The bleak news Thursday — a record-shattering 6.6 million new unemployment claims on top of last week’s unprecedented 3.3 million — came as the competition for scarce ventilators, masks and other protective gear seemed to grow more desperate and deaths mounted with alarming speed in Italy, Spain and New York, the most lethal hot spot in the nation, with nearly 2,400 lives lost.
Worldwide the number of confirmed infections hit another gloomy milestone — 1 million, with more than 50,000 deaths, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
But the true numbers are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, many mild cases that have gone unreported, and suspicions that some countries are covering up the extent of their outbreaks.
The mounting economic fallout almost certainly signals the onset of a global recession, with job losses that are likely to dwarf those of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.
“My anxiety is through the roof right now, not knowing what’s going to happen,” said Laura Wieder, laid off from her job managing a now-closed sports bar in Bellefontaine, Ohio.
About half of all working Americans report some kind of income loss affecting them or a member of their household because of the epidemic, and poor people and those without college degrees are especially likely to have lost a job, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research.
With over 240,000 people infected in the U.S. and the death toll topping 5,800, sobering preparations were under way. The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked the Pentagon for 100,000 body bags because of the possibility funeral homes will be overwhelmed, the military said.
The competition for ventilators, masks and other vital supplies was cutthroat.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that the state could run out of breathing machines in six days. He complained that the 50 states are competing against each other for protective gear and breathing machines, or are being outbid by the federal government, in a competition he likened to being on eBay.
At FEMA, the agency tasked with coordinating the federal response to the outbreak, about 9,000 additional ventilators are on hold as officials seek to determine where they are needed most urgently. States have been warned not to expect any shipments until they are within 72 hours of a crisis.