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Washington, April 2, 2020
As the number of deaths in the United States due to coronavirus (COVID-19) climbed beyond 5,000 and the total number of confirmed cases has gone past 216,500, the White House has said that the nationwide guidelines to slow the spread of the virus would be extended by a month until April 30.
Data put out by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at the John Hopkins University (JHU), which is tracking the COVID-19 spread across the world, said the number of deaths due to the disease in the US had touched 5,119 and the total number of cases had risen to 216,515 with New York taking the biggest hit, registering more than 1,370 deaths. New Jersey is another state that has been badly affected.
"Our country is in the midst of a great national trial, unlike any we have ever faced before...We’re at war with a deadly virus. Success in this fight will require the full, absolute measure of our collective strength, love, and devotion," US President Donald Trump said at a press briefing at the White House on Wednesday at which Vice-President Mike Pence and members of the Coronavirus Task Force were present.
"Every citizen is being called upon to make sacrifices. Every business is being asked to fulfill its patriotic duty. Every community is making fundamental changes to how we live, work, and interact each and every day.
"And I wouldn’t be surprised to see this going on long into the future, when this virus is gone and defeated. Some of the things we’re doing now will be very good practice for the future, including for not getting the flu, which is very devastating also. So some of what we’re learning now will live on into the future — I really believe that: shaking hands or not shaking hands; washing hands all the time; staying a little apart," he said.
Dr Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious diseases doctor, and Dr Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, explained the data on the basis of which the decision to extend the guidelines was taken and why it was absolutely critical for everyone to follow the guidelines for the next 30 days.
"It’s a matter of life and death, frankly. It’s a matter of life and death," Trump said.
"I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks. And then, hopefully, as the experts are predicting, as I think a lot of us are predicting, after having studied it so hard, you’re going to start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel. But this is going to be a very painful — a very, very painful two weeks," he said.
"As a nation, we face a difficult few weeks as we approach that — that really important day when we’re going to see things get better, all of a sudden. And it’s going to be like a burst of light, I really think and I hope.
"Our strength will be tested and our endurance will be tried, but America will answer with love and courage and ironclad resolve. This is the time for all Americans to come together and do our part," he said.
Dr Birx talked about various studies that had shown how, with social distancing, the number of deaths due to the virus could be minimised as compared to the numbers without mitigation measures. These studies have estimated that the number of deaths in the US could go up to between 100,000 and 200,000, which Dr Birx said was "still way too much".
Dr Fauci said the country would have to brace itself in the next several days when it could continue to see "things go up". "We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work," he said.
"Now, the 15 days that we had of mitigation clearly have had an effect, although it’s tough to quantitate it because of those two opposing forces. But the reason why we feel so strongly about the necessity of the additional 30 days is that now is the time, whenever you’re having an effect, not to take your foot off the accelerator and on the brake but to just press it down on the accelerator. And that’s what I hope and I know that we can do over the next 30 days," he said.
"This is tough. People are suffering. People are dying. It’s inconvenient from a societal standpoint, from an economic standpoint to go through this, but this is going to be the answer to our problems. So let’s all pull together and make sure, as we look forward to the next 30 days, we do it with all the intensity and force that we can," he said.
Pence also spoke about the importance of following the President's coronavirus guidelines for the next 30 days.
Asked if the country should be prepared for the likelihood that there would be 100,000 Americans who die from this virus, Dr Fauci said, "The answer is yes. We — as sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it. Is it going to be that much? I hope not. And I think the more we push on the mitigation, the less likelihood it would be that number. But as being realistic, we need to prepare ourselves that that is a possibility, that that’s what we will see."
But he said that if all the other states, apart from New York and New Jersey, are able to hold the number of cases down, it could be a very different picture. "The cluster of other cities that are not New York and not New Jersey — if we can suppress that from any kind of a spike, the numbers could be significantly lower than what we’re talking about," he said, stressing the importance of following the guidelines.
"That's the only thing that's going to stop those peaks," he said.
The US now has the highest caseload from the pandemic and is trying hard to slow down the rise in numbers, ramp up testing and increase the availability of essential medical supplies and equipment, among other things.
The current guidelines have stopped short of a complete lockdown and still allow people to go outside their homes for solitary and essential tasks.