‘Heartbreaking’: US virus deaths soar
The United States has reached a grim new milestone in its fight against the coronavirus, with its death toll passing 60,000 today.
Less than a fortnight ago, President Donald Trump predicted the total number of deaths in the US could top out at that number.
"It looks like we'll be at about a 60,000 mark, which is 40,000 less than the lowest number thought of," Mr Trump said on April 19.
The "lowest number" he was referring to came from the previous White House forecast of 100,000-240,000 deaths.
"The low number was supposed to be 100,000 people. We could end up at 50 to 60," he added at the next day's briefing.
The President was seizing on modelling published by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which projected as few as 60,000 deaths in the first wave of the pandemic. It expected that wave to last until August.
Instead, the US has reached that mark before the end of April - three months ahead of schedule - and is still suffering about 2000 coronavirus-related deaths per day.
California Gov. Newsom said of the deaths: "It's the most heartbreaking... these aren't numbers.
"It's not a statistic. It's family. It's a life - torn us under. A life that is lost to this virus. And people can't even congregate for a funeral."
Mr Trump's focus has turned towards reopening the American economy.
The federal government's guidelines for "slowing the spread" of the virus, which include social distancing rules, are due to expire tomorrow. Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office today, Mr Trump said he would not extend them.
"They'll be fading out. Because now the governors are doing it," Mr Trump said.
"I am very much in favour of what they're doing. They're getting it going. We're opening our country again."
Vice President Mike Pence clarified that some of the previous guidelines had been "incorporated in" new advice issued to the states, telling them how to reopen their economies "safely and responsibly".
Those new guidelines suggest states work through a three-phase reopening, with each bringing a relaxation of social distancing rules.
First, the state in question needs to meet a few criteria. There must be a "downward trajectory" of cases, as well as people presenting with coronavirus-like symptoms. Hospitals must have the capacity to treat all patients. And there needs to be widespread testing, combined with fast contact tracing.
Should those conditions be met, the state moves to phase one. Employees will still be advised to work from home when possible, schools will stay closed, and "strict physical distancing" will be enforced at restaurants, gyms, churches and other venues where people congregate.
Phase two will see the number of people allowed at a gathering rise from 10 to 50. Schools will reopen, non-essential travel will restart, and bars will be able to operate, albeit with fewer customers than usual.
And phase three will include, among other things, "vulnerable individuals" being allowed to go out in public again.
Mr Trump's push to start reopening comes after news from the Department of Commerce that the US economy shrank by 4.8 per cent in the last quarter - a number which is expected to get even worse as the crisis progresses. So far, according to the Department of Labour, 26 million Americans have filed first-time unemployment claims.
But polling shows Americans are not comfortable with the idea of relaxing social distancing yet. The latest poll, from NPR/PBS/Marist, found one-third of respondents were in favour of people returning to work, and two-thirds were not.
Nineteen per cent said people should be able to eat at restaurants again, compared to 80 per cent who were opposed. Just 14 per cent thought students should return to school.
The President's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also a senior White House adviser and serves on the government's "Council to Reopen America", is more optimistic.
Speaking to Fox News today, Mr Kushner said the US was "on the other side of the medical aspect" of the crisis.
"We have achieved all the different milestones that are needed," Mr Kushner said.
"The federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story. And I think that's really what needs to be told."
He predicted life would mostly be "back to normal" by June - just one month from now - dismissing the concerns of the "eternal lockdown crowd".
"I think what you'll see in May, as the states are reopening now, is May will be a transition month," Mr Kushner said.
"And I think you'll see by June, a lot of the country should be back to normal. And the hope is that by July, the country is really rocking again."
Originally published as 'Heartbreaking': US virus deaths soar