Coronavirus live updates: More people have now died in the US in pandemic than on 9/11; NYC cases may be slowing

The coronavirus death toll surged past 3,400 on Tuesday, eclipsing the total from the 9/11 terror attacks as New York City traded “Ground Zero” for “epicenter.”

More than 900 people have died 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 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 177,000 confirmed cases Tuesday afternoon, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. Worldwide, more than 838,000 people have been infected with the virus and more than 40,000 have died.

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 so 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

Airlines must continue flying if they accept coronavirus relief

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

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 earlier this month urging Americans to avoid all international travel.

– Dawn Gilbertson

Louisiana suffers deadliest coronavirus day with 54 new deaths

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

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

The agency 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 as St. Helena was added to the list Tuesday, but Gov. John Bel Edwards said the infection has spread throughout the state.

Fauci: NYC 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 that 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 the wearer from spreading the disease.

Chris Cuomo, brother of New York’s 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. Cuomo said he will continue to appear on CNN from his basement.

“He’s going to be fine,” the governor said at his daily news conference Tuesday. “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 city was reporting more than 43,000 confirmed cases and over 900 deaths, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

– Lorenzo Reyes

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

Global crisis: World surpasses 823,000 cases, Italy 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 823,000 on Tuesday while Italy’s own tally surpassed 105,000. The U.S. has more than any nation with more than 175,000, although availability of testing and national populations are factors in the totals.

Italy has had the most deaths: more than 12,000. That includes 812 on Monday, up from 756 on Sunday. Spain has seen more than 8,200 deaths, including 849 on Monday, it’s 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.”

Stocks rise Tuesday after Monday’s big gains

U.S. stocks rose modestly Tuesday after booming gains Monday. Asian shares also surged Tuesday, mostly spurred by health care companies’ announcements of developments that could aid in the coronavirus outbreak.

Wall Street has seen a recent upswing and is coming off the best week for the S&P 500 in 11 years, albeit after crashing into bear market territory. The Standard and Poor’s 500 is down nearly 19% this quarter, on track for its worst such period since 2008 and its biggest first-quarter drop since 1938. Still, optimism is budding that the worst of the selling may be approaching, but markets around the world are still wary as leaders work to nurse their economies through the pandemic.

– Jessica Menton

WHO urges governments to care for poor

The World Health Organization is urging nations adopting strict stay-at-home orders to take care of their poor populations struggling to survive under the restrictions. Even the wealthiest nations have citizens who face dire consequences, warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general. Tedros says he grew up poor in Ethiopia and knows what it means to have to worry about where the next meal will come from.

“I know that many people have to work every single day to win their daily bread,” Tedros said. “If we’re limiting movement, what is going to happen to these people? Each and every country, based on their situation, must answer this question.”

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 United States and Canada until stores are able to reopen.

“While the digital business remains open, we have lost the majority of our sales due to the store closures,” Macy’s said in its 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

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 World Health Organization 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