WASHINGTON: The United States reported its first coronavirus death on Feb 29 and on Tuesday, April 7, the death toll surpassed 12,000.

The first case of coronavirus infection was recorded in Washington state on Jan 19 and by Tuesday afternoon monitoring agencies in the United States had reported about 380,000 cases, with a projection that the total could go up to 400,000 by the end of the day.

This unprecedentedly rapid growth caused both private and government agencies to project that up to 1,500 people may continue to die every day for at least the next two weeks. Even the White House coronavirus task force warned that the week starting April 6 could be “the peak death week.” But on Tuesday, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they had noticed encouraging signs, causing them to lower their projections.

“If we just social distance, we will see this virus and this outbreak basically decline, decline, decline. And I think that’s what you’re seeing,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield.

The first person to express such hope was New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who said that for the first time in his state, deaths had fallen slightly from the day before. But he warned that they were still recording nearly 600 new fatalities a day.

The national data also showed some improvement on Sunday, when fewer deaths (1,165) and new infections (25,316) were registered than Saturday’s 1,331 deaths and 34,196 new patients.

On Friday, both deaths (1,320) and new infections (32,088) were higher but declined on Monday, with1,255 deaths and 30,331 new infections.

An analysis of the national data, however, shows that the United States still has twice as many cases as in Spain and Italy and nearly twice as many people die in a day here than in those two countries.

But Governor Cuomo said his optimism was also based in the finding that “new hospitalisations in New York have fallen by 50 percent.”

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot pointed out that more than half of the Covid-19 cases in the city were African Americans, even though they were only 30 percent of the population. African Americans also make up 72 percent of the city’s deaths from Covid-19.

A leading member of the White House task force, Dr Anthony Fauci, said that he too had noticed these improvements, but warned that the world may never return to normal after the coronavirus outbreak.

“If back to normal means acting like there never was a coronavirus problem, I don’t think that’s going to happen until we do have a situation where you can completely protect the population,” he said at a White House news briefing. Even with a vaccine, the virus will be a looming threat, he added.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2020