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US Coronavirus Fight Enters Crucial Weeks After Reaching Grim Milestone

Health workers walk with a patient outside of Mount Sinai Hospital which has seen an upsurge of coronavirus patients on April 04, 2020 in New York City. Hospitals in New York City, which has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus, are facing shortages of beds, ventilators and protective equipment for medical staff. Currently, over 75, 000 New Yorkers have tested positive for COVID-19. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The US reached a grim milestone with the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths reported in one day, and officials are warning the next two weeks will be crucial in the fight to stop the spread.

With 1,344 new deaths reported Saturday, the US had the most fatalities recorded in one day. And with the number of cases continuing to rise around the country, it’s unlikely to be the last such record.

Early Sunday, the nationwide death toll had gone up to at least 8,503 people, with at least 312,245 infected, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“The next two weeks are extraordinarily important,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe, and that means everybody doing the six feet distancing, washing your hands.”

Ahead of what he warned would be a devastating week, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that it “would be a false statement” to say the US has the pandemic under control.

“We are struggling to get it under control,” Fauci said.

Meantime, Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, the US surgeon general, said this is going to be the “hardest and the saddest week in most Americans’ live,” describing it on “Fox News Sunday” as a “Pearl Harbor moment” and a “9/11 moment.”

“I want Americans to understand that as hard as this week is going to be, there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Adams said.

Some social distancing measures already appear to be paying off, such as in Washington state, Fauci said Saturday, calling the measure “our most important tool.”

Still, modeling cited by White House officials project that, even with stringent mitigation efforts, between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will die from coronavirus. And President Donald Trump has refrained from a nationwide stay-at-home order, preferring to leave it to states to decide.

Lack of testing still a key issue

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered a bit of good news in a news conference in Albany on Sunday, saying the number of deaths in his state has been dropping over the past few days for the first time.

The significance of that, he said, is “too early to tell.”

The number of new hospitalizations is also down, while the hospital discharge rate is up, Cuomo said.

Still, the state is not out of the woods. With 122,031 cases and at least 4,159 deaths, Cuomo warned that hospital systems are running on just a few days’ supply of medical equipment.

One struggle many states are facing in the effort to understand and combat the virus is inaccessible testing.

California, one of the hotspots of the outbreak, has been working to increase the number of its residents that have been tested, which stands now at more than 126,000, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

“That testing number may sound high to some. It is low to many others and certainly to me,” Newsom said in a news conference on Saturday.

The state formed a new task force led by leaders of the public and private sector to handle coronavirus testing as well as a partnership between University of California Davis and University of California San Diego to create at least five to seven testing hubs to increase capacity.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his state doesn’t even have enough tests to get a clear idea of the scale of the outbreak.

“Everything about the tests are very difficult to come by, and there’s no federal plan for this, so every state is on their own,” Pritzker said. “As I’ve said, it’s the Wild West out here.”

States see the impact not even halfway through

Several states have reported jumps in cases, including Louisiana, where there were nearly 12,500 cases — a 21% increase — and more than 400 deaths Saturday, according to the state health department.

“Look at the magnitude of this. We are still very much in this,” Dr. Joseph Kanter, assistant state health officer for the department, said in a news conference. “In fact we haven’t even hit halfway.”

New Orleans’ coroner’s office and mortuaries have reached their limit, said Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and she’s asked the federal government for additional refrigeration.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday his state could run out of ventilators by the end of the week if cases continue to surge.

“We now think it’s probably around the 9th of April before we exceed our ventilator capacity based on the current number on hand, and … we’re a couple of days behind that on ICU bed capacity being exceeded,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

New Jersey had its second day in a row of more than 4,000 positive cases reported. The state has lost nearly 100 more of its residents to coronavirus than it did in 9/11, according to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

“This pandemic is writing one of the greatest tragedies in our state’s history,” Murphy said.

A battle to stop the spread

Growing cases continue to put pressure on facilities, staff and resources. But officials are finding ways to address those needs.

Cuomo said he will sign an executive order to allow medical students who have yet to graduate to begin practicing. In all, the state has 85,000 medical volunteers, he said, including 22,000 from out of state.

Javits Convention Center in Manhattan has become an emergency hospital facility that will provide 2,500 beds and be staffed by the federal government, Cuomo said. In New Orleans, officials are also responding to the influx by converting a convention center into an emergency hospital.

And other states — and even another nation — have rallied to remedy dwindling supplies in New York.

New York state, which has been desperately searching for ventilators, will receive 140 ventilators from Oregon, Cuomo said Saturday in a news conference.

“This was unsolicited, but the 140 ventilators will make a difference,” Cuomo said, adding the gesture was both “kind” and “smart.” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has called on residents to donate equipment they may have.

China is donating another 1,000 ventilators, Cuomo said.

“We’re all in the same battle here,” the governor said. “And the battle is stopping the spread of the virus.”

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