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President Extends Coronavirus Guidelines; No Packed Churches Expected on Easter

Shortly after the two health experts on his task force estimated that the COVID-19 death toll could reach 200,000 and that no metro area would be spared, President Trump announced on Sunday that he would extend the 15-day guidelines through April.
March 30, 2020, 1pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Anna Hoychuk

"Days after President Trump said he hoped the country would be 'opened up and raring to go' by Easter, he instead announced on Sunday an extension of federal guidance on social distancing until the end of April, in a continued effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus," report Ian Duncan and Felicia Sonmez for The Washington Post. The two-page document, "15 Days to Slow the Spread" [pdf], issued on March 16, expires Monday.

In the morning, "Anthony S. Fauci, the White House adviser, said on CNN’s 'State of the Union' that models suggest the virus could cause between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths and that millions of people could be infected. But he stressed that the 200,000 figure was a worst-case estimate that is unlikely to come to pass," added Duncan and Sonmez.

The president appeared pleased with that projection.

In the Rose Garden on Sunday, Trump compared those numbers favorably with the more than 2 million deaths forecast as a worst-case scenario had the nation not taken strict measures to respond to the virus. If coronavirus-related deaths remained under 200,000, he said, “we all together have done a very good job.”

While Trump did not indicate where he got the 2 million estimate, The New York Times reported on March 13 that based on a projection that showed that between 160 million and 214 million people in the United States could be infected over the course of the epidemic, it could result in 200,000 to 1.7 million deaths.

Dr. Deborah Birx, an Obama-era appointee who previously served as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, appeared on Meet the Press earlier in the day, and also conveyed a grim message to listeners. "This is the way pandemics work," she told host Chuck Todd in response to his noting that it only took three days for deaths to double to 2,000.

"No state, no metro area will be spared" from the expected surge in hospitalization expected from COVID-19, she said. "We are asking every single governor and every single mayor to prepare like New York is preparing now." 

"The virus continued to rage in Europe on Sunday, with Spain reporting a record daily death toll of 838," add Duncan and Sonmez. "Italy, which has the second-largest number of coronavirus cases [after the U.S.], reported a daily death toll of 756."

What's ahead

However, one public health expert predicted that U.S. daily deaths are on track to exceed that number.

Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, who had told CNN's John King last Sunday that by this time, the U.S. would have jumped from being third in COVID cases to number one, conveyed another chilling projection.

"I was wrong – we got there (number one in caseload) in four days. So we're moving much faster than any of us had predicted. I think every part of the country is going to see exponential growth in cases. 

"I'm really worried about the number of deaths. We've doubled it in 3 days. If that trajectory continues, we are going to be at 10,000 within a week, and that at some point, we're going to see thousands and thousands of people dying every day."

Jha appeared on MSNBC after the president announced the extension of the guidelines. Asked by host Kasie Hunt to comment on Fauci's estimate of up to 200,000 COVID deaths in the U.S., he responded:

"Those are grim numbers. It was completely unnecessary, but here we are, and looking forward, if we do a good job social distancing and increasing testing and getting our hospitals ready, yes, that is within the range we should experience.

"That is completely a horribly high number...But I'm hoping that this press conference marks a turning point where everybody begins to take this seriously."

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Published on Sunday, March 29, 2020 in The Washington Post
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