‘Peak death week’ forecast for US, 3000 daily victims expected

Washington: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed cautious optimism that his state – the epicentre of the US COVID-19 pandemic – may be flattening its coronavirus curve, with the hospitalisation rate down and deaths plateauing over recent days.

US health officials say they believe the country has entered its "peak death week", with forecasts showing 3000 people will soon be dying each day from the virus in the US.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says his state may be flattening its coronavirus curve. Credit:AP

"It's going to be the peak hospitalisation, peak ICU [intensive care unit] week and unfortunately, peak death week," Admiral Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told ABC's Good Morning America.

The death rate in New York is so high that local officials have floated the controversial idea of temporarily burying people in public parks until enough space opens up in the city's morgues.

On Monday (Tuesday AEDT) Cuomo said there were signs that the virus may have hit its apex in New York, where 4758 people have died after contracting COVID-19.

The latest daily death toll in New York of 599 – while still staggeringly high – was essentially the same as the previous two days.

"Total number of hospitalisations are down, the ICU admissions are down and the daily intubations are down – those are all good signs and, again, would suggest a possible flattening of the curve," Cuomo said.

He added: "If we are plateauing, we plateauing at very high level, and there's tremendous stress on the health care system…This is an enemy we have underestimated from day one and we have paid dearly."

He urged New Yorkers not to become complacent, saying he was concerned people were becoming lax about physical distancing as temperatures in the city heat up.

Cuomo said he was doubling the fines for breaching physical distancing guidelines to US$1000 ($1640) and wanted them to be enforced rigorously by police.

New York will remain "on pause" – that is, essentially shut down – until at least the end of April, he said.

Earlier in the day Mark Levine, chair of New York City Council health committee, said the city was preparing to begin the "temporary interment" of coronavirus victims.

"This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right)," Levine said on Twitter.

"Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a dignified, orderly – and temporary -manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take."

He continued: "The goal is to avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets."

Levine later clarified that this was a contingency plan, and will not be required if the death rate drops sufficiently.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said: "If we need to do temporary burials to be able to tide us over to pass the crisis, and then work with each family on their appropriate arrangements, we have the ability to do that."

A paramedic wearing a protective mask walks past ambulances lined up outside Wyckoff Heights Medical Centre in Brooklyn.Credit:Bloomberg

Cuomo, however, said he had never heard of the park burial idea and did not support it.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is now projecting that 81,766 people will die from the coronavirus in the US by early August. That is 12,000 fewer deaths than previously forecast a few days earlier.

The institute projects that the US will hit its peak death rate on April 16, with 3130 deaths a day.

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