The United States on Sunday entered one of the most critical weeks so far in the coronavirus crisis, with government officials warning that the death toll in places such as New York, Michigan and Louisiana was a sign of trouble to come in other states.
Still, governors of eight states resisted issuing stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of the respiratory disease, and some churches held large Palm Sunday services in defiance of such orders in their states.
New York, the hardest-hit state, reported on Sunday that for the first time in a week, deaths had fallen slightly from the day before, but there were still nearly 600 new fatalities and more than 7,300 new cases. Places such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Washington, D.C., are starting to see rising deaths.
"This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans' lives, quite frankly. This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it's not going to be localized," U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned on Fox News on Sunday. "It's going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday that new hospitalizations had fallen by 50% over the previous 24 hours. He cautioned that it was not yet clear whether the crisis was reaching a plateau in the state, which has a total of 4,159 deaths and more than 122,000 cases.
Once the peak of the epidemic passes, Cuomo said a mass rollout of rapid testing would be critical to help the nation "return to normalcy."
Most states have ordered residents to stay home except for essential trips to slow the spread of the virus in the United States, where more than 335,000 people have tested positive and over 9,500 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
But eight states, all of them with Republican governors, have yet to order residents to stay home: Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Georgia, which has recorded 6,600 cases and more than 200 deaths, ordered residents to stay home but then allowed some beaches to reopen.
Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson defended his refusal to order statewide restrictions, saying the situation was being watched closely and that his more "targeted approach" was still slowing the spread of the virus.
Adams, the surgeon general, said governors who had not issued month-long stay-at-home orders should at least consider one for the upcoming week.
President Donald Trump expressed hope on Sunday the United States was seeing a levelling-off of the coronavirus crisis in some hot spots, citing the drop in deaths from Saturday in New York.
"We see light at the end of the tunnel. Things are happening," Trump told reporters.
CHURCH BUSES IN PARISHIONERS
A few churches were holding large gatherings on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week in Christian churches.
Pastor Tony Spell, who was arrested last week for holding services, summoned his faithful again, three weeks after Louisiana banned gatherings of 10 people or more.
Louisiana has become a hot spot for the virus, reporting a jump in deaths to nearly 500 and more than 13,000 cases. The governor predicted the state would run out of ventilators by Thursday.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said the city had enough ventilators to get through Tuesday or Wednesday, and he was seeking between 1,000 and 1,500 more from federal and state stockpiles, which he estimated had 10,000 and 2,800, respectively.
Oregon, which has reported around 1,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, said it was sending New York 140 ventilators, machines that help people breathe after the virus attacks their lungs. Washington is returning over 400 of the machines to the Strategic National Stockpile for hard-hit states like New York.
White House medical experts have forecast that between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could be killed in the pandemic, even if sweeping orders to stay home are followed.
Still, members of Trump's coronavirus task force saw signs of progress in their fight against the virus.
"We're very hopeful that over the next week, although we'll see a rising number of cases and people who lose their lives to this illness, we're also hopeful to see a stabilization of cases across these large metro areas where the outbreak began several weeks ago," task force coordinator Dr Deborah Birx told reporters.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Amanda Becker, Alexandra Alper and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Joseph Ax in New York, Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England, and Daniel Trotta in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Andrew Hay; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)