By The Washington Post · Matt Zapotosky, Nick Miroff, Ian Duncan · NATIONAL, WORLD, HEALTH
The prediction was among a fresh batch of reminders that as the United States makes its agonizing march toward the peak of the covid-19 pandemic, each day will bring more suffering than the last.
In total, the nation added at least 900 virus-related deaths to its overall tally on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections rose to more than 211,000. State officials warned their hospitals might soon run short on needed masks, gowns and ventilators, and Homeland Security officials acknowledged the federal government's emergency stockpile of supplies also was nearly exhausted.
The virus also continued to ravage social life and the economy in America and across the world. A day after the White House warned that the country should steel itself for hundreds of thousands of deaths, the stock market continued its historic plunge. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that officials were "looking at" potential flight restrictions between hard-hit areas of the United States, though he noted that it would be difficult to entirely suspend air travel.
"I am looking where flights are going into hotspots," Trump said.
The president also seemed to resist the idea of a nationwide stay-at-home order even as individual states that had been holding out - including Florida - decided to require residents to remain at home and to avoid gatherings to prevent viral spread. Many of the nation's most-populous areas are now hunkered down, with people allowed to leave their homes only for essential errands, isolated exercise and emergencies.
Officials on Wednesday made the difficult but increasingly inevitable decision to cancel another major sporting event, calling off the Wimbledon tennis tournament for the first time in decades. Former vice president and leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden - who Trump said Wednesday he would be willing to engage in conversation about the crisis - cast doubts on whether the Democratic National Convention would be held as planned in July in Milwaukee, which is experiencing an outbreak.
"It's hard to envision that," Biden said on MSNBC.
Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said the United States might be able to ease its social distancing measures when newly reported deaths and infections are headed toward zero, and when officials are able to develop mechanisms to rapidly identify newly infected people, quarantine them and identify those with whom they have had contact. Fauci, who has become the face of the White House's response, has faced both threats and unwanted attention from admirers for his handling of the crisis, and the government has stepped up his security, people familiar with the matter said.
New York again absorbed the most pain, tallying 391 new deaths on Wednesday, bringing its total to 1,941. It also added more than 7,900 newly confirmed infections, for a staggering total of 83,712. But evidence continued to emerge that areas outside of the Empire State could see precipitous rises as well: Neighboring New Jersey added more than 85 deaths, while Michigan recorded more than 75. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, confirmed the death of a 6-week-old baby who had the virus.
"There are tough days ahead," Pence told CNN.
Even Florida - which had previously resisted closing its famous beaches or issuing statewide restrictions in favor of more targeted measures - finally seemed to concede it needed to take more dramatic steps to slow the spread of the virus, as Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, ordered all his residents to stay at home.
DeSantis had previously ordered visitors from the hotspots of New York and Louisiana to quarantine themselves for 14 days and issued stay-at-home guidance to the southeast region of his own state. But he had faced criticism from state lawmakers for not being aggressive enough. On Wednesday, Florida reached 7,773 infections and 101 deaths - putting it in the top 10 in both categories nationally, though the numbers in each state evolve rapidly.
Trump, though, also seemed to turn his attention to a separate matter Wednesday. At the beginning of his regular coronavirus briefing, the president - alongside his attorney general, defense secretary and other officials - announced he was expanding counternarcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere and sending more ships and planes to the U.S. Southern Command.
"We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives," Trump said, offering only a vague explanation of how that might be happening.
U.S. officials have said the next two to three weeks will perhaps be the toughest for the country, as the death rate is unlikely to reach its peak until mid-April at the earliest. There are nascent signs, though, that social distancing is having some effect at softening the blow.
California and Washington state, for example, were among the first to report cases of covid-19 spreading through their communities and also the first to mandate residents stay at home. Analyses from academics and federal and local officials suggest the steps they took might have slowed the rate of infection spread, or "flattened the curve," though without widespread testing, it is impossible to draw broad conclusions.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said he is still working to ensure his state has enough medical equipment to handle a peak in infections. On Wednesday, he showed modeling indicating his state would need 75,000 beds for patients with covid-19 and 25,000 ventilators to help the seriously ill - if people practice social distancing.
"The truth is, the higher models, we don't even have a chance at meeting that capacity," he said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said at a news briefing Wednesday that his state, despite its restrictions, is on track to run out of hospital beds in mid-May. He said that as of Wednesday, 774 coronavirus patients were in intensive care units - a 16 percent increase in one day.
Trump and Pence have touted their efforts to send supplies to states, including hospital ships to California and New York, but on Wednesday, the federal government acknowledged its own strategic stockpiles were running dry. Trump also seemed to again reverse himself on whether states should rely on the federal government for medical resources or compete against each other, as some governors have complained they've been forced to do.
"I tell the governors, get it yourself, if you can," Trump said.
A day earlier, asked about states driving up the price of goods as they bid against each other, Trump said they "shouldn't be doing that."
Two Department of Homeland Security officials told The Washington Post that the stores kept in the Department of Health and Human Services's Strategic National Stockpile are nearly gone, despite assurances from the White House that there is availability.
"The stockpile was designed to respond to handful of cities. It was never built or designed to fight a 50-state pandemic," said a DHS official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the stockpile.
Asked about the matter at the briefing, Trump confirmed the stockpile was low but said that the government was routing materials straight to hospitals.
He also said the federal government was considering opening VA hospitals to the general public.
Democrats continued to push for some type of inquiry into how the federal government responded to the crisis. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., both advocated Wednesday for legislation that would establish a nonpartisan commission to perform such a task.
The calls for a review of the U.S. response echoed comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in recent days. It's unclear how much support there would be in the Republican-led Senate for such a commission. Several GOP elected officials and candidates have suggested that the focus should be on investigating China for its lack of candor about the origins of the outbreak there.
Pelosi on Wednesday pitched a five-year $750 billion infrastructure investment plan as a proposal to help the economy recover from the effects of the outbreak.
"This is so essential because of the historic nature of the health and economic emergency that we are confronting," Pelosi said.
The plan is largely the same as one Democrats unveiled in January, but would add $10 billion for community health clinics. Much of the money would be spent on rebuilding roads, bridges and transit networks, but the plan also calls for investment in water and sewer infrastructure, and broadband Internet.
Trump tweeted a day earlier expressing interest in using infrastructure spending to help the nation bounce back, and repeated that hope at the briefing Wednesday. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday that it is too soon to be thinking about a fourth piece of coronavirus-related legislation.
"The Treasury Department's got a massive, complicated problem here in getting all of this money out rapidly," he said. "And the speaker is already talking about phase four. Well, we may need a phase four, but we're not even fully into phase three yet."
Trump suggested his new anti-drug effort also would help with the coronavirus outbreak, but it was not clear how. Trump said of the effort that "we didn't do it for this reason, but it will also have an impact on the virus, because have people trying to get in." Pressed for detail on how the cartels had exploited the pandemic, he said the United States has had a scattered focus because of the virus, and "now we've got to focus on drugs."
Attorney General William Barr said the nation's focus is on covid-19, "but at the same time, our law enforcement and national security work must go forward protecting the American people from the full array of threats."
Globally, Italy remained the country hit hardest by the virus, reporting more than 110,000 infections and 13,000 deaths - though the daily rate appears to have slowed. Spain also has now reported more than 102,000 infections and more than 9,300 deaths. Those two countries and the United States have now far surpassed the reported totals in China.
Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, released a video statement on Wednesday in which he said he has recovered from the coronavirus after experiencing mild symptoms.
"I find myself on the other side of the illness, but still in no less a state of social distance and general isolation," he said. "As we are all learning, this is a strange, frustrating and often distressing experience."