The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has topped 10,000, with nearly a quarter of a million confirmed cases of COVID-19. Italy’s death toll has now surpassed China’s, where the outbreak was first reported, with over 3,400 deaths and more than 41,000 confirmed cases. In Milan, nurses report they’ve stopped counting the dead as wave after wave of COVID-19 patients with respiratory ailments overwhelm intensive care units.
Daniela Confalonieri: “The problem is that so many of our staff are at home, as they are testing positive for COVID-19. So that leaves a handful of us to run everything. … We’re working in a state of very high stress and tension. Psychological tension has gone through the roof. Unfortunately, we can’t contain the situation in Lombardy. There’s a high level of contagion, and we’re not even counting the dead anymore.”
Fears are growing for millions of refugees living in overcrowded and unsanitary camps around the world, including a million South Sudanese and Congolese refugees in Uganda, tens of thousands of Central Americans in Mexico near the U.S. border, and some 1 million Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh. Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned, “There will also be carnage when the virus reaches parts of Syria, Yemen and Venezuela where hospitals have been demolished and health systems have collapsed.”
In the United States, where confirmed coronavirus cases have doubled over the past two days, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all of California — 40 million residents — to remain at home, effective immediately. The order came as models for the coronavirus outbreak estimated 56% of Californians — or over 22 million people — will become infected, with the state’s hospital capacity at 20,000 fewer beds than will be needed at the peak of the epidemic.
Gov. Gavin Newsom: “We need to bend the curve in the state of California. And in order to do that, we need to recognize the reality. The fact is, the experience we’re having on the ground throughout the state of California, the experience that’s manifesting all across the United States and, for that matter, around the rest of the world, require us to adjust our thinking and to adjust our activities.”
Governor Newsom’s order will close restaurants, bars, social clubs and gyms across California. Essential services will remain open, including pharmacies, grocery stores, takeout and delivery restaurants, and banks.
The lockdown order came as a group of unhoused and housing-insecure people in Los Angeles — including mothers and their children — have moved into at least 12 vacant and publicly owned homes in the neighborhood of El Sereno. The families say the government has failed to provide them with shelter to protect their health during the pandemic.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s hospitals are dramatically undersupplied for the coming wave of COVID-19 patients, with a peak expected in six weeks’ time. At a news conference Thursday, the mayor called on President Trump to mobilize massive industrial production of medical equipment, including 3 million air-filtering masks, 50 million surgical masks, 15,000 ventilators, and tens of millions of surgical gowns, coveralls, gloves and face masks.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: “If we expect those goods that are produced that we need for our hospitals to get there in time, there’s only one organization that can guarantee that, and that is the United States military. When will President Trump give the order? That is my question. When will he give the order? Why is he hesitating? People are suffering now, and they will be suffering so much more in the month of April. And the president gives himself an A grade, and he congratulates himself, and yet he will not act in the way we need it most. This is patently unacceptable.”
Around the country, healthcare workers are being told to reuse N95 air-filtering respirator masks amid a critical shortage. President Trump says the federal government has ordered 500 million of the masks, but Bloomberg News reports they could take up to 18 months to deliver.
In Georgia, all 236 state legislators have been urged to self-isolate for weeks, after a state senator disclosed he tested positive for COVID-19. In Florida, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale have closed beaches, but many others remain open. Florida Senator Rick Scott pleaded Thursday for spring break revelers to stop crowding together on beaches. Two regional airlines — Compass and Trans State, which partner with United, American Airlines and Delta — said they will suspend service by the end of the month. Elsewhere in the U.S., at least 90 cities and states have suspended water shutoffs during the pandemic.
In New Jersey, a medical worker at the Elizabeth Immigration Detention Center has tested positive for COVID-19 and has entered self-quarantine. Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement said one other ICE employee had tested positive elsewhere in the U.S., though the agency declined to say where. In a letter sent to acting ICE Director Matthew Albence Thursday signed by nearly 800 nongovernmental organizations, the Detention Watch Network wrote, “Outbreaks of mumps, scabies and other highly contagious diseases have been documented to spread aggressively in detention facilities. ICE has repeatedly proven to be incapable of adequately responding and providing the proper care for people in its custody, under normal circumstances.”
Meanwhile, imprisoned immigrants and asylum seekers at the Essex County Jail in Newark are on a hunger strike, demanding their immediate release on bond or deportation to their home countries. This comes as a 27-year-old asylum seeker from Honduras has died of an apparent suicide Wednesday while imprisoned by ICE in Texas. His death is the ninth in ICE custody in the 2020 fiscal year.
Economists at Goldman Sachs estimated Thursday some 2.25 million Americans filed for their first week of unemployment benefits this week — the fastest rush of jobless claims in U.S. history. Many of those working outside of their homes report traumatic levels of stress and a dangerous lack of safety equipment.
In San Diego, hospital nurses treating COVID-19 patients are protesting a new policy that allows the use of less-protective surgical masks, instead of more-protective N95 respirator masks, which are in short supply.
In California’s fields, farmworkers, many of whom are immigrants, say they’re caught between the risk of catching the coronavirus and not earning enough to feed their families.
Minnesota and Vermont have classified grocery store clerks as emergency personnel and will offer them free child care.
India has hanged four men convicted of the brutal gang rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi in 2012. Hundreds of police deployed outside the Delhi jail where the men were executed, as packed crowds of protesters held signs reading “Justice for women” and “Hang the culprits.” The protesters gathered as Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on nationwide television to urge India’s 1.3 billion citizens to avoid crowds, stay at home and practice social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In climate news, newly released data from NASA shows Greenland lost a record 600 billion tons of ice during an exceptionally warm summer in 2019, surpassing the previous record melt set in 2012. Greenland’s ice sheets are now losing ice six times faster than in the 1990s. The melt from Greenland over the past year alone was enough to raise global sea levels by more than two millimeters. The past winter, which officially ended Thursday, was the warmest on record for Europe by far, with average temperatures 1.4 degrees Celsius — or 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit — above the previous high set in 2016.
In Ecuador’s Amazon region, hundreds of families were left homeless this week as extreme weather swelled the Bobonaza River basin, washing away homes, schools, crops, animals and a bridge in the Sarayaku community. This is resident Helena Gualinga.
Sumak Helena Gualinga: “It’s important to know that this has everything to do with climate change. And these communities that right now are being affected by these floodings have for years been fighting against the fossil fuel industry, have for years been fighting against extractivists, and now they’re directly being affected by climate change.”
In election news, Hawaii Congressmember Tulsi Gabbard dropped out of the presidential race Thursday and immediately endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in a video posted on Twitter. In 2016, she endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for president. Gabbard is an Iraq War veteran and current National Guard member who ran on a foreign policy-focused campaign and advocated to end “forever wars.” The 38-year-old is the first Hindu elected to Congress.