The United States has reached a grim milestone in the fight against coronavirus, passing Italy to become the country with the most deaths in the world.
A tally by Johns Hopkins University showed Saturday that 18,860 people have now died in the U.S. since the start of the outbreak. On Saturday, 2,108 people died in the U.S. in the past 24 hours – the first country in the world to record more than 2,000 deaths in a single day.
As a result, the U.S. has now overtaken Italy’s total of 18,849. It has recorded more than 503,000 cases.
The pandemic’s epicenter has long shifted to Europe and the U.S., which also now has by far the largest number of confirmed cases, with more than half a million. It saw more than 35,000 new positive infections in the last 24 hours, according to Johns Hopkins University.
However, experts on the White House’s coronavirus task force suggested the outbreak within America’s borders is starting to level off slowly.
“As encouraging as they are, we have not reached the peak,” Dr. Deborah Birx said Friday.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump insisted he would not reopen the country until it is safe.
“I want to get it open as soon as possible,” he said at a Good Friday briefing while adding: “The facts are going to determine what I do.”
More than 40 percent of the deaths in the U.S. have happened in New York state, which is considered the epicenter of the virus in the country.
On Saturday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s public schools will be shuttered for the rest of the academic year. He said online education will continue for the 1.1 million-student district.
School buildings in New York City have been closed since March 16. The state has been the worst hit in the country, with 8,627 deaths as of Saturday.
De Blasio praised teachers for what he said was a heroic effort to teach their students online, a practice that has been met with mixed success as many of the city’s low-income students lack Wi-Fi and devices for connecting to their virtual classrooms.
“Our educators were asked to learn an entirely different way of teaching,” he said. “And they weren’t given a year to get ready. They weren’t given a month to get ready. They had a week to quickly retool and turn to distance learning, online learning and make it work.”
Hours later, however, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there had been no decision made on closing the schools yet.
“There’s been no decision on schools,” Cuomo said in Albany at his daily coronavirus briefing.
Cuomo said of de Blasio, “He didn’t close them and he can’t open them.”
Other states including Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont have previously announced that schools will be shuttered for the rest of the year.
Health experts have warned that if the country rolls back restrictions too quickly, case levels could once again begin to soar, especially without widespread testing to determine who might be a carrier of the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, said this week that a timeline for reopening the country would entail reviewing the data day-by-day.
“The virus kind of decides whether or not it’s appropriate to open it,” he told CNN. “The one thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to get out there prematurely and then wind up backtracking.”
More than 1.7 million people have been infected with coronavirus worldwide. More than 100,000 have died, while more than 388,000 have recovered from the illness.