hot spots — will likely reach a peak in the next six to seven days, citing the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s predictions.
President Trump appeared to suggest on Saturday that the federal government was placing large amounts of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine in its Strategic National Stockpile, speaking optimistically about its potential to treat coronavirus patients and saying he would consider taking it himself if needed.
But only anecdotal reports and one small clinical trial have shown any benefits, and the F.D.A. has not approved the drug for coronavirus treatments. Also, a spike in interest in the drug the president has helped fan has left patients who rely on it to treat chronic diseases wondering whether they will be able to fill their prescriptions.
“We’re going to be distributing it through the Strategic National Stockpile,” Mr. Trump said at a White House news conference, adding, “we have millions and millions of doses of it.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services received 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate last month from Sandoz, a division of Novartis, a pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland, for use in clinical trials and potentially treating coronavirus patients.
Previous reports from China and France that hydroxychloroquine seemed to help patients, along with enthusiastic comments from Mr. Trump, have created a buzz around the drug and the closely related chloroquine, which have been used for decades to treat autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The subsequent surge in demand has led to hoarding and shortages.
Residents from the I.C.U. at the Brooklyn Hospital Center presented their cases to the attending physicians last week speaking in shorthand and at auctioneer-like speed.
“Admitted for acute hypoxic respiratory failure secondary to likely Covid-19.”
“Admitted for acute hypoxic respiratory failure secondary to confirmed Covid-19.”
“Admitted for acute hypoxic respiratory failure, high suspicion of Covid-19.”
Nearly every person lying in a bed in the new intensive care unit, just as in the main one, was breathing with the help of a mechanical ventilator.
There were patients in their 80s and in their 30s. Patients whose asthma and diabetes helped explain their serious illness. And patients who seemed to have no risk factors at all. Patients from nursing homes. Patients who had no homes. Pregnant women, some of whom would not be conscious when their babies were delivered to increase their odds of surviving to raise their children.
This was the week that the coronavirus crisis pummeled hospitals throughout New York City, where deaths reached more than 2,000, as the governor warned that vital equipment and supplies would run short in just a few days, as the mayor pleaded for more doctors and as hospital officials and political leaders alike acknowledged that the situation would get even worse.
At the Brooklyn Hospital Center — a medium-size independent community hospital — that toll was evident. Deaths attributed to the virus more than quintupled from the previous week. The number of inpatients confirmed to have Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, grew from 15 to 105, with 48 more awaiting results. Hospital leaders estimated that about a third of doctors and nurses were out sick. The hospital temporarily ran out of protective plastic gowns, of the main sedative for patients on ventilators, of a key blood pressure medication. The sense of urgency and tragedy was heightened by a video, circulating online, showing a forklift hoisting a body into a refrigerated trailer outside the hospital.
Some nurses cared for five critically ill patients at a time, when the norm there was just two. The array of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and respiratory therapists who were accustomed to working in the I.C.U. needed reinforcements, so a podiatrist and two of her resident trainees, a neurosurgery physician assistant, surgery residents and a nurse anesthetist joined in to help.
Dr. James Gasperino, the chair of medicine and vice president for critical care at the hospital, conferred in the hallway with the director of respiratory therapy. The hospital had 98 ventilators, many acquired in recent days. Employees were running simulations to practice how they might use each ventilator to treat two patients, a difficult and risky proposition. “We’re doing this because the alternative is death,” Dr. Gasperino said.
A drug recovery meeting hosted online. A police officer wearing a face mask. A pastor without a congregation. A funeral director trying to bury the dead.
The merciless threat slipped into the country, emptying its streets, shuttering its stores, wrecking its economy and forcing its people to retreat indoors.
In this pandemic nation, once crowded cities now feel abandoned, as if everyone suddenly moved out. There is no rush hour. “Closed” signs hang from the front doors of business after business. But there are new connections, too.
For many, this coronavirus pandemic involves the most dramatic kind of fight — for life, for food, for money. For others, it can feel absurdly trifling as they stay inside — a fight against boredom, binge eating, isolation.
Doctors in Congress are pressing for a more aggressive coronavirus response.
Many of the roughly two dozen health professionals in Congress sounded the alarm about the coming pandemic back when Mr. Trump was still calling criticism of his administration’s response a “hoax.” Now, with more than 300,000 Americans infected and 8,400 dead from Covid-19, the physicians of Congress are drawing on their expertise to push for more aggressive federal measures to cope with the disease.
In February, Representative Phil Roe, Republican of Tennessee, concluded that the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship, was a “viral petri dish” for the coronavirus and badgered top federal health officials to evacuate Americans from the ship.
In early March, Representative Raul Ruiz, Democrat of California, told Vice President Mike Pence in a closed-door meeting that President Trump needed to “think about declaring a national emergency.”
Now, Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, is seeking an audience with Mr. Pence to push several ideas, including the creation of a national “immunity registry” for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, that would collect data from widespread blood testing to determine who could safely return to work.
A bipartisan trio of doctors — Dr. Cassidy, a gastroenterologist with expertise in immunization; Dr. Ruiz, an emergency room doctor with a master’s degree in public health; and Representative Kim Schrier, Democrat of Washington and a pediatrician — are collaborating on what Dr. Ruiz called “a three-point immediate triage response for mass production and restocking” of medical supplies and equipment, including much-needed masks and ventilators.
The idea is to have a centralized command structure anchored inside the White House. Ventilators and other equipment would be shipped across the country based on data about where outbreaks were emerging.
There are 17 doctors in Congress — 14 in the House and three in the Senate — as well as three dentists, two nurses, a pharmacist and a former health secretary. Only two nurses and three of the doctors are Democrats.
Dr. Roe, the chairman of the G.O.P. Doctors Caucus, agreed that this is no time for politics: “I spent a career and a lifetime taking care of patients,” he said. “This ought to be all hands on deck. This is ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ where we both hold hands and jump off together.”
Reporting was contributed by Michael Crowley, Denise Grady, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Sheri Fink.