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Rattled by crisis, one of America’s worst weeks draws to a close

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/28/2020 Brady Dennis

Video by Reuters

In Los Angeles, a 35-year-old emergency room doctor chose music for her funeral should she fall gravely ill while treating coronavirus patients.

In Shreveport, La., LaTonua Bowens lost her job at Olive Garden and joined a record 3.3 million Americans who filed for unemployment.

In Brooklyn, a school lost its popular 36-year-old principal while in Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser lost a beloved aide.

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Governors and mayors pleaded with Washington to send more ventilators, more protective gear for doctors and nurses, more testing kits, and even more resources to construct makeshift hospitals. They begged residents to stay home to stem the tide of infections, even as President Trump clung to hopes that the U.S. economy would be “raring to go” by Easter.

Bing COVID-19 tracker: Latest numbers by country and state

It was only Monday when U.S. surgeon general Jerome M. Adams went on national television and uttered a warning that seems prophetic and also a lifetime ago: “I want America to understand: This week, it’s going to get bad.”

Here is how bad it got, and how rapidly, during one of the most trying weeks in recent American history:

On Monday, for the first time, the country experienced 100 deaths in a single day from the coronavirus. On Friday, New York alone reported 134. On Monday, the country’s death toll pushed past 500. Four days later, that toll had tripled to more than 1,500.

Slideshow by photo services

When the week began, the United States had roughly 30,000 confirmed coronavirus infections. By sunset on Friday, the caseload had more than tripled to 100,000, outpacing every other country on the planet.

Friday marked the end of a particularly brutal week for the country, but only more uncertainty and dread lay ahead.

New York remained the nation’s hardest hit area, with some 44,000 confirmed cases of covid-19 and more than 500 deaths. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said Friday that the rate of increase of infections was slowing, even as the number of cases continued to climb.

But that was small comfort in a state where officials expect the crush of patients in the next weeks could prove crippling. Hospitals have been asked to expand their available beds by 50 to 100 percent as soon as possible, Cuomo said. Officials anticipate needing about 90,000 more hospital beds and 30,000 ventilators.

The federal government is helping build four emergency hospitals in the state, including one that will open Monday at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Cuomo said he has asked the White House to create 4,000 more beds across four newly identified temporary sites in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. A 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, is expected to dock in New York Harbor by Monday.

“This is going to be one of those moments they are going to write about and talk about for generations,” Cuomo said. “This is going to be a moment that changes this nation.”

But even as New York continued to wrestle with the spread of the virus, there were signs that other U.S. communities could soon face their own tidal waves of illness and death.

Louisiana in particular is enduring a troubling surge. The state on Friday reported 2,746 cases and 119 deaths related to coronavirus — with more than two-thirds of the cases and nearly half the deaths in the New Orleans metro area. Gov. Jon Bel Edwards (D) said Friday he has “every reason to believe” the state’s outbreak could prove as devastating on a per-capita basis as the tragedy unfolding in New York.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday announced that anyone traveling to the state from Louisiana will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks, and he also temporarily halted vacation rentals. DeSantis said he had ordered state law enforcement officers to stop drivers crossing into the Sunshine State from Louisiana to tell them of the requirements.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) on Friday became the latest state leader to issue a stay-at-home order for citizens, which will go into effect on Monday.

And Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said all travelers coming into his state should self-quarantine for 14 days.

As the nation’s public health crisis continued to deepen further into almost every area of the country and leaving millions of Americans suddenly unemployed, lawmakers in Washington on Friday afternoon passed an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus bill.

Within hours, Trump signed the legislation, which aims to deliver cash to individual Americans, as well as aid to ailing businesses and health care facilities overwhelmed by the outbreak.

“This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation’s families, workers and businesses. And that’s what this is all about,” Trump said as he signed the bill in the Oval Office.

The president also announced that he would compel General Motors to manufacture ventilators to help handle the surge of coronavirus patients, using his power under the Defense Production Act.

“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” he said in a statement.

Trump, who earlier this week questioned Cuomo’s claim that New York needs 30,000 ventilators, said at a news conference Friday that the federal government will produce 100,000 ventilators within 100 days. “We’re going to make a lot of ventilators,” he said.

The struggle against the coronavirus carried on around the globe on Friday, in countries large and small, rich and poor.

“The chronic global shortage of personal protective equipment is now one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives,” World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a Friday news conference, urging nations to scale up production of gloves, face shields and other equipment.

“When health workers are at risk, we are all at risk,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. “I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via videoconference as we fight this virus,” Johnson, who this week issued a national stay-at-home order, wrote on Twitter.

France’s national lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus will extend until at least April 15, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced Friday.

The nation became the latest European country to extend an initially shorter lockdown period as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus continued to rise.

The Afghan government also announced on Friday it would lock down the country’s capital, Kabul, for three weeks starting Saturday. The measures are the most severe formal restrictions on movement implemented in the capital, despite decades of armed conflict there.

In Italy, an additional 919 people died of the coronavirus over the past day, officials said Friday, marking the world’s highest one-day jump in deaths in a single country since the outbreak began.

Amid the devastation, Pope Francis appeared Friday in the middle of a darkened, empty St. Peter’s Square as the world faces the continuation of a pandemic that has killed thousands and upended lives around the world.

a large stone building with many windows: Pope Francis, center, delivers the Urbi and Orbi prayer in an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Friday.

Pope Francis, center, delivers the Urbi and Orbi prayer in an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Friday.
© Alessandra Tarantino/AP

“Do not leave us at the mercy of the storm,” Francis said, offering a prayer normally reserved only for Christmas and Easter.

“Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities,” he said, as rain poured down on the spot normally thronged by crowds. “It has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void.”

Francis said life in this moment is being sustained by ordinary people: “Doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women.”

After speaking, Francis walked slowly toward St. Peter’s Basilica and prayed in front of a crucifix that was used in Rome during the time of the plague.

brady.dennis@washpost.com

Rachel Siegel, Heather Long, Siobhán O’Grady, Sharif Hassan, Sayed Salahuddin, James McAuley, Katie Mettler, Colby Itkowitz and Chico Harlan contributed to this report.

a girl wearing a blue hat: A mannequin is seen displayed with a surgical mask where a vendor was selling packages of surgical masks on a street corner in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan during the outbreak of the coronavirus in New York City, New York, U.S., March 27, 2020. © Mike Segar/Reuters A mannequin is seen displayed with a surgical mask where a vendor was selling packages of surgical masks on a street corner in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan during the outbreak of the coronavirus in New York City, New York, U.S., March 27, 2020.
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