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World & Nation

U.S. mourns as coronavirus death toll pushes past 18,000, nearing most in the world

Gravestones from a cemetery are seen with the Manhattan skyline
(ANGELA WEISS/AFP )

America’s mourning stretched from coast to coast Friday as the United States approached another sad milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic: more deaths than any other country in the world.

In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis paid tribute to 21-year-old college baseball player Cody Lyster, one of the 241 people in the state who have died of COVID-19.

“Our hearts go out to the friends, family and loved ones of everyone affected,” Polis said outside the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, where construction crews were building a makeshift hospital to start treating several hundred coronavirus patients next week.

With mounting COVID-19 deaths, New York shortens the amount of time it will hold unclaimed remains before burying them in the city’s public cemetery.
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So it went in communities across the nation Friday as the number of fatalities surpassed 18,000, just behind Italy, where nearly 19,000 people have died, according to John Hopkins University.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged that the surge in COVID-19 deaths had forced the city to start burying unclaimed bodies five days a week in the Hart Island potter’s field, where burials normally occur once a week.

“It’s a sad topic,” De Blasio said during a visit to a temporary hospital in Queens, now the pandemic’s epicenter. “Imagine anyone who passes away and there’s no one there to claim the body.

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DeBlasio was touring the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, where a temporary hospital for 350 COVID-19 patients has been set up at the site of the U.S. Open.

“Out of a tennis court we have a hospital,” he said, thanking volunteer medical workers who have arrived from as far as Nebraska, Oregon and Alaska to help New Yorkers through the worst of the onslaught.

Statewide, New York’s death toll hit 7,844 on Friday, with 77 fatalities in the previous 24 hours, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Cuomo called on President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to take control of production by private laboratories of tests for virus antibodies.

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Without federal supervision and money, he said, the private laboratories developing tests in New York don’t have the capacity to produce enough for the millions of people who need them.

“We need a tremendous, mind-boggling increase in volume quickly,” he said. “And I don’t believe just waiting for the private-sector companies to come up to scale you’re going to see it in the time frame that you need to get it done.”

Widespread testing, he said, is the key to reopening the economy.

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For now, many Americans were struggling to adjust to stay-at-home orders and shutdowns of nonessential businesses as Easter weekend approached.

“Now is not the time to take your foot off the accelerator,” said Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont. “Now is no time to relax social distancing.”

In Philadelphia, police officers yanked a man off a bus because he was not wearing a mask. And in Kansas, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly petitioned the state Supreme Court to stop GOP lawmakers from rescinding her ban on religious gatherings.

Kelly said in an interview Friday that four of the state’s 12 coronavirus outbreak “clusters” could be traced back to religious gatherings.

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“Quite honestly, our faith leaders are behind us,” Kelly said. “I talked to them before I did it, I talked to them after I did it.”

Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman’s problem with her executive order was its allowance for misdemeanor penalties for disobedience.

“I care deeply about the health and safety of Kansans; I don’t believe it’s wise for people to go to church,” Ryckman told The Times on Friday. “I’m not willing to have them imprisoned for [up to] a year for doing so.”

Times staff writer Matt Pearce contributed to this report.

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With mask-wearing requirements and stronger stay-at-home orders, California is preparing for a weekend of unprecedented restrictions.


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