Government scientists said the virus could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, in spite of social distancing measures.

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In a news conference, President Trump struck his most somber tone on the subject to date.

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On Tuesday, the coronavirus task force used models to deliver an update on the expected spread of the disease. They projected that Covid-19 could kill up to 240,000 Americans, but pledged to do everything possible to reduce that number.CreditCredit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Trump said at his daily White House coronavirus briefing that “this is going to be a very painful, very very painful two weeks,” but that Americans will soon “start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going through a very tough few weeks,” Mr. Trump said, later raising his two weeks to three.

Striking perhaps his most somber tone on the subject to date, Mr. Trump said the virus is a “great national trial unlike any we have ever faced before,” and said it would require the “full absolute measure of our collective strength, love and devotion” in order to minimize the number of people infected.

“It’s a matter of life and death, frankly,” he said, officially calling for another month of social distancing and offering a sober assessment of the pandemic’s impact in the United States. “It’s a matter of life and death.”

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, urged Americans to follow the guidelines: no groups larger than 10 people, no unnecessary travel, no going to restaurants or bars.

“There’s no magic bullet, there’s no magic vaccine,” she said. “It’s just behaviors.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that social distancing measures across the nation are slowing the spread of the virus, but he made clear that the national death toll will continue to rise.

“The 15 days that we’ve had of mitigation clearly are having an effect,” Dr. Fauci said. But, he added: “In the next several days to a week or so we are going to continue to see things go up.”

Mr. Trump, who spent weeks downplaying the threat of the virus — and who has retreated from his recent suggestion that social distancing could be scaled back in mid-April — congratulated himself for projections showing that public health measures may dramatically limit the national death toll.

“What would have happened if we did nothing? Because there was a group that said, ‘Let’s just ride it out,’” Mr. Trump said, without saying what “group” he was referring to.

Mr. Trump said that as many as 2.2 million people “would have died if we did nothing, if we just carried on with our life.”

“You would have seen people dying on airplanes, you would have seen people dying in hotel lobbies — you would have seen death all over,” Mr. Trump said. By comparison, he said, a potential death toll of 100,000 “is a very low number.”

Asked how current casualty estimates might differ had Mr. Trump called for social distancing measures weeks earlier than he did, in mid-March, almost two months after the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the United States, Mr. Trump insisted that he had acted decisively.

“I think we’ve done a great job,” Mr. Trump said.

Asked about his repeated assurances to Americans in recent weeks that the virus would peter out with minimal impact, Mr. Trump insisted, as he has before, that he was trying to reassure the nation.

“I want to be positive; I don’t want to be negative,” Mr. Trump said. “I want to give people in this country hope.

“We’re going through probably the worst thing the country’s ever seen,” he added. “We lose more here potentially than you lose in world wars as a country.

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Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

The top government scientists battling the coronavirus estimated Tuesday that the deadly pathogen could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, in spite of the social distancing measures that have closed schools, banned large gatherings, limited travel and forced people to stay in their homes.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is coordinating the coronavirus response, displayed that grim projection at the White House on Tuesday, calling it “our real number” but pledging to do everything possible to reduce those numbers even further.

The conclusions generally match those from similar models by public health researchers around the globe.

As dire as those predictions are, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx said the number of deaths could be much higher if Americans do not follow the strict guidelines to keep the virus from spreading, and they urged people to take the restrictions seriously.

President Trump, who on Sunday extended for 30 days the government’s recommendations for slowing the spread of the virus, made it clear that the data compiled by Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx convinced him that the death toll would be even higher if the restrictions on work, school, travel and social life were not taken seriously by all Americans.

The data released on Tuesday was the first time that Mr. Trump’s administration has officially estimated the breadth of the threat to human life from the coronavirus, and the disease it brings, known as Covid-19. In the past several weeks, Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci have resisted predicting how many people might die in the pandemic, saying that there was not enough reliable data.

That is no longer, the case, they said. As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 173,741 people across every state, plus Washington, D.C., and four U.S. territories, have tested positive for the virus, according to a New York Times database. At least 3,433 patients with the virus have died.

When María José Rodríguez heard on local television that her town in northeastern Spain would be locked down within hours, she knew she had to leave or risk losing her family’s business.

She grabbed a bag of groceries, a fresh change of clothes and her car keys, said goodbye to her husband and drove to her son’s apartment in a nearby village, above the family bakery. For more than two weeks, she has been locked out of the town, Igualada. Her husband has been locked in, and they have no way of knowing how long it will go on.

“Had I not moved out to keep running the bakery, we would have had to close it,” Ms. Rodríguez, 63, said at her shop in the village of La Pobla de Claramunt. “But we’ll be fine, and I call my husband 50 times a day. At the very least.”

Many European countries have imposed various forms of lockdowns to contain the epidemic, but Igualada, an industrial town 30 miles northwest of Barcelona, stands out. Even as Spain has imposed a nationwide lockdown, it has cut Igualada off from the rest of the country — a lockdown within a lockdown.

After its hospital was identified as a hub of a regional outbreak that has reached nearly 20,000 coronavirus infections and more than 2,500 deaths, officials sealed off Igualada and three smaller neighboring towns at midnight on March 12, stranding about 65,000 people.

Police forces guard every access point, allowing only essential workers to enter and leave. The barriers have divided families like Ms. Rodríguez’s, put people out of work and thrown households into uncertainty for weeks, if not more.

“We are in a cage, and we are learning how to stop trying to control everything,” said Gemma Sabaté, a 48-year-old physical therapist stranded there.

While political leaders have locked their borders, scientists have been shattering theirs, creating a global collaboration unlike any in history. Never before, researchers say, have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single topic and with such urgency. Nearly all research, other than anything related to coronavirus, has ground to a halt.

Normal imperatives like academic credit have been set aside. Online repositories make studies available months ahead of journals. Researchers have identified and shared hundreds of viral genome sequences. More than 200 clinical trials have been started, bringing together hospitals and laboratories around the globe.

On a recent morning, for example, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh discovered that a ferret exposed to Covid-19 particles had developed a high fever — a potential advance toward animal vaccine testing. Under ordinary circumstances, they would have started work on an academic journal article.

“But you know what? There is going to be plenty of time to get papers published,” said Paul Duprex, a virologist leading the university’s vaccine research. Within two hours, he said, he had shared the findings with scientists around the world on a World Health Organization conference call. “It is pretty cool, right? You cut the crap, for lack of a better word, and you get to be part of a global enterprise.”

Dr. Duprex’s lab in Pittsburgh is collaborating with the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the Austrian drug company Themis Bioscience. The consortium has received funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, a Norway-based organization financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a group of governments, and is in talks with the Serum Institute of India, one of the largest vaccine manufacturers in the world.

The clamor for corporate funding is raising concerns about a financial reckoning reminiscent of 2008.

In a single week in March, as financial markets convulsed and major parts of the economy began shutting down, banks made over $240 billion in new loans to companies — twice as much in new lending as they would ordinarily extend in a full year.

American companies are reeling from the body blow dealt by the pandemic. As revenues dwindle, travel slows and production lines halt, companies have begun to furlough or lay off employees, slash investment in operations and buy less from their suppliers. With no way to tell when the economy will restart, they are racing to conserve money and tap as much credit as possible.

The new reality, say bankers and analysts, will be tough for companies that had grown accustomed to the easy money of the past decade. Enticed by ultralow interest rates, they borrowed trillions of dollars in new debt in the belief that banks would keep lending and the debt markets would always be open. Now many indebted companies, even those whose business has not taken a direct hit from the outbreak, are finding that they have to adapt to an era in which cash is suddenly much harder to raise.

Laundry, grocery shopping, even walking the dog is fraught with challenges these days. The key to accomplish any essential task is a little preparation, levelheaded thinking and a lot of hand washing before and after. (A few anti-bacterial wipes can’t hurt either.)

Reporting was contributed by Michael D. Shear, Elian Peltier, David D. Kirkpatrick, Kate Kelly and Peter Eavis.

  • Updated March 24, 2020

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      Experts are divided on how much protection a regular surgical mask, or even a scarf, can provide for people who aren’t yet sick. The W.H.O. and C.D.C. say that unless you’re already sick, or caring for someone who is, wearing a face mask isn’t necessary. And stockpiling high-grade N95 masks will make it harder for nurses and other workers to access the resources they need. But researchers are also finding that there are more cases of asymptomatic transmission than were known early on in the pandemic. And a few experts say that masks could offer some protection in crowded places where it is not possible to stay 6 feet away from other people. Masks don’t replace hand-washing and social distancing.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.