US coronavirus deaths rise as New York City braces for park burial possibility

Tom McCarthy and Martin Pengelly
Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

As the death toll from coronavirus in the US climbed toward 10,000, a New York City official warned it could establish temporary burial grounds in city parks and new polling showed an erosion in public trust in Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis.

Related: Coronavirus US live: Andrew Cuomo says New York may be hitting apex of crisis

Confirmed cases in the US were approaching 340,000 as of Monday morning, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The death toll stood at 9,650.

Many hospitals across the US were at capacity, and new hotspots or potential hotspots were springing up in every region. Maps of confirmed cases showed clusters from Atlanta to Nashville to Indianapolis – wherever there was a population center.

Trump on Monday morning tweeted “USA strong!” and “Light at the end of the tunnel!” in all capital letters.

But new polling by the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida indicated that voters in the key presidential election battleground state have lost trust in the president. A 53% majority of Floridians in the poll disapproved of Trump’s handling of the crisis, and 58% said they did not trust Trump “to provide reliable information about the coronavirus”.

Top administration officials issued a coordinated message at the weekend that the US was facing difficult weeks ahead.

“This is probably going to be a very bad week,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s foremost infectious diseases expert, said.

In New York City, the chair of the city council’s health committee warned the morgues were almost full.

“Soon we’ll start ‘temporary interment’,” the councilman, Mark Levine, tweeted. “This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right). 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.”

Levine later said the plan had not yet been put into motion. Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters: “We will have the capacity for temporary burials – that’s all I’m going to say.

“I’m not going into details. I don’t think it’s a great thing to be talking about.”

In the state capital, Albany, Andrew Cuomo distanced himself from the idea, saying he would not support such plans.

Cuomo, the New York state governor, reported that the coronavirus death toll in the worst hit US state had risen to 4,758 from around 131,000 cases, but added that the daily total of deaths had been “effectively flat for two days”, representing a “possible flattening of the curve” and an apex of the New York outbreak.

“If we are plateauing, it is because social distancing is working,” Cuomo said, announcing an extension of the “New York pause” social-distancing guidelines to 29 April, which means schools and non-essential businesses must stay closed until that date.

The governor also announced an increase in fines for not observing social distancing and spoke insistently about New Yorkers’ duty to each other and to frontline healthcare professionals.

Cuomo said the state government was applying to the Trump administration to have the USNS Comfort, a US navy medical ship docked in New York, converted to taking Covid-19 patients. The temporary hospital set up by the army at the Javits convention centre in Manhattan has already been switched to coronavirus cases.

Cuomo also reported “anecdotal suggestions” that hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug championed by Trump, was proving effective in clinical trials in the city. But he said definitive answers on the drug’s use in coronavirus cases was “weeks if not months” away.

Cuomo also said the New York healthcare system was operating at full stretch but did not for now need any more ventilators, key machines for people badly affected by the respiratory disease.

“The people we lost are the people we couldn’t save,” he said.

As states continued their struggle to obtain ventilators and other life-saving medical equipment, California governor Gavin Newsom, whose state had some success at fighting off an early wave of the epidemic, said California would loan 500 “state-ownded ventilators” to other states.

“It’s more important than ever we are the UNITED States of America,” Newsom tweeted. “I know, if the tables were turned, other states would be there for us.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed tentatively in morning trading, but with millions filing for unemployment each week, a former chair of the federal reserve said the economy could sink into depression.

“This is a huge, unprecedented, devastating hit, and my hope is that we will get back to business as quickly as possible,” former chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen told CNBC.

But she said the unemployment rate likely was as high as 13% and gross domestic product was down at least 30%.