Coronavirus live updates: US death toll tops 4,000, with projections of 240,000 fatalities; Dow suffers worst 1st quarter ever

The coronavirus death toll surged past 4,000 in the United States on Tuesday, eclipsing the total from the 9/11 terror attacks as New York City traded "Ground Zero" for "epicenter." 

Near where the World Trade Center towers collapsed more than 18 years ago, Wall Street capped a debacle of its own in the month after reaching dizzying heights.

More than 900 people have died from COVID-19 in Manhattan alone, and the city was opening temporary hospitals in a convention center, a Navy ship and Central Park. Refrigeration trucks were serving as temporary morgues.

Still, the nation's top health expert found some reason for hope, saying social distancing was working and that the rate of increase of New York City cases might be starting to slow.

More than 500 deaths were reported nationwide Monday, the highest daily total since the first American died six weeks ago. The U.S. death toll, at 4,079 early Wednesday, has now surpassed China, where the pandemic began late last year.

Cities and states tightened stay-at-home restrictions. Thousands of retailers across the nation, large and small, closed their doors, and many furloughed employees. Gun shops in Los Angeles won a reprieve, however, when authorities retracted an order to close them. Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he’s heeding a federal Department of Homeland Security advisory issued that listed gun and ammunition dealers as “essential critical infrastructure workers.”

The United States had more than 189,600 confirmed cases late Tuesday night, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. Worldwide, more than 858,000 people have been infected with the virus and more than 42,100 have died.

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Models warn of 240,000 coronavirus deaths in United States

Estimates of between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans dying this year because of the coronavirus convinced President Donald Trump to extend social distancing guidelines, federal public officials said.

And that grim scenario would be worse without intervention, with a projection of as many as 2.2 million deaths, according to White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx.

Presented to the president over the weekend, the data explains why Trump backed down from an earlier notion of “reopening” the country by Easter, or potentially relaxing restrictions in parts of the nation that were not hit as hard, officials said. Trump announced Sunday he would extend social distancing guidelines through April 30.

“Our country is in the midst of a great national trial,” Trump said at Tuesday's briefing. “We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks.”

The administration's top health officials, including Anthony Fauci, director of the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that models are not always accurate and will be influenced by how seriously Americans take orders to avoid contact with others. Trump and others have said April could be a particularly deadly month in the ongoing battle with the virus.

– John Fritze

University of Washington study: Coronavirus deaths will peak in 2 weeks

If the entire nation makes an all-out effort to restrict contact, coronavirus deaths will peak in the next two weeks, with patients overwhelming hospitals in most states, according to a University of Washington study.

Despite its grim outlook, the study offers more optimism than other high-profile projections in terms of how many hospital beds and ventilators the nation will need to battle COVID-19 in the coming months.

Nationally, the University of Washington model predicts a peak daily death toll of 2,214 in mid-April, with a total of 84,000 Americans dead by the end of summer. That’s more than twice the lives claimed during the 2018-19 flu season, which killed 34,000 people, according to the latest available data from the CDC. 

But that figure represents the model’s most likely estimate. The range of scenarios spans from 36,000 deaths to more than 152,000, according to the research team led by Christopher Murray, founder and chair of the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Mike Pompeo: Americans abroad should return home 'immediately'

In a briefing Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that  "Americans who wish to return home from abroad should (do) so immediately and make arrangements to accomplish that."

While Pompeo said his repatriation task force remains committed to bringing all Americans home, he said the window to do it is closing.

"We do not know how long the commercial flights in your countries may continue to operate," he said. "We can't guarantee the U.S. government's ability to arrange charter flights indefinitely where commercial options no longer exist."

In the meantime, he urged Americans to register with their nearest embassy or consulate or do so online via STEP, the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which provides citizens with safety alerts about local conditions and a communication link to their families back home.

 – Jayme Deerwester

Stocks sink at end of worst 1st quarter

U.S. stocks slumped Tuesday and the Dow concluded its worst first quarter ever as the coronavirus pandemic battered huge swaths of the global economy. 

Stocks snapped the longest-ever bull market in history this month, swiftly retreating from records in mid-February after the outlook for the U.S. economy dimmed. The pandemic forced lockdowns and travel restrictions, weighing on businesses across the world. 

The Standard and Poor’s 500 fell 1.6% to close the month at 2,584.59, as broad losses in the real estate and utility sectors, which are perceived as safer, offset mild gains in beaten-up energy shares. The broad index was off 20% this quarter, its worst such period since 2008.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 410.32 points to end at 21,917.16. The blue-chip average shed 23% in the first three months of the year, its worst-ever performance over that stretch. Both averages posted their worst monthly declines since 2008.

– Jessica Menton

Airlines must continue flying if they accept coronavirus financial relief

Struggling U.S. airlines must keep flying if they accept coronavirus aid, with proposed minimum service levels spelled out by aviation regulators.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said in a filing that participating airlines must maintain flights to all U.S. destinations they served before March 1 – unless they are granted an exemption.

The requirement would be in effect through Sept. 30 but is subject to extension. International flights are exempt due to the State Department's March 19 advisory alert urging Americans to avoid all international travel.

– Dawn Gilbertson

Dr. Anthony Fauci: New York City cases 'possibly starting to flatten out'

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of the national effort to curb the coronavirus crisis, offered a glimmer of hope Tuesday, saying social distancing was working and that the rate of increase of cases in New York City might be slowing.

"You are starting to see that the daily increases are not in that steep incline," Fauci said in an interview on CNN. "They are starting to be able to possibly flatten out."

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said a recommendation that all Americans wear masks was "under very active consideration" by the federal task force on the crisis.

But it won't happen until the supply is sufficient to ensure that all health care workers are adequately equipped, he added. Fauci also stressed that the masks would do little to protect the wearer but could help keep them from spreading the disease.

CNN's Chris Cuomo, brother of New York governor, tests positive

Chris Cuomo, a CNN journalist and brother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said he has tested positive for the virus. Cuomo said on Twitter that he had fever, chills and shortness of breath and is self-isolating in the basement of his home. "I just hope I didn't give it to the kids and (wife) Cristina," Cuomo said, adding that he will continue to appear on CNN from his basement.

"He's going to be fine," the governor said at his daily news conference. "He's young, in good shape, strong. Not as strong as he thinks, but he will be fine."

Field hospital opening in New York City's Central Park

A 68-bed emergency field hospital erected in Central Park was set to receive patients infected with the coronavirus starting Tuesday. A team of 72 doctors, nurses and other health care workers from Samaritan's Purse, an evangelical Christian disaster-relief organization, have mobilized the facility, which is equipped with 10 ventilators. 

The hospital has partnered with New York’s Mount Sinai Health System and will prioritize moving overflow patients from the Brooklyn and Queens Mount Sinai branches so they can resume respiratory care treatment.

The relief effort is not without some controversy, however. Because of anti-LGBTQ comments made in the past by Samaritan's Purse's founder, Franklin Graham, the group has faced backlash. 

New York state senator Brad Hoylman posted a statement to his verified Twitter account in which he called on Graham "to publicly assure LGBTQ New Yorkers that they will receive the same treatment as anyone else at the Central Park field hospital."

– Lorenzo Reyes

A field stretcher in the field hospital being set up in Central Park.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: FEMA bidding against states for ventilators

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, comparing buying ventilators to online auctions, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency “basically bigfooted” individual states and drove up prices. Cuomo said he believes FEMA “should’ve been the purchasing agent” for medical equipment before becoming the sole distributor to states in need.

“It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator,” Cuomo said. “You see the bid go up 'cause California bid. Illinois bid. Florida bid. New York bid. California rebids. That’s literally what we’re doing. I mean, how inefficient. And then, FEMA gets involved and FEMA starts bidding. And now FEMA is bidding on top of the 50, so FEMA is driving up the price. What sense does this make?”

Cuomo released data indicating his state had more than 75,000 positive cases – including more than 9,000 new cases – with a death toll of 1,550, as of Tuesday morning. He also said New York tests far more than any other state.

– Lorenzo Reyes

Outbreak on board aircraft carrier

The captain of an aircraft carrier is asking the U.S. Navy to step in to evacuate and isolate its crew as cases of the coronavirus have broken out among members.

In a four-page letter dated Monday and first obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, Navy Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt said "decisive action" was required to prevent deaths from the virus, and that the sailors on board were unable to comply with social-distancing guidelines because of the ship's close quarters.

Crozier wrote that "we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily."

The Navy reported March 24 that three sailors had tested positive and been airlifted to a hospital in the Pacific. By Thursday, the number of infected sailors had jumped to 23.

– Jeanine Santucci

GM to produce millions of face masks

General Motors is working with the United Auto Workers to call in at least two dozen paid volunteers from its hourly workforce to make millions of face masks at its once-shuttered Warren Transmission plant in Michigan.

GM will start making the masks on Monday. By next Wednesday, the first 20,000 face masks are expected to roll off the line for distribution to offset a severe shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Once production is at full-scale, GM plans to make 50,000 masks a day, or up to 1.5 million a month. GM is also working with medical device maker Ventec Life Systems to make ventilators at the GM plant in Kokomo, Indiana.

– Jamie L. LaReau, Detroit Free Press

Louisiana has deadliest coronavirus day with 54 new deaths on Tuesday

Louisiana suffered its deadliest coronavirus day Tuesday with 54 deaths and 1,212 new cases, the state health department reported.

Tuesday's startling spike brings the total number of COVID-19-related deaths in Louisiana to 239 and cases to 5,237.

The state's Public Health department also reports that one-third of the ventilators across Louisiana won’t be suitable for coronavirus patients because they are of the emergency portable variety, which don’t work well for a long-term respiratory illness like COVID-19.

The health department also reported 12 new nursing homes with coronavirus "clusters" for a total of 40, almost 12% of the state's 436 nursing homes or long-term care facilities. A cluster is identified as two or more cases that appear to be connected. 

There are now confirmed cases in 60 of the state's 64 parishes.

Donald Trump says he is avoiding travel to New York amid coronavirus

President Donald Trump says he avoided two notable public events in New York earlier this week that he would have liked to attend.

Trump said he wanted to go to the opening of a hospital and the arrival of Navy hospital ship in the city, but was advised to avoid the area. More than 1,500 have died in New York from the virus.

The Javits Center opened on Monday after its transformation into an emergency hospital. The USNS Comfort, equipped with 1,000 beds and 12 operating rooms, docked on the same day.

“I think it is important that I remain healthy,” Trump said, citing the recent positive coronavirus test of British Prime Minster Boris Johnson.

Global coronavirus crisis: World tops 858,000 cases, Italy reaches 105,000

Much of the world is locked in the same life-and-death struggle the U.S. faces. The number of worldwide, confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 858,000 on Tuesday, while Italy's tally surpassed 105,000.

Italy has had the most deaths: more than 12,400. That includes 812 on Monday, up from 756 on Sunday. Spain has seen more than 8,400 deaths, including 849 on Monday, its highest total to date.

"We need every country to keep responding – detecting, isolating, treating cases and tracing contacts, plus physical distancing," said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Western Pacific. "We know it works! And all countries need to keep preparing for large-scale community transmission."

More news and information from USA TODAY

Macy's, Kohl's among retailers announcing sweeping furloughs

Macy's is furloughing a majority of its 125,00 workers and Kohl's will do the same with 85,000 employees as the severe economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus stay-at-home drive roll through the retail industry. Gap Inc., which  owns the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy, also announced that it would be "pausing pay" for the majority of store workers in the U.S. and Canada until stores are reopen.

"While the digital business remains open, we have lost the majority of our sales due to the store closures," Macy's said in a statement.

Other sectors of the economy have already been hammered. Last week, Cheesecake Factory said it would furlough 41,000 hourly workers and cut executive pay. And hotel giants Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott have all announced furloughs.

– Brett Molina

Mexico suspends 'nonessential activity'

Mexico has declared a national public health emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ordering the suspension of nonessential activity until April 30. The country has reported 28 deaths and more than 1,000 confirmed cases. The emergency declaration issued by Mexico’s General Health Council requires a stop to nonessential public, private and social events and is intended to slow the spread of the virus. Schools in Mexico had already closed and will now remain closed until at least April 30.

– Daniel Borunda, El Paso Times

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Is 6 feet enough for social distancing? Why one MIT researcher says it's not

The novel coronavirus has prompted social distancing measures around the world. One researcher believes what's being done isn't enough.

Lydia Bourouiba, an associate professor at MIT, has researched the dynamics of exhalations (coughs and sneezes, for instance) for years at The Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory and found exhalations cause gaseous clouds that can travel up to 27 feet. 

Her research could have implications for the global COVID-19 pandemic, though measures called for by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO call for six and three feet of space, respectively. 

“There’s an urgency in revising the guidelines currently being given by the WHO and the CDC on the needs for protective equipment, particularly for the front-line health care workers,” Bourouiba told USA TODAY. 

– Jordan Culver

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