NEW YORK (Reuters) – With early signs that the coronavirus outbreak is plateauing in New York and other hot spots, some U.S. health officials say the pandemic may kill fewer Americans than recent projections, while racial disparities in the death toll have started to emerge.
Paramedics take a patient into emergency center during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Tuesday said he concurred with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that some research models had projected death totals that may prove too high, though neither would offer an alternate estimate.
Authorities have championed “social distancing” and other mitigation policies, saying they were having a positive effect in fighting the spread of the pathogen in the United States but warned against complacency.
More than 90% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders issued by state governors.
A day after the governors of New York, New Jersey and Louisiana cited data that offered a glimmer of hope, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was too early to declare that a corner had been turned in the fight against the coronavirus but he pointed to some encouraging developments.
“I can say in the last couple of days, something is starting to change. We don’t know if it will be sustained but it is meaningful now,” de Blasio told a news conference on Tuesday.
The White House coronavirus task force projected a death toll of 100,000 to 240,000 a week ago, saying containing deaths to that range was possible if strict social distances measures were respected, implying it could go even higher.
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Adams on Tuesday told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he was encouraged by recent data showing a possible “flattening” of the outbreak in some areas, referring to the shape of the curve when deaths are shown on a graph.
Asked if he believed the death toll would come in below the dire White House task force projection, Adams said, “That’s absolutely my expectation.”
“I feel a lot more optimistic, again, because I’m seeing mitigation work,” he said, adding that he agreed with CDC director Robert Redfield that deaths could fall short of totals that some computer models showed.
Early data from U.S. states shows African Americans are more likely to die from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, highlighting longstanding disparities in health and inequalities in access to medical care, experts said.
“We know that blacks are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, lung disease. And I have shared myself, personally, that I have high blood pressure,” Adams, who is black, told the CBS program “This Morning.”
Data from Chicago officials on Monday showed that black residents make up 52 percent of coronavirus infections and 72 percent of deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
“Those numbers take your breath away. This is a call to action moment for all of us,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said on Monday more than 70% of those who have died of the coronavirus in his state are African Americans.
“Obviously this is a big disparity,” Edwards said.
‘IMPROVED A BIT’
De Blasio cited some signs of progress in the most populous U.S. city.
“The number of people showing up in our hospitals who need a ventilator – that situation has improved a bit in recent days.” That was giving authorities more time to acquire more ventilators, de Blasio added.
“For the first time in many days, we did not see a major increase in the number of ventilators needed” in hospitals that have been bearing the brunt of the outbreak like Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx, de Blasio added.
The coronavirus death toll has surpassed 11,000 in the United States and confirmed cases have topped 368,000.
President Donald Trump, who previously said the coronavirus would miraculously disappear, responded to the recent White House projection by saying any death toll less than 100,000 would be considered a success.
Redfield of the CDC on Monday told KVOI radio in Tucson, Arizona, that social distancing of the type ordered by nearly all state governors was effective.
“If we just social distance, we will see this virus and this outbreak basically decline, decline, decline. And I think that’s what you’re seeing,” Redfield said. “I think you’re going to see the numbers are, in fact, going to be much less than what would have been predicted by the models.”
A research model from the University of Washington – one of several cited by leading health authorities – forecasts 81,766 U.S. coronavirus fatalities by Aug. 4, down about 12,000 from a weekend projection.
American hospitals have reported shortages of personnel, protective garments and other supplies while patients agonize alone, prohibited from receiving guests.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Daniel Trotta and Idrees Ali; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Will Dunham; Editing by Howard Goller