White House health experts had argued strongly with U.S. President Donald Trump to extend a stay-at-home order for Americans fighting the spread of the coronavirus, so the country could start seeing the rates of infection come down, a top U.S. health official said on Monday. 

“We felt that if we prematurely pulled back, we would only form an acceleration, or a rebound of something, which would have put you behind where you were before,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with CNN.

“And that’s the reason why we argued strongly with the president that he not withdraw those guidelines after 15 days, but that he extend them. And he did listen.”

Trump abandoned a hotly criticized plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April after Fauci said on Sunday as many as 200,000 Americans could die from the outbreak.

The reversal came as the U.S. death toll topped 2,500 from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, with more than 144,000 cases — the most of any country in the world.

That 200,000 figure was cited again Monday, with one official’s assessment appearing to suggest the figure could be a floor rather than a ceiling.

“If we do things together well — almost perfectly — we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities,” Dr. Deborah Birx, co-ordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told NBC’s Today on Monday.

WATCH l Projections are a moving target, says Fauci:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, said the country could see “millions of cases” of COVID-19 and between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths related to the illness. 2:30

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that models from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were projecting 200,000 to 1.7 million people in the U.S. could die, and between 160 million and 214 million people could be infected with the coronavirus, which originated in China and has infected about three-quarters of a million people around the world to date.

The Times based its report on less-specific models, translating CDC percentages into absolute numbers after consulting with independent experts. U.S. officials played down those models at the time.

New York pleads for help

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday pleaded with the White House for more medical supplies to battle the coronavirus, saying the death toll in the city — a key epicentre of the outbreak — would rise if help did not arrive.

With infections and deaths mounting across the country and the economy at a virtual standstill, de Blasio joined a growing chorus of officials in expressing frustration at Washington’s handling of the crisis.

De Blasio spoke as a 1,000-bed U.S. navy hospital ship arrived in New York Harbor and docked on Manhattan’s west side after departing Norfolk, Va. The USNS Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients, including those who require surgery and critical care, the navy said in a statement.

More than 1,100 navy medical personnel and support staff were on board the Comfort.

“If we don’t get more consistent federal help in a growing crisis, there’s a danger we start to lose lives that could have been saved,” the New York City mayor said in an interview with CNN.

Hospitals in New York have been overrun with patients suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. New York state accounts for almost half of the country’s 141,883 cases and more than a third of its 2,477 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

Construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in New York’s Central Park, and the new site was expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday, de Blasio said separately in a statement.

The makeshift facility, provided by Mount Sinai Health Systems and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, will not take walk-ins, and admissions and transfers will be managed by Mount Sinai, de Blasio said.

The mayor reacted angrily in a separate interview with television station NY1 to a suggestion by Trump at a Sunday news conference at the White House that some medical workers were hoarding masks and other supplies.

“It’s insulting, it’s outrageous, it’s incredibly insensitive to people right now who are giving their all,” he said.  

Trump persuaded by projections: Fauci

In Los Angeles, another U.S. navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, began accepting patients on Sunday, also to treat non-coronavirus patients.

In New Orleans, another epicentre, authorities were setting up a field hospital at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center — the same site where thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees toiled in 2005 — to handle the expected overflow of patients.

WATCH l Trump turns page on Easter ‘aspiration’:

U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would extend social and physical distancing guidelines until April 30 after initially saying he wanted to restart the economy by Easter. 2:00

Trump, who initially played down the risk of the outbreak to Americans, said his administration was seeking to secure hazard pay for health-care providers in direct contact with the virus.

“We are looking at that and we are looking at that either as an amendment or something,” Trump, who is up for re-election in November, told Fox News a day after he abandoned a hotly criticized plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April.

Trump on Friday signed a $2-trillion US package of emergency measures that authorizes direct payments to households, loans to small and large companies, and funding that the Federal Reserve may leverage into as much as $4 trillion more in credit.

He also has extended his original 15-day nationwide stay-at-home order for another 30 days — a step that many Americans accepted with resignation.

While Trump now appears on board with measures reflecting the seriousness of the crisis, he continued to lash out at Democrats on Fox News and in his Twitter feed for trying to include measures in the aid package he deemed unnecessary.

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