The United States passed the grim milestone of 20,000 coronavirus deaths Saturday as huge swathes of the globe celebrated the Easter holiday weekend under lockdown at home.
The outbreak has now claimed the lives of at least 20,071 people in the US, which leads the world in deaths and in the number of declared infections — at least 519,453, according to a tally maintained by Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University.
Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe with a population a fifth the size of the US, was also approaching the bleak marker, with 19,468 confirmed virus fatalities.
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.
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, the largest number in and around New York City. Even that is viewed as understated, as New York is still figuring out how best to include a surge in deaths at home in its official statistics.
Public health experts have warned the US death toll could reach 200,000 over the summer if unprecedented stay-at-home orders that have closed businesses and kept most Americans indoors are lifted when they expire at the end of the month.
Most of the curbs, however, including school closures and emergency orders keeping non-essential workers largely confined to home, flow from powers vested in state governors, not the president.
Nonetheless, Trump has said he wants life to return to normal as soon as possible and that the measures aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus carry their own economic and public-health cost.
Speaking by telephone with Fox News on Saturday evening, Trump said he would make a decision “reasonably soon,” based on the advice of “a lot of very smart people, a lot of professionals, doctors and business leaders.”
He said “instinct” would also play a role.
“People want to get back, they want to get back to work. We have to bring our country back,” he said.