Trump says he might lock down New York as coronavirus death count tops 2,000

Trump says he might lock down New York as coronavirus death count tops 2,000

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Saturday he might prohibit travel in and out of the New York area to limit the spread of the coronavirus from its U.S. epicenter, as the number of deaths crossed 2,000 nationwide.

With the death count doubling from three days ago, Trump said he might impose a quarantine on New York and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut to protect other states that have yet to bear the brunt.

“They’re having problems down in Florida. A lot of New Yorkers are going down. We don’t want that,” Trump told reporters.

Since the virus first appeared in the United States in late January, Trump has vacillated between playing down the risks of infection and urging Americans to take steps to slow its spread.

The United States now has roughly 120,000 confirmed cases, the highest figure in the world.

Trump has also been reluctant to invoke emergency powers to order U.S. companies to produce much-needed medical supplies, despite the pleas of governors and hospital workers.

He also appeared to soften his previous comments calling for the U.S. economy to be reopened by mid-April. “We’ll see what happens,” he said.

It was not clear whether Trump would be able to block road, air and sea travel out of a region that serves as the economic engine of the eastern United States, accounting for 10 percent of the population and 12 percent of GDP.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he had no details on a possible quarantine order.

“I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know how that would be legally enforceable, and from a medical point of view I don’t know what you would be accomplishing,” Cuomo told reporters. “I don’t even like the sound of it.”

Some states have already imposed limits. New Yorkers arriving in Florida and Rhode Island face orders to self-isolate if they intend to stay, and the governors of Pennsylvania and West Virginia have asked visiting New Yorkers to voluntarily self-quarantine.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu on Saturday asked all visitors to his state who don’t come for work reasons to voluntarily self-quarantine.

New coronavirus cases in China leveled off after the government imposed a strict lockdown of Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease.

The body count continues to climb in Italy, where authorities have blocked travel across the country and prevented people from leaving their houses for all but essential reasons.

The number of cases in the United States eclipsed those of China and Italy on Thursday.

TOO LATE FOR A LOCKDOWN?

Trump said any New York-area lockdown would only apply to people leaving the region. It would not cover truckers making deliveries or driving through the area, he said.

U.S. law gives the president the authority to restrict travel between states, legal experts said. But he would not be able to enlist local police to set up checkpoints along state lines, and it would be difficult to determine who would be allowed to get through, said Louisiana State University law professor Edward Richards.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio arrives to accept 250,000 face masks donated to health workers of New York City by the United Nations to help with the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, U.S., March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

“The logistics of deciding who is an essential person or essential cargo could shut down the ability to transport essential personnel and supplies,” he said.

Even if it were possible, a New York-area lockdown might come too late for the rest of the country.

The number of coronavirus patients in California hospitals increased by more than one-third overnight, Governor Gavin Newsom said.

In New Orleans, where Mardi Gras celebrations late last month fueled an outbreak, the number of coronavirus patients “have been staggering,” said Sophia Thomas, a nurse practitioner at DePaul Community Health Center. Louisiana reported 17 additional deaths and 569 new cases on Saturday.

The disease has proven most fatal among the elderly, but Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said on Saturday that an infant had died in his state.

American healthcare workers are appealing for more protective gear and equipment as they face a surge of patients.

Doctors are also especially concerned about a shortage of ventilators, breathing machines needed for those suffering from COVID-19, the pneumonia-like respiratory ailment caused by the highly contagious novel coronavirus.

Hospitals have also sounded the alarm about scarcities of drugs, oxygen tanks and trained staff.

On Saturday, nurses protested outside the Jacobi Medical Center in New York, saying supervisors asked them to reuse their masks, putting their own health at risk.

One medical trainee at New York Presbyterian Hospital said they were given just one mask.

Slideshow (7 Images)

“It’s not the people who are making these decisions that go into the patients’ rooms,” said the trainee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

(This story corrects to say deaths in first paragraph, not cases)

Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel, Gabriella Borter and Brendan Pierson in New York, and Joel Schectman, Andy Sullivan and Michelle Price in Washington; and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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