Makeshift morgues and grim projections for the month ahead

Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment due to COVID-19 concerns pause for rest before loading bodies into a refrigerated container truck functioning as a makeshift morgue, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, at Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn borough of New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The Associated Press

What you need to know today about the virus outbreak

Associated Press

Distressing images of morgue trucks in New York City, taking away the rising number of dead from the coronavirus, have underscored the latest grim projections for the entire country. 

Experts warned that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. even if social distancing guidelines are maintained. America now has more than 4,000 dead from the outbreak. 

WHAT'S HAPPENING TODAY

— New York is the deadliest hot spot in the U.S., with more than 1,500 deaths statewide, most of them in New York City, which is bracing for things to get much worse in the coming weeks.

— Donald Trump, the self-styled "wartime president" is enjoying the high ratings of his briefings and boasting they're up there with "The Bachelor." Meanwhile, on the streets of the country, people are recoiling in the wake of each passing stranger's exhalation. 

— The IRS and the Treasury Department say Americans will start receiving their economic impact checks in the next three weeks. AP's business team sets out what you need to do to get your check.

— Facing intense surges in the need for hospital ICU beds, European nations are on a building and hiring spree, throwing together makeshift hospitals and shipping coronavirus patients out of overwhelmed cities. The key question is whether they will be able to find enough healthy medical staff to make it all work. 

— The coronavirus pandemic couldn't come at a worse time for rural communities across the U.S. that have lost their hospitals. Nearly 200 small-town hospitals have closed nationwide since 2005, often forcing residents to drive much farther for health care. Last year was the worst yet for shutdowns, and officials say hundreds more rural hospitals are endangered by the pandemic. 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Here are the symptoms of the virus compared with the common flu.

One of the best ways to prevent spread of the virus is washing your hands with soap and water. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends first washing with warm or cold water and then lathering soap for 20 seconds to get it on the backs of hands, between fingers and under fingernails before rinsing off.

You should wash your phone, too. Here's how.

TRACKING THE VIRUS: Drill down and zoom in at the individual county level, and you can access numbers that will show you the situation where you are, and where loved ones or people you're worried about live.

Trump says 'life and death' at stake 

President Donald Trump warned Americans to brace for a "hell of a bad two weeks" ahead as the White House projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

Public health officials stressed Tuesday that the number could be less if people across the country bear down on keeping their distance from one another.

"I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead," Trump said. 

"This is going to be one of the roughest two or three weeks we've ever had in our country," Trump added. "We're going to lose thousands of people."

The jaw-dropping projections were laid out during a grim, two-hour White House briefing. Officials described a death toll that in a best-case scenario would likely be greater than the more than 53,000 American lives lost during World War I. And the model's high end neared the realm of possibility that Americans lost to the virus could approach the 291,000 Americans killed on the battlefield during World War II.

On Wednesday, Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, said that some areas of the country would likely need to maintain those restrictions into May. "Well, it will be for some places, it won't be for others, depending on where they are on their curve," he told ABC's "Good Morning America."

It was an abrupt reversal for the Republican president, who spent much of last week targeting April 12 as the day he wanted to see Americans "pack the pews" for Easter Sunday services. 

Trump called the data "very sobering," saying it was his understanding that 100,000 deaths was a minimum that would be difficult to avoid. He also sought to rewrite his past minimization of the outbreak, saying he rejected those who compared the new coronavirus to the flu when in fact he repeatedly did so publicly.

"This could be hell of a bad two weeks,'" Trump said. He added: "You know 100,000 is, according to modeling, a very low number. In fact, when I first saw the number ... they said it was unlikely you'll be able to attain that. We have to see but I think we're doing better than that."

Trump played down concerns from New York's Andrew Cuomo and other governors that their states' hospitals don't have enough ventilators to treat an anticipated crush of patients. Trump said the federal government currently has a stockpile of 10,000 ventilators that it plans on distributing as needed.

"Now, when the surge occurs, if it occurs fairly evenly, we'll be able to distribute them very quickly before they need them," Trump said. "But we want to have a reserve right now. It's like having oil reserves."

Birx said the experiences of Washington state and California give her hope that other states can keep the coronavirus under control through social distancing. That's because they moved quickly to contain the early clusters of coronavirus by closing schools, urging people to work from home, banning large gatherings and taking other measures now familiar to most Americans, she noted.

"I am reassured by looking at the Seattle line," she added. "California and Washington state reacted very early to this." Many other states and local governments already have stiff controls in place on mobility and gatherings.

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