As churches across the U.S. held Easter services online, New York officials voiced cautious optimism Sunday that the spread of coronavirus might be slowing in the nation’s hardest-hit state.
New York continued to lead the country with 8,650 deaths, but significant indicators including hospitalizations and ICU admissions have increased at a lower rate over the last three days.
“It’s all reinforcing the same thing,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “You’re not seeing a great decline in the numbers, but you’re seeing a flattening.”
There was similar hope from New Jersey, though Gov. Phil Murphy told CBS news that his state was still “fighting to stay ahead” of the need for hospital beds, ventilators, personal protective equipment and healthcare workers.
In Florida, the health department reported that COVID-19 cases had risen to almost 20,000, with 452 deaths.
The numbers played out against a traditional Christian holiday that most U.S. churches observed in nontraditional fashion.
Much like Pope Francis at the Vatican and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who delivered a sermon from the kitchen of his London flat, American clergy took to the internet to connect with congregants barred from attending in person.
Online ceremonies were held from the Washington National Cathedral in the capital and nearby Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. President Trump and his wife, Melania, said they planned to watch a service streamed from the First Baptist megachurch in Dallas.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City went online even as residents took to their windows and balconies to sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” in a mass celebration orchestrated by a local Presbyterian church.
There were some instances of push back against the campaign for an online Easter.
A federal judge ruled that a Louisville, Ky., church could proceed with its plans to hold a drive-in Easter service. About 250 people attended a similar celebration in the parking lot at Happy Gospel Church in Bradenton, Fla., where they sat in lawn chairs or on tailgates while remaining at least six feet apart.
In Kansas, Republican legislators challenged a ban on large religious gatherings in hopes of allowing congregations to open their doors. Late Saturday night, the state Supreme Court upheld the governor’s stay-at-home order.
Nationwide, the U.S. continued to lead all countries in reported cases, 530,000, and deaths, 21,418, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The virus has spread with particular ferocity through nursing homes and long-term-care facilities. With no federal statistics available, the Associated Press reported that, in the last 10 days, nursing home deaths had risen from about 450 to at least 2,646.
At the same time, the statistics in New York were promising enough to have officials looking ahead toward the “next phase” of fighting the pandemic.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would — once again — ask federal officials for help in acquiring test kits to assess tens of thousands of residents.
“We’ve pleaded for weeks and weeks for the federal government to provide testing up front,” De Blasio said. “I will have the conversation with the White House today.”
The mayor also reiterated that he planned to keep schools closed through the remainder of the academic year despite comments from Gov. Cuomo that the move was premature.
“It’s about getting us out of this horrible phase we’re in with widespread transmission,” De Blasio said. “This is the right thing to do, and we’re going to keep moving forward.”
Cuomo preached patience, insisting that policies need to be coordinated with neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut because so many residents cross state lines, in both directions, for work.
“June is a long way from now,” he said, referring to the end of the school year. “We go day-to-day to watch those numbers.”
With the start of a new week, Cuomo chose to highlight statistics that showed a decelerating outbreak, saying he felt more confident the state’s hospital system would not be overwhelmed as earlier feared.
“We deserve some good news,” he said. “Lord knows.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.