WASHINGTON — The coronavirus pandemic just hit seven figures.
The global contagion raced past 1,00,000 officially-registered cases on Thursday in the latest tragic milestone, as countries around the world scramble to slow its exponential increase.
The new coronavirus, which erupted four months ago in Wuhan, China, has ground vast swathes of the global economy to a halt with astonishing speed and claimed over 51,000 lives. The White House warned Americans this week to brace for between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths over the coming months, even if everything goes according to plan.
Without aggressive measures to combat the spread of the virus, the U.S. death toll could climb as high as 2.2 million, the White House said. As of Friday, over 5,600 Americans have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The U.S. now has over 236,000 reported cases, roughly a quarter of the global total, according to statistics by Johns Hopkins University. Those official American figures lag the real number due to persistent bottlenecks in testing. Still, the U.S. now officially has double the next-highest country, Italy, which has a population about one-sixth its size.
Hospitals and first responders around the world are bracing for a tsunami of new patients, and fretting about a lack of critical supplies for helping the sick survive. Doctors in the U.S. are weighing once-all-but-unthinkable decisions about how to ration limited healthcare — such as whether to give crucial ventilators to patients more likely to survive, or split them between multiple patients.
Over 2,000 ventilators held in the federal stockpile can’t actually be used because they weren’t properly maintained, The New York Times reported.
Stockpiles of basic items like protective masks and gowns are dwindling, even as manufacturers race to supply more. The shortfall has prompted a scramble to sterilize and reuse masks, as the scientist credited with inventing the tech that makes the material used in the standard N95 mask explores blasting them with heat as a possible solution.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon began loading up on a different kind of inventory: body bags.
The Department of Defense only has about 50,000 of what it calls “human remains pouches” on hand, and is now seeking to double that figure to help some of the hardest-hit cities where morgues are running out of space. About 400 people died in New York in the last 24 hours alone.
Tens of millions around the world are now hunkering down to try one of the few methods available that can help reduce the death-rate from the disease: social distancing.
But the resulting economic damage has been profound and is still widening. The U.S. posted jaw-dropping, historic unemployment figures on Thursday showing that almost 10 million people lost their jobs over the past two weeks.
The news that 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment for the first time last week was even worse than most economists had expected — and amounted to twice as many as the week before.
The U.S. has unleashed over $2 trillion worth of stimulus to try and stave off the worst of the economic damage, which has helped buoy the stock market but done little so far to stop the job losses.
And the pandemic has scrambled U.S. politics, forcing politicians to figure out how to campaign without holding rallies. On Thursday, the Democratic National Committee postponed their national convention until August.
Cover: Medical workers in protective clothing move the body of a deceased patient to a refrigerated overflow morgue outside the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 2, 2020. (Photo: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images)