The number of daily coronavirus fatalities in the US fell below 1,000 for the first time in more than a month on Monday thanks in part to a sharp drop-off in New York, the country’s epicentre for the outbreak, which had its lowest death toll since the end of March.
The falling tally is likely to give advocates of easing lockdown policies more ammunition to argue for a gradual reopening of the US economy.
Even Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor who has become a leading advocate for tough restrictions, suggested that part of the state could end its most stringent measures by mid-May.
“You reopen too soon, or you reopen unintelligently, and you can have an immediate backlash,” Mr Cuomo said, citing data showing that some countries had seen a second wave of cases. “Let’s do this intelligently, based on metrics, and we’ll see what happens and we’ll adjust to whatever happens.”
Mr Cuomo put the onus on the state’s various regions and industries to prove they were prepared, suggesting that upstate New York would reopen much more quickly than New York City.
The latest nationwide data, compiled by the Covid Tracking Project, showed 938 people were reported to have died of coronavirus over the past 24 hours, dropping below 1,000 for the first time since April 1. Mr Cuomo said New York had 226 deaths over the period, its lowest total since March 28.
The rate of infections nationally also showed signs of slowing, with the number of positive tests over the past 24 hours rising by 21,251 to more than 1.17m — its lowest one-day increase since late March. A total of 62,806 people have died in the US since the outbreak began.
226 Daily fatalities in New York state, the lowest total since March 28
Despite the sharp decrease in New York, neighbouring New Jersey, which has been the second hardest-hit state, reported a system outage over the weekend which may have contributed to a sharp decline in its new cases and deaths reported on Monday.
New Jersey reported 45 new deaths and 1,621 cases, with only 2,154 new tests recorded, fewer than the 12,754 tests on Sunday and 5,767 a day earlier.
In New York, Mr Cuomo said the state’s regions must demonstrate that caseloads had been declining for 14 days before resuming normal operations, in line with federal recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The governor said regions must also have at least 30 per cent spare capacity in their hospitals, and a 90-day supply of protective equipment for staff.
“We can’t have another mad scramble where nurses and doctors don’t have gowns and masks,” Mr Cuomo said.
He also mandated minimum testing and tracing capacity to track new infections. In a list of businesses that should be given priority for reopening, Mr Cuomo placed New York’s financial and professional services industries as part of a second phase — after construction, food delivery and other front-line workers.