The United States surpassed Italy on Saturday to become the country with the highest number of recorded coronavirus deaths, reporting more than 19,600 fatalities since the outbreak began, according to a Reuters tally.
The grim milestone was reached as President Donald Trump mulled over when the country, which has registered more than half a million infections, might begin to see a return to normality.
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The United States has seen its highest death tolls to date in the epidemic with roughly 2,000 deaths a day reported for the last four days in a row, a plurality of them in and around New York City.
Death toll might surge to 200,000
Public health experts have warned that the US death toll could surge to 200,000 over the summer if unprecedented stay-at-home orders that have closed businesses and kept most Americans indoors are lifted after 30 days.
Most of the present restrictions on public life, however, including school closures and emergency orders keeping non-essential workers largely confined to their homes, flow from powers vested in state governors, not the president.
Read more: Coronavirus: No return to normal life until the end of 2021, says US expert
Nonetheless, Trump has said he wants life to return to normal as soon as possible and that the sweeping restrictions on movement aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus carry their own economic and public-health cost.
“I'm going to have to make a decision, and I ... hope to God that it's the right decision,” he told reporters on Friday. "It's the biggest decision I've ever had to make.”
Trump, who is seeking re-election in November, said the facts would determine the next move. Asked what metrics he would use to make his judgment, he pointed at his forehead: “The metrics right here, that's my metrics.”
The current federal guidelines run until April 30. The president will then have to decide whether to extend them or start encouraging people to go back to work and a more normal way of life.
Trump said he would unveil a new advisory council, possibly on Tuesday, that will include some state governors and will focus on the process of reopening the US economy.