U.S. Braces for Surge in Patients as Cases of Coronavirus Rise

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U.S. officials and hospitals braced for an influx of patients as infections of the new coronavirus continued a relentless rise and projections showed the pandemic’s possible heavy toll and lengthy duration.

The U.S. has more confirmed cases than any other country, with more than 185,000 infections, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The death toll, now greater than China’s, reached 3,810. That is still far less than Italy, where fatalities rose to 12,428 Tuesday, or Spain, which has reported 8,269 deaths.

Projections from the University of Washington show the illness could result in nearly 84,000 deaths in the U.S. by early August, with 2,214 deaths a day at the nation’s peak in two weeks.

“This could be a hell of a bad two weeks,” President Trump said during a briefing at the White House Tuesday afternoon, then instantly revised his assessment: “This is going to be three weeks like we’ve never seen before.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, added: “We’ve got to brace ourselves.”

White House officials laid out stark data used to extend federal social distancing guidelines through April, with the numbers projecting that without mitigation the death toll could be as much as 2.2 million, compared with 100,000 to 240,000 with intervention.

“In the next several days to a week or so, we’re going to continue to see things go up,” Dr. Fauci said. “We cannot be discouraged by that. Because the mitigation is actually working, and will work.”

Dr. Fauci stressed that officials hope to improve even on the lower-end projections, with full mitigation efforts.

Nearly half of the 50 states have now reported more than 1,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. And much of America is expected to experience extended closures of schools, offices, restaurants and other venues as concerns about a coming surge in patients have pushed mayors and governors to take steps unprecedented in modern times to fight the contagion.

State leaders have extended, and in some cases expanded, stay-at-home orders late into the spring or indefinitely, while the Trump administration lengthened its social-distancing guidelines through April 30.

The apex of the pandemic is expected to occur sooner in New York, the hardest-hit state with 75,795 confirmed cases and 1,550 deaths.

“We underestimated this virus,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “It’s more powerful, it’s more dangerous than we expected.”

Mr. Cuomo said the state was still working to expand hospital capacity and support health-care workers as the growing number of patients becomes more difficult to manage. On Monday, a U.S. Navy hospital ship docked in Manhattan and the Javits Center opened its doors as a makeshift site. Emergency management officials also plan to add 350 hospital beds at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens.

Existing hospitals had already reached their tipping point, straining the health-care system and its workers. “They are physically exhausted,” Mr. Cuomo said of health-care professionals. “Even more, they are emotionally exhausted.”

State officials across the U.S. are working to acquire needed medical supplies, increase hospital capacity by turning arenas and other facilities into temporary hospital wards, and recruit health-care workers. Thousands of retired and inactive doctors and nurses are returning to the field to help.

Michigan leaders designated the TCF Center in Detroit as a field hospital, repurposing the venue, which was slated to hold the city’s North American International Auto Show in June. Confirmed cases in the state rose Tuesday to 6,505 from 1,329 a week ago. There have been 2,086 cases and 73 deaths in Detroit so far.

In an effort to protect front-line workers grappling with shortages, hospitals and research groups are racing to roll out new ways to reuse face masks safely. General Motors Co. said masks it is making for workers responding to the coronavirus will be available for delivery next week. GM is among the manufacturers and medical-device giants also gearing up to boost production of ventilators.

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Mr. Trump medical aid and equipment during a phone call Monday, according to the official Russian news agency TASS. A plane carrying the products was “expected to fly [to the U.S.]before the end of this day,” the agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

The Kremlin leader offered the help on the assumption that U.S. medical suppliers could, if necessary, return the favor once they reach production capacity, TASS cited Mr. Peskov as saying.

The U.S., meanwhile, is reviewing its recommendations for face masks and European governments have ordered their citizens to wear them when outside, signaling a shift among Western officials on one of the most contentious issues in the pandemic.

With much of the U.S. and global economy shut down, U.S. stocks ended their worst quarter since the financial crisis.

Mr. Trump called Tuesday for a possible fourth congressional coronavirus relief package to include significant investment in infrastructure, citing an opportunity in low interest rates. Congress has already passed three major pieces of legislation to address the pandemic.

Globally, the number of confirmed cases of the virus has passed 846,000, according to Johns Hopkins data. The death toll rose to more than 41,400 on Tuesday. More than 176,000 people world-wide have recovered.

In March alone, the number of reported coronavirus infections world-wide jumped nearly nine times from 86,000 confirmed cases on the last day of February, while fatalities surged more than 10-fold, Johns Hopkins data showed.

Testing for the deadly virus, however, hasn’t been uniform across America or globally, making accurate case counts hard to pin down.

Underscoring the difficulties of capturing the extent of the pandemic, China said more than 1,500 people who were infected with the virus but haven’t shown symptoms weren’t included in its national tally of confirmed cases.

The National Health Commission said it had asked hospitals to report asymptomatic cases and had asked local officials to place them and their close contacts under two-week quarantine. It couldn’t be learned to what degree that was done.

Chang Jile, a top Chinese health official, said the country would report the number of infected people who aren’t showing symptoms beginning Wednesday.

Scientists don’t have a consensus on the impact of asymptomatic cases. Italian scientists tracing almost 6,000 infections around Lombardy, for instance, found nasal swabs of asymptomatic carriers had similar amounts of virus as those with symptoms, which could make them as contagious, according to a prepublication draft of their research. But they also said the small number of asymptomatic cases turned up in contact tracing may mean such carriers played a limited role in spreading the virus.

Many governments around the world are extending closures and other social-distancing measures to hinder the spread of the disease, while others are weighing a relaxation of restrictions in order to mitigate the impact on their economies.

Canada’s largest city, Toronto, ordered all public events and large gatherings banned until June 30. “These events sometimes involve thousands of people, and it is doubtful that the health environment will be where it needs to be on the originally scheduled spring dates,” John Tory, Toronto’s mayor, said at a briefing Tuesday afternoon.

Russia’s parliament voted to stiffen penalties for violating coronavirus-related restrictions. Failure to abide by lockdown rules and inadvertently causing the deaths of two or more people would be punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to the legislation. Anyone infected with coronavirus who violates quarantine restrictions and causes “mass illness” would be fined up to $12,820.

In Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said a nationwide lockdown imposed March 11 was showing signs of success and could be eased starting in mid-April if Danes stick to the rules. The country has closed its border to noncitizens; shut restaurants, pubs, shopping malls and schools; and banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

In Iran, whose death toll reached 2,898, President Hassan Rouhani said most provinces had the virus relatively under control, but that two or three provinces were having more difficulty.

China is moving more quickly to open up. It has pushed to resume activities that were stalled nationwide since the end of January, reopening factories, malls and other public amenities as new cases of infection slowed sharply in recent weeks. On Tuesday, an official gauge of Chinese manufacturing activity showed a strong rebound in March, reflecting the resumption of work in many industries, though economists said business activity is still far from normal.

Corrections & Amplifications A top Chinese health official said Tuesday that China has 1,541 asymptomatic coronavirus carriers. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said this occurred Monday.

Write to Jennifer Calfas at Jennifer.Calfas@wsj.com, Chong Koh Ping at chong.kohping@wsj.com and Dominic Chopping at dominic.chopping@wsj.com

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