Surgeon general says coming week will ‘be our Pearl Harbor moment’

Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing in response to the coronavirus at the White House on March 20. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Sunday said the coming week could be a national catastrophe comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11, echoing President Donald Trump’s dire prognostication.

Experts say Americans are almost certainly dying of covid-19 but being left out of the official count of more than 9,000 deaths.

In a rare broadcast,Queen Elizabeth II called on the British people to show their self-discipline and quiet resolve during the pandemic.

Pope Francis marked Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in a service surrounded by only a few aids and a handful of clergy after the annual public ceremony in St. Peter’s Square was scrapped.

A decline in new coronavirus-related deaths in New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, could be a sign that the state is nearing the apex or just a “blip,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

The declining number of cases in Italy, Spain and Australia have the countries cautiously optimistic that they are flattening the curve.

Singapore and Japan, where earlier measures to contain the virus had initially appeared successful, reported record numbers of new cases.

“This is going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” Adams said in an appearance on Fox News. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country. ”

He added that the next 30 days would be critical for slowing the coronavirus’s spread, noting that some early hot spots are actually starting to contain the virus.

Roughly 90 percent of the country has been implementing stay-at-home orders, Adams said, despite the absence of a federal order. Among the nine states without any formal stay-at-home orders in place are several in the Midwest, including Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Iowa, which account for a large portion of America’s agriculture.

Still, Adams urged governors in those states to look for ways to keep residents at home without disrupting the food supply.

“What I would say to those governors is, if you can’t give us a month, give us what you can. Give us a week,” Adams said. “Give us whatever you can to stay at home during this particularly tough time when we’re going to be hitting our peak over the next seven to 10 days. ”

Adams defended Trump’s support for an unproven drug called hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus, saying there have been “some stories out there” about it helping in some cases. The surgeon general also noted that the drug has been available for several years, which he said should give doctors greater certainty about its potential side effects.

“We feel a bit better regarding its safety than we do about a completely novel drug,” Adams said. “And so we just want to be able to facilitate physicians and patients having that conversation. ”

Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday that the coming week is going to be a difficult one for Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic, although the rate of infections will probably go down as the month goes on.

“This is going to be a bad week,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “Unfortunately, if you look at the projection of the curves, of the kinetics of the curves, we’re going to continue to see an escalation.”

He declined to say that the United States has the pandemic under control. But he said, “We should hope that within a week, maybe a little bit more, we’ll start to see a flattening out of the curve and coming down.”

Meanwhile, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb predicted that the U.S. economy is “going to be an 80 percent economy” until efforts at creating a vaccine are successful.

“There are things that are not coming back. People are not going to crowd into conferences. They’re not going to crowd into arenas … and we need to accept that,” Gottlieb said on “Face the Nation.” “Now, what changes that equation is technology, but we need a deliberate approach to getting that technology quickly.”

Two governors said Sunday that they would like to see an alternative to the current state-by-state competition for ventilators and personal protective equipment, noting that the fight against the coronavirus is far from over.

Trump and other federal officials have said that governors should take the lead on ensuring that needed medical supplies are available in their states and that the federal government should be a “backstop” when shortfalls become apparent.

But in a Sunday interview on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, and Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said the current approach to the procurement of medical supplies could be improved.

“It literally is a global jungle that we’re competing in now,” Hutchinson said. “I’d like to see a better way, but that’s the reality in which we are.”

Inslee harshly criticized Trump’s insistence on a state-led response and said it is “ludicrous that we do not have a national effort” to manage the procurement of medical equipment. Commenting on Surgeon General Jerome Adams’ statements comparing the virus to the Pearl Harbor attack, Inslee said: “Can you imagine if Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, ‘I’ll be right behind you, Connecticut. Good luck building those battleships.'”

Inslee said the White House needs to employ the Defense Production Act to mobilize industry to make protective gear and test kits. Trump has tapped only limited authorities under that law, holding off on more aggressive actions enlisting private companies to meet the national need.

“We governors, Republicans and Democrats, have been urging the president to do what he should … If he wants to be a wartime president, be a wartime president,” Inslee said. “Show some leadership. Mobilize the industrial base of the United States.”

The number of new coronavirus-related deaths in New York has dipped slightly over the past several days, Cuomo said Sunday. But he added that it’s still too soon to know whether the small decline is a “blip” or a sign that the state is nearing the apex of the outbreak and hitting a slight plateau.

“We won’t know for the next few days, does it go up, does it go down,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said at a news conference.

New York experienced 36 fewer deaths in the past 24 hours than in the 24-hour period before. As of Sunday, state officials had tallied more than 4,100 deaths.

The difficulty in determining exactly where New York stands on the curve is due to differing opinions on the models that project the course of the outbreak, Cuomo said. Some models identify a single point as the apex, while others identify the apex as a plateau at which the highest numbers remain consistent before they finally drop.

In other countries hit hard by the coronavirus, similar patterns emerged in which small declines were short-lived. In late March, Spain and Italy recorded slight dips in the daily death tolls before the numbers inched up days later.

Cuomo said ICU admissions and daily intubation rates in New York also were down slightly over the past day but reiterated that declines need to play out before officials can determine what they represent.

“Again, you can’t do this day-to-day. You have to look at three or four days to see a pattern,” he said, later adding: “We’re all watching a movie. We’re waiting to see what the next scene is. And as the movie unfolds, you start to understand the story better and better.”

After weeks of feuding with Trump over what she has called a patchwork, lackluster federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said her state still needs more tests to get a better handle on how the virus is spreading.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Whitmer said some hospitals are “already at capacity” and thanked the Army Corps of Engineers for setting up a field hospital. Hospitals in Michigan are considering ways to use one ventilator for every two patients, she said, trying to maximize the benefit of the about 300 ventilators received from the federal government.

Whitmer added that the state is still short on personal protective equipment for medical workers, alluding to a national scramble for medical equipment in which states are competing with one another for orders.

“We are going day-to-day-to-day in terms of having the N95 masks, gowns and gloves for our front line,” she said. “That’s where we’re spending so much of our energy – trying to get more out of the stockpile, trying to contract with anyone where we can get these materials. ”

Whitmer also doubled down on her criticisms of Trump’s response to the outbreak.

“Not having a national strategy where there is one policy for the country, as opposed to a patchwork based on whomever the governor is, is something that I think is creating a porous situation where covid-19 will go longer and more people will get sick – and, sadly, more lives may get lost,” she said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Asked about reports that she is on the shortlist to become former vice president Joe Biden’s running mate, Whitmer downplayed the idea that her back-and-forth with Trump is political in nature.

“Michigan is a hot spot. We need assistance,” she said. “And I’m grateful for any partnership at the federal level or any partnership with businesses that want to help out because we desperately need PPE. ”

Two Democratic governors said in nationally televised interviews Sunday morning that their states are likely to need thousands of additional ventilators in the coming weeks as covid-19 patients flood into hospitals.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said models had the state exhausting its ventilator supply as soon as Thursday, with ICU beds running out two days later. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on the same program that models suggest his state will see a peak in late April – and that he has asked the federal government for as many as 4,000 additional ventilators to handle it.

Edwards suggested Trump gave a false sense of reassurance at his news briefing Friday when he said, after a call with two hospital CEOs in New Orleans, that “they feel that they currently have enough ventilators.”

“We definitely see we will exceed our ventilator capacity at some point,” Edwards said.

Pritzker was more sharply critical of Trump, asserting that federal officials “seem not to have acted at all” on early warnings in January and February about the virus’ effects and that Trump himself is wrong to accuse states of a lack of preparedness.

“The president does not understand the word ‘federal,'” Pritzker said. “There is no way we can do what the federal government can do.”

CNN host Jake Tapper pressed Edwards on whether he should have, in hindsight, canceled the annual Mardi Gras celebration, which packed thousands into New Orleans in the days leading up to Feb. 25 – an event that some blame for the particularly acute outbreak in that city.

“You don’t get a do-over like that, Jake,” Edwards said, adding that “there was not a single suggestion by anyone” that the holiday celebrations ought to have been canceled.

Pritzker, meanwhile, declined to respond to a question about whether the NFL season might be able to start on time in September.

“It’s not up to us,” he told Tapper. “Nobody really knows.”

The Navy’s hospital ships, the USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort, may be opened to coronavirus patients if the situations in New York City and Los Angeles warrant it, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday.

Both ships have been treating non-coronavirus trauma patients, a step aimed at easing the burden of hospitals in the two cities amid the pandemic. But in an appearance on ABC News’s “This Week,” Esper said he has delegated authority for the ships to be opened up to coronavirus patients “as necessary.”

“If the virus gets so bad in New York City or L.A. that we need to, we’ll certainly be prepared to open them up to coronavirus patients,” Esper said. “We just don’t want trauma patients to become coronavirus patients.”

Esper also said that roughly 1,000 more members of the military are being deployed to New York, including to the Javits Center, a large convention hall in New York City that was originally designated to be a makeshift hospital for patients without covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, but is now covid-only.

“In a late change, as of yesterday, we decided that a few hundred of those will be deployed in New York City hospitals to augment the hospitals there,” he said. “And so, what you’re going to find is the Javits Center will become … the largest hospital in the United States, and it will be run by the United States military.”

If people continue social distancing, coronavirus cases may level off by the end of April, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Bill Gates said on “Fox News Sunday.” But he added that life still won’t return to “truly normal” until a vaccine is distributed.

It’s also critical that the country test “the right people,” which has not been happening, Gates told host Chris Wallace. In a Washington Post op-ed published last week, Gates said health-care workers and first responders, high-risk people with severe symptoms and those who are likely to have been exposed to infected people should be prioritized.

Gates also suggested in the op-ed that if the United States implements a consistent nationwide approach to shutdowns, increases testing and uses a data-based strategy to develop treatments and a vaccine, a second wave of the epidemic could be avoided.

In a prescient speech in 2015, Gates had warned that an infectious virus could spread globally and cause mass deaths and catastrophe.

“If anything kills more than 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war,” he said then. “Not missiles, but microbes.”

The White House has released estimates that the new coronavirus could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans. Gates told Wallace that he was glad that the White House released those figures because it was likely to alert people who weren’t taking the virus seriously enough.

Biden suggested Sunday that Democrats may need to hold their national convention virtually this summer, urging members of his party to “listen to the experts” in deciding what steps to take because of the coronavirus threat.

Biden, who is leading Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, said in an interview on ABC News’ “This Week” that it is “necessary” to hold the convention but it doesn’t necessarily need to be done in person.

“Well, we’re going to have to do a convention,” Biden said. “We may have to do a virtual convention. … The idea of holding a convention is going to be necessary, but we may not be able to put 10-, 20-, 30,000 people in one place. And that’s very possible. Again, let’s see where it is.”

He added that “what we do between now and then” in terms of socially distancing “is going to dictate a lot of that, as well.”

Biden’s comments come days after the Democratic National Committee announced that it will postpone the convention until August because of the coronavirus. The former vice president made clear last week that he welcomes a delay.

During the “This Week” interview, Biden also said he plans to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to wear a mask in public – and he suggested that Trump do the same.

“He may not like how he looks in a mask, but … follow the science,” Biden said.

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