The coronavirus was killing Americans in the US weeks before health officials, doctors or the government realised.
Health officials in Santa Clara County, California, said on Wednesday (local time) the virus appeared to have circulated there in January, and early deaths were likely mistaken for the flu.
Nationwide, US deaths totalled 47,050 on Wednesday, up about 1800, with some states yet to report. The US has the world’s largest number of cases at over 830,000.
The news comes as more states in the US signal their readiness to reopen their economies in hopes the worst of the coronavirus pandemic has passed, but California’s governor is holding firm on stay-at-home orders and business closures.
The patchwork of still-evolving orders across the 50 states meant some Americans were still confined indefinitely to their homes, unable to work, while others began to venture out for the first time in weeks.
“I wish I could prescribe a specific date to say that we can turn on that light switch and go back to normalcy,” California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said in his daily remarks to the nation’s most-populous state.
The governor said that among the steps health officials would need to take before 40 million Californians could return to jobs, schools and stores would be ramping up testing for the virus to 25,000 patients a day.
Mr Newsom said President Donald Trump had committed to sending 100,000 testing swabs next week and 250,000 the following week.
NEW: CA has 35,396 confirmed positive cases of #COVID19.
3,357 of those cases are in our hospitals. 1,219 of those cases are in the ICU.
CA is flattening the curve–but only if we continue to take this seriously. Stay home. And practice physical distancing.#StayHomeSaveLives
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) April 22, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has faced criticism from conservative activists over her strict stay-at-home policies, said she would announce more details on Friday (local time) on her planned reopening of the state’s economy.
Ohio officials said they would soon disclose their plans as well and governors of Midwest states have said they were working together to sketch out a plan for lifting the restrictions.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said he would announce in detail next week preparations to reopen as many businesses as possible in the first week of May.
Georgia, South Carolina and several other Southern states have already begun reopening their economies, facing criticism from some health experts who warn that doing so too quickly could trigger a new surge in cases of COVID-19.
Mr Trump said, however, that Georgia’s plan to open businesses such as barber shops, nail salons and bowling alleys this week was too soon “and I told the governor that,” he told a White House briefing.
According to a model maintained by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which is used by the White House, South Carolina and Georgia should not open until June 5 and June 19, respectively.
The restrictions have battered the US economy, with mandatory business closures leaving millions of Americans unemployed.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said his state had 474 COVID-19 deaths in the past day, its lowest since April 1, and was showing more signs that the worst was over, including a drop in hospitalisations.
But Mr Cuomo warned of a potential “second wave” if restrictions were relaxed irresponsibly.
“This is no time to act stupidly,” said Mr Cuomo, whose state has been the US epicentre of the pandemic. “More people are going to die if we are not smart.”
“We make a bad move, it’s going to set us back,” Mr Cuomo said.