WASHINGTON -- The United States hit a grim milestone Wednesday as confirmed coronavirus cases topped 200,000, adding intense pressure to overstretched hospitals still struggling to find necessary medical supplies and warnings that the worst is yet to come.
With more than 4,500 Americans already dead, Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, compared the fast-rising trajectory to that of hard-hit Italy, which has suffered the most deaths so far from the global pandemic.
President Donald Trump has resisted growing calls to issue a national stay-at-home order, leaving state and local officials to act on their own in what increasingly appears a patchwork approach to a national crisis.
Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania added or expanded their stay-at-home orders Wednesday, joining about 35 other states with similar restrictions. Governors in Iowa, Nebraska and Georgia, among other states, have resisted statewide stay-at-home orders, although some mayors have urged residents to stay home.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has faced mounting criticism for not closing beaches and doing more to protect the state's vulnerable elderly population. He issued a stay-at-home order to replace county-by-county restrictions.
The pandemic now has largely circled the globe, and the World Health Organization predicted the number of infections would soon surpass 1 million.
"We have witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new cases, reaching almost every country, territory and area," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, told reporters in Geneva.
The White House has projected between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths across the United States in the coming weeks and months -- assuming the country stays largely shut down for at least the next month.
Federal officials are considering whether to recommend that more people wear masks over their nose and mouth to limit the transmission of the coronavirus. In cities like New York, New Orleans, Detroit and elsewhere, emergency rooms already are buckling from the increasing number of infections.
With millions out of work, and millions more hunkered down in their homes, most major cities have turned into virtual ghost towns. The economic fallout could surpass the damage from the Great Recession that followed the financial crisis in 2008, new forecasts suggest.
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