WASHINGTON — The U.S. surgeon general said Monday that the number of coronavirus cases in the United States has reached the level that Italy recorded two weeks ago, a sign that infections are expected to rise in America as the government steps up testing and financial markets continue to fall.
“We are at a critical inflection point in this country, people. We are where Italy was two weeks ago in terms of our numbers,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told Fox News. “When you look at the projections, there’s every chance that we could be Italy.”
Two weeks ago, there were 1,700 cases of coronavirus in Italy and the country had reported 34 deaths. Now, Italy is reporting an estimated 25,000 cases and more than 1,800 people have died. There are about 3,800 cases reported in the United States and so far, more than 65 people have died from coronavirus.
Adams claims the U.S. has “turned the tide” on testing, a critical part of tracking and containing pandemics. The U.S. effort has been hobbled by a series of missteps, including flaws with the testing kits first distributed by the federal government and bureaucratic hurdles that held up testing by private laboratories.
Adams’ details about the capacity of roll-out of drive-through and walk-by testing sites, however, contradicted other administration officials.
Adams said there will be 30 to 40 new testing sites running in 19 states that could each perform 2,000 to 4,000 tests a week. However, Brett Giroir, a senior health administration official, said community testing sites manned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and members of the U.S. public health service would be capable of testing 2,000 to 4,000 people each day, not every week. He said the federal government would begin deploying these sites on Monday.
Asked about the shortage of intensive care beds and supply of ventilators, which are used to treat patients with respiratory problems, Adams told CNN only that supplies were growing. He said there was a bill in Congress to increase supplies of face masks and that there were thousands of ventilators.
Vice President Mike Pence said he and the president would brief the nation’s governors on Monday “specifically about our expanding testing to the American people.”
Pence said the federal government also on Monday will release updated guidance concerning restaurants, bars and other establishments. California and Illinois are among jurisdictions that have ordered restaurants and bars to close to help slow the spread of the virus.
Asked whether restaurants and bars around the nation should close for the time being, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he wanted to wait for the guidance to come but allowed, “That could be.”
Fauci said he would like to see more aggressive measures, such as a 14-day national shutdown. Still, Fauci said travel restrictions within the United States, such as to and from hard-hit Washington state and California, probably would not be needed anytime soon.
“The worst is yet ahead for us,” Fauci said. “It is how we respond to that challenge that is going to determine what the ultimate endpoint is going to be.”
As President Donald Trump worked to tamp down hysteria over the virus and called on people to stop hoarding groceries and other supplies, officials in Washington were preparing for what was expected to be a long-haul effort to try to stem the virus that has upended life around the globe.
Trump expressed pleasure that the Federal Reserve announced Sunday it was taking emergency action to slash its benchmark interest rate to near zero. The move intended to help the economy withstand the coronavirus came a day after Trump once again threatened to fire or demote Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.
The Fed made an emergency cut to its key interest rate, slashing it by a full percentage point to a range between zero and 0.25%. The central bank said it would stay there until it feels confident the economy can survive a near-shutdown of activity in the United States.
The Fed’s move did not seem to calm markets. Stocks sunk at Monday’s opening, triggering a 15-minute halt in trading as investors worry the virus could lead to a recession.
Global stocks also fell sharply Monday after central bank moves to shore up economic growth failed to dispel investor’s fears over virus controls that are shutting down global business and travel. European and Asian stock indexes were down as much as 10%, as was the price of oil. Trading in Wall Street futures was halted after they fell by the maximum 5%.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress had started work on a new aid package after the one just approved by the House early Saturday, which provided direct relief to Americans with sick pay and other resources and was pending in Senate.
“We have already begun work to develop a third emergency response package,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Sunday the next package should have even more resources for Americans, the health care industry and “significant steps to secure our nation’s economy.”
With the U.S. Capitol among the many iconic landmarks closed to tours, Pelosi also urged lawmakers to have most of their Washington staff telework from home, as health officials urge social distancing. House lawmakers are away on week-long
recess and many have already curtailed office visits at their local offices, as well.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The worldwide outbreak has sickened more than 156,000 people and left more than 5,800 dead. The death toll in the United States is more than 50, while infections neared 3,000 across 49 states and the District of Columbia.
The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover.
Trump in recent days has imposed sweeping travel restrictions for much of Europe. On Saturday, he added the United Kingdom and Ireland to a list of countries that would face travel restrictions over the next 30 days. The State Department on Sunday said it would allow U.S. personnel to leave their diplomatic or consular posts worldwide if they or family members were medically determined to be at a higher risk of falling very ill if exposed to the virus.
Also, the White House announced Monday that it would cancel the holiday Easter Egg Roll held annually on the South Lawn.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Jill Colvin, Darlene Superville, Deb Riechmann and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.