New York state moved to join California on Friday in confining nearly all residents to their homes, as governors undertook their most sweeping efforts yet to contain the coronavirus and fend off the kind of onslaught of patients that has caused southern Europe to buckle.
“We’re going to close the valve, because the rate of increase in the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as cases in the state climbed to more than 7,000 and the death toll reached at least 38.
Cuomo said that starting Sunday, all workers in nonessential businesses must stay home and all gatherings of any size will be banned in the state of more than 19 million people. The move came after California all but confined its 40 million residents in the biggest lockdown in the nation.
The increasingly drastic measures in the U.S. came as gasping patients filled the wards of hospitals in Spain and Italy, and the global death toll surpassed 10,000, with the virus still multiplying and gaining footholds in new corners of the world.
The World Health Organization noted the epidemic’s dramatic speed.
“It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000,” the U.N. health agency said.
Across the U.S., governors and public health officials watched the crisis from afar with mounting alarm and warned of critical shortages of ventilators, masks and other protective gear.
Countries frantically prepared for a deluge of patients in the coming weeks.
In Britain, the government asked 65,000 retired nurses and doctors to return to work. A convention center and hotels in Madrid were being turned into field hospitals for nearly 10,000 patients. France’s military worked to build a makeshift medical center in the hard-hit town of Mulhouse. The U.S. readied military hospitals for civilian use, and more than 4,000 National Guard members were deployed in 31 states to help distribute food, scrub down surfaces and help in other ways.
The Trump administration warned Americans abroad to return home or risk spending an “indefinite” period away and said cross-border travel would be sharply curtailed, but said trade would not be affected. And the income tax filing deadline was moved from April 15 to July 15.
“We’re about to enter into a new way of living here in Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said as California went into lockdown, with people told to venture outside only for essential jobs or errands and some exercise. “What we do and how we do it and if we get this right will determine how long this crisis lasts.”
On Friday morning, the streets of downtown Los Angeles were quiet but not desolate. Residents walked their dogs or jogged, hile some homeless people slept. Cars drove along Figueroa Street, but the usual traffic jams were gone.
Scott Sorensen, who was walking his boxer, Chewie, said he is limiting how much attention he pays to the news so that he is not overwhelmed.
“I remember my great-grandmother describing the Depression,” said Sorenson, 50. “I’m trying to keep it in focus.”
The virus has struck at the very identities of many countries: closing down cafes, restaurants and boulevard life in France, ending la dolce vita in Italy, forcing the cancellation of the ceremonial changing of the guard at England’s Buckingham Palace, wrecking sales of tulips in Holland and closing the Statue of Liberty in the U.S.
Governments are trying to balance locking down residents with the need to keep food, medicine and other essentials flowing.
In Britain, the category of vital workers includes doctors, nurses and paramedics — and also vicars, truckers, garbage collectors and journalists. In New York, people will allowed out for solitary exercise for their mental health, but Cuomo said they will have stay at least 6 feet away from one another.
In Bergamo, the epicenter of the Italian outbreak, cemeteries were overwhelmed. Patients at the city’s main hospital lined up in a narrow ward, struggling for breath as doctors and nurses moved swiftly from one beeping machine to the next.
“When the virus arrived here, there was no containment and it spread through the valleys very quickly. … Some said it was the normal flu. We doctors knew it was not,” said Dr. Luca Lorini, head of intensive care at the hospital, where nearly 500 beds were dedicated to people suffering severe virus symptoms. Eighty patients were in intensive care.