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New York greets hospital ship with cheers; California cases soar

New York greets hospital ship with cheers; California cases soar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York welcomed the arrival of a gleaming 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship on Monday as a beacon of hope for the city’s desperate fight against the coronavirus pandemic, while officials said the disease was gaining traction in California. People gathered on the New York and New Jersey sides of the

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York welcomed the arrival of a gleaming 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship on Monday as a beacon of hope for the city’s desperate fight against the coronavirus pandemic, while officials said the disease was gaining traction in California.

People gathered on the New York and New Jersey sides of the Hudson River to cheer the U.S Navy ship Comfort, a converted oil tanker adorned with giant red crosses, as it sailed past the Statue of Liberty accompanied by a flotilla of support ships and helicopters.

Some bystanders chanted, “Trump, Trump, Trump,” as the huge vessel neared the Midtown Manhattan pier where it docked.

The Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients, including those who require surgery and critical care, the Navy said.

“It’s a wartime atmosphere and we all have to pull together,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was among the dignitaries to greet the ship’s arrival. He said preparations for the ship, including dredging, took eight days, much less than the two weeks initially expected.

Hospitals in the city have been overrun with patients suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. New York state accounts for almost half the country’s more than 152,000 cases and more than 40% of its more than 2,800 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

The United States has the most confirmed cases in the world.(Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T)

In California, another hard-hit state, Governor Gavin Newsom said the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations had nearly doubled over the past four days and the number of ICU patients had tripled. By Monday, 1,421 California patients had been hospitalized, up from 746 four days ago, he said. [L1N2BN1LY]

To ease the pressure in New York, construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Central Park, and the white tents being set up evoked a wartime feel in an island of green typically used by New Yorkers to exercise, picnic and enjoy the first signs of spring.

The makeshift facility, provided by the Mount Sinai Health System and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, is expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday but will not take walk-ins, and admissions and transfers will be managed by Mount Sinai, de Blasio said.

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of the most prominent public figures of the coronavirus crisis, told a news conference the state might have to step in to close playgrounds in the country’s most populous city.

He said official efforts to reduce the numbers of people in those public spaces had not been successful.

Cuomo and de Blasio are among a growing chorus of officials who have voiced frustration at President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis and a shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment needed to fight the virus in hospitals.

“I am not engaging the president in politics,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said of Trump, a Republican. “My only goal is to engage the president in partnership.”

De Blasio said the death toll in his city would rise if Washington did not provide more assistance soon. “Sunday is D-Day, we need help by Sunday,” he told CNN. The mayor, also a Democrat, later thanked Trump for dispatching the Comfort.

CHILLING NUMBERS

U.S. health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders and other measures to contain the spread of the virus, which originated in China and has infected about three-quarters of a million people around the world.

“If we do things together well – almost perfectly – we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities,” Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told NBC’s “Today” show.

The USNS Comfort passes Manhattan as it enters New York Harbor during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, U.S., March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. health official, cited those figures on Sunday as a possible outcome, but Birx’s assessment appeared to suggest the figures could be a floor rather than a ceiling.

The virus has spread from its original epicenters in Washington state, New York and California.

Authorities in New Orleans were setting up a field hospital at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center – the same site where thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees gathered in 2005 – to handle the expected overflow of patients.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued a “stay-at-home” order as cases rose. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also announced a stay-at-home order for his state, as did Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser in the nation’s capital.

Congressional officials in Washington, D.C., announced the U.S. Capitol would be closed to the public through April. They had previously said it would be closed until the end of March.

At the Stateville Correctional Center, 12 prisoners were hospitalized and several required ventilators, while 77 more showing symptoms were being isolated at the facility, Illinois officials said.

A number of prominent Americans, including several members of Congress, have tested positive for COVID-19.

Renowned country and folk singer John Prine was in stable condition on Monday after being hospitalized with symptoms of the illness, his wife said on Twitter. Prine, a 73-year-old cancer survivor, lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Trump initially played down the risk to Americans, drawing criticism from health officials and political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, front-runner in the Democratic race to challenge Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“We allowed the seeds to be planted. And now there is nothing to do but wait for the bloom. A lot of these deaths are already percolating,” said Dana Miller, 61, of Belmont, Massachusetts, a retired U.S. government health policy official.

Slideshow (22 Images)

Trump on Sunday abandoned a hotly criticized plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April, extending his original 15-day nationwide stay-at-home order for another 30 days, a step that many Americans accepted with resignation.

“I’m sad to be locked inside, but I think it’s for the best,” said Mia Siracusa, 24, a data manager ordered to work out of her apartment in Brooklyn, whose live-in boyfriend is from Italy and whose mother is a New York City hospital nurse.

Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Daniel Trotta in Milan, Barbara Goldberg and Stephanie Kelly in New York and Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Paul Simao and John Whitesides; Editing by Howard Goller

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