US coronavirus deaths increased by a record number for the second straight day, rising by at least 2,371 on Wednesday to 30,885, the heaviest daily toll of any country.
The figures, based on a Reuters tally, came as President Donald Trump suggested the US has passed the peak on the coronavirus cases and that he will announce Thursday the first plans for lifting virus lockdowns.
The country recorded its first COVID-19 fatality on February 29, and it took 38 days to reach 10,000 deaths and just nine more days to go from 10,000 fatalities to 30,000. The previous high single-day death toll was 2,364 on Tuesday, Reuters said.
Officials cautioned that virus-related death figures are undercount as many people who died at home or in nursing homes had never been tested for the virus
The number of confirmed virus cases in the US reached 636,350, according to Johns Hopkins University.
‘Virus test kits do not exist anywhere in US’
The Governor of Washington state, once the original virus hot spot in the US, said the continuing shortage of test kits remains the biggest obstacle to reopening the economy.
“We simply haven’t had enough test kits – they simply do not exist anywhere in the United States right now,” Jay Inslee said, adding the state had purchased about a million swabs, vials and test medium but they were just starting to arrive.
“And this is a huge frustration for all of us,” said the governor. Right now, the state has the ability to analyze as many as 13,000 tests per day. But health officials are only able to conduct about 4,500 tests daily, due to the shortages, he said.
Biggest US economic downturn in 70 years
American industry collapsed in March as manufacturing and overall industrial production posted the biggest declines since the US demobilized after World War II.
The Federal Reserve warned that the devastation caused to the US economy by the coronavirus pandemic would continue.
The Fed said on Wednesday that "economic activity contracted sharply and abruptly across all regions in the United States as a result of COVID-19."
Its report showed manufacturing production plummeted 6.3% last month, the biggest decrease since February 1946.
“The economy is almost in free fall,” said Sung Won Sohn, a business economics professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
The Commerce Department also said on Wednesday that retail sales plunged 8.7% last month, the biggest decline since the government started tracking the series in 1992. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.
"Economists have long imagined over the years what a new Great Depression would look like, but today they can stop thinking about it," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. "Things will plainly never be the same again for consumers and factories where everyone in the country will have to make do with less."
Nearly 17 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last three weeks as coronavirus-induced layoffs persist, with the the Fed saying "the near-term outlook was for more job cuts in coming months."
The median consensus estimate from economists is that US weekly jobless claims will be 5.46 million for the week ending April 11, according to Bloomberg data.
The consensus estimate would bring total filings for unemployment insurance to more than 22 million over the course of four weeks. That means in about one month, the US economy will have erased all of the jobs created since the 2008-2009 recession.
Face masks 'new normal' in US post-virus life
As some US governors believe they may be ready to start the process of reopening their economies at the end of the month, others are preparing Americans for a post-virus life that would likely include public face coverings as the new normal.
Trump, who is facing re-election vote in November, has set May 1 the target date for restarting the economy.
The governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania issued orders that residents wear face masks as they emerge from isolation in the coming weeks.
“We are going to be getting back to normal; it will be a new normal,” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said residents would likely be wearing masks in public for some time to come.
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