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COVID-19 has now killed more Americans than the Vietnam War

EMTs transport a patient who has COVID-19 symptoms at a Chula Vista hospital.
A COVID-19 patient in Chula Vista, Calif.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

U.S. coronavirus-related deaths reached a somber milestone on Tuesday, surpassing the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

More than 58,300 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That compares with the National Archives’ figure of 58,220 deaths from the Vietnam War, which lasted more than a decade.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 1 million in the U.S. on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins.

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The novel coronavirus has laid siege to healthcare systems and battered economies around the world since health officials first identified it in December in Wuhan, China.

As President Trump on Tuesday applauded states that had reopened during the pandemic, several governors warned that caution was needed before allowing people to crowd shops and restaurants.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said officials would be measuring certain critical data points as the state reopens businesses in the weeks ahead. Among those points, Cuomo said, is whether hospital emergency rooms begin to exceed 70% capacity.

“Don’t overwhelm the hospital system,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said during a news conference Tuesday. “If you ever hit 70%, you can expect the number to go up for the next two weeks as people who just got infected actually get ill and some of them come into the hospital.”

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New York state has remained a hotbed of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., with 295,000 cases and more than 22,900 deaths. Its stay-at-home requirement is set to expire on May 15, but the order could be extended. Still, the number of deaths in New York has declined in recent days. The Comfort, a U.S. Navy hospital ship that has been docked in New York Harbor since last month and has treated virus patients, is set to depart Thursday. In recent days, Cuomo has outlined a plan that could see businesses reopening in phases — starting with construction, then possibly retail establishments.

On Tuesday, Trump used social media to laud Greg Abbott, Texas’ Republican governor, who has announced that his state will ease stay-at-home restrictions this week. Trump, who has said the reopening of states is up to governors, also acknowledged moves in various parts of the country to ease restrictions.

“Many States moving to SAFELY & QUICKLY reopen!” he tweeted Tuesday.

A day earlier, several states — Colorado, Montana, Tennessee — lifted stay-at-home requirements. States from the heartland to the Deep South are expected to ease restrictions in the days ahead.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, met with Trump in the White House on Tuesday and said his state had done a better job of combating coronavirus than others. In recent weeks, DeSantis was castigated by critics for a delayed response in issuing a stay-at-home order. The state has seen 32,000 infections and more than 1,100 deaths.

“You go from D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, you name it. Florida has done better,” said DeSantis as he sat next to Trump.

But some governors are urging patience.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that his state’s stay-at-home advisory would not be lifted on May 4 but instead was extended until May 18.

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“I know pushing these dates back a couple of weeks is probably not what many people want to hear,” Baker, a Republican, said, noting that the safety of his residents was his main priority.

Nearby, in Maine, Gov. Janet Mills extended her state’s virus orders through the end of May. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mills said the order allows “Maine people to continue to engage in activities that are already permitted such as occasional grocery shopping, exercise.”

She said as the month progresses the restrictions will be “modified to allow us to participate in the safe and gradual reopening, restarting of our economy.”

Like most rural, less densely populated areas, the state has seen just 1,000 cases and at least 50 deaths. Many of the vacation towns that dot the coast have asked visitors — mostly wealthy New Yorkers with second homes — to stay away during the pandemic.

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Meanwhile, in the South, where high rates of infections have occurred, health officials are paying close attention to Georgia, where businesses like hair salons and gyms reopened last week and restaurants were allowed to reopen Monday.

In Louisiana, which has seen high rates of infections and deaths among black communities from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, Gov. John Bel Edwards extended the state’s order until May 15. He said the state had not flattened its coronavirus infection curve enough to reopen. Louisiana has seen 27,000 infections and more than 1,800 deaths.

“I would much rather have come out today and said we looked at the criteria, we met it all, we’re going to go to phase one,” said Edwards, a Democrat. “That’s just not where we are. The one thing I refuse to do is fudge that. I’m not going to pretend we’re better off than we are.”


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