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New York state’s COVID-19 death toll nears 9/11 level

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(C) Reuters. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appears at USTA Tennis Center indoor facility where portion will be converted into temporary hospital during coronavirus outbreak in New York

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By Maria Caspani and Nathan Layne

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York state braced for an onslaught of new COVID-19 cases next week after recording more than 500 deaths in a single day, bringing the total to nearly 3,000, or about the same number killed in the United States in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

New York City, the pandemic’s epicenter, has mere days to prepare for the worst of the novel coronavirus outbreak, said Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose city has suffered more than a quarter of U.S. coronavirus-related deaths. He pleaded for federal government help to end a shortage of medical staff and ventilators.

“I think somehow in Washington, there’s an assumption (that) there’s weeks to prepare,” de Blasio said on MSNBC. “There’s not weeks anymore. It is days now.”

The 24-hour death toll was 562, raising the New York state total to 2,935 fatalities, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. He said it was the “highest single increase in the number of deaths since we started.”

The Sept. 11 attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, most of them at New York City’s World Trade Center.

“Personally, it’s hard to go through this all day, and then it’s hard to stay up all night watching those numbers come in … and know that you’re in charge of the ship at this time,” Cuomo said.

De Blasio is asking for 1,000 nurses, 150 doctors and 300 respiratory therapists as the number of COVID-19 cases in the city is expected to rise sharply next week.

New York City has yet to receive a resupply for the up to 3,000 ventilators needed by next week, de Blasio said, urging President Donald Trump to mobilize medical personnel from the U.S. military.

“They are not mobilized for action,” de Blasio, a Democrat, told WNYC radio. “The president has to give that order right now.” Trump is a Republican.

New York City and state have both complained that federal resources have not reached them quickly enough, but Cuomo said Trump responded swiftly to a request he made on Thursday that a makeshift hospital at a Manhattan convention center be allowed to take in patients with the COVID-19 disease. Initially it was set up to treat only other patients.

“I thank the president for doing it. He did it despite the fact that the federal agencies were not eager to do it, and he did it quickly,” Cuomo said. “It’s a big deal for us.”

More than 25% of the 6,058 U.S. coronavirus deaths tallied by Johns Hopkins University as of Friday morning were in New York City. Infections in the United States totaling 240,000 account for about 24% of the more than 1 million cases worldwide.

Many of the fatal victims were dying alone as medical staff forbade relatives to be with them in their final hours for fear of a further spread of infection.

‘PEOPLE DYING ALONE’

“There’s really no way to describe what we’re seeing. Our new reality is unreal,” Craig Spencer, the director of global health in emergency medicine at New York’s Columbia University medical center, wrote on Twitter on Thursday night.

He described tents set up outside hospitals to help contain an increasing influx of patients. “In those same tents, I saw too much pain, loneliness, and death. People dying alone.”

In neighboring New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy ordered that all flags be lowered to half-staff for as long as the emergency remains in effect to honor those lost to the coronavirus. He said New Jersey, which has more than 29,000 cases, was the first state to take such a measure.

Fresh data on Friday highlighted the economic consequences of the pandemic, confirming that hundreds of thousands of Americans had lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Economists say the real figure is far more than that because huge swaths of the U.S. economy began shutting down last month to avoid spreading the virus.

U.S. employers cut 701,000 jobs last month, ending a record 113 straight months of employment growth, the Labor Department said. In the last two weeks, nearly 10 million workers have filed for jobless benefits.

“What we are watching in real time is the greatest bloodletting in the American labor market since the Great Depression,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM in Austin, Texas.

While the economic pain is spread across the country, New York is bearing the brunt of the coronavirus in terms of cases, sickness and death. The virus causes the flu-like respiratory illness COVID-19 for which there is no vaccine.

“It’s very painful. You see your friends and people you work with, they’re getting sick,” Thomas Riley, a nurse in New York City who recovered after testing positive for the coronavirus, told CNN on Friday.

Cuomo said on Thursday his state’s apex – or the worst point – of the crisis would likely be on the “shorter end” of a projected range of seven to 30 days ahead. Most of the state’s coronavirus-related hospitalizations have been in the New York City area.

There are more than 102,863 coronavirus cases in New York state, up from 92,381 a day earlier, Cuomo said.

The lockdown is having knock-on effects on law enforcement.

New York State Police told Reuters on Friday there was a 15% increase in reported incidents of domestic violence in March this year compared to the same month in 2019.

Lawyers representing inmates in New York federal jails said on Friday they had been largely cut off from their clients since in-person visits were halted last month due to the pandemic.

“The majority of requests for a telephone consultation result in no response at all,” the Federal Defenders of New York wrote in a letter filed in Brooklyn federal court.

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