WASHINGTON: Nearly 2,000 people infected with COVID-19 have died in the United States in the last 24 hours, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday (Apr 7) night.
The record daily figure of 1,939 brings the total number of deaths in the US as of Tuesday night to 12,722, which is approaching death tolls in the worst-hit countries so far - Italy with 17,127 dead and Spain with 13,798.
President Donald Trump defended his response to the crisis, and on Tuesday blamed the World Health Organization (WHO) for reacting slowly.
He questioned why the WHO had given "such a faulty recommendation", apparently referring to the UN body's advice against curtailing international travel to stop the virus which first spread from China.
"They called it wrong. They really missed the call. They could have called it months earlier," he said.
Trump has been widely criticised for initially downplaying the virus, which he likened to an ordinary flu and said was under control in the United States, before later accepting that it was a national emergency.
NEW YORK SEES VIRUS SLOWING: CUOMO
Even as medical teams struggled to save an onslaught of gravely ill coronavirus patients and deaths hit new highs, the number of COVID-19 hospitalisations seemed to be levelling off in New York state, the US epicentre of the pandemic, said governor Andrew Cuomo.
New York state has accounted for more than a third of all US confirmed coronavirus cases to date, and nearly half of the nation's cumulative death toll - 5,489 as of Tuesday. A total of 731 fatalities were reported in Cuomo's state alone on Tuesday.
But Cuomo said the rising tallies of deaths were a "lagging indicator" coming days or weeks after the onset of infections.
He pointed instead to slowing rates of coronavirus hospitalisations, intensive care admissions and ventilator intubations as signs social distancing measures imposed last month were working.
But early statistical signs the crisis might be peaking provided little comfort to weary doctors and nurses on the front lines of the outbreak - hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
READ: 'Wuhan virus' no more: US and China in truce
"People are just so incredibly sick ... incredibly sick in a way that I've never experienced or seen before," said Jacqueline Callahan, 33, a New York City nurse who spoke to Reuters on condition that she does not identify the hospital where she works.
"So every day is, honestly, the hardest day," she said. "You just don't know how it's going to change, and you just hope it keeps getting better, but - you know - we haven't turned that corner fully yet."
The governors of Illinois and Louisiana - two other hot spots in the US pandemic - likewise paired reports of record jumps in COVID-19 deaths with data suggesting the contagion may be reaching a plateau.
The messages seemed calibrated to convey a sense of hope while urging the public to abide strictly by stay-at-home orders imposed by governors of 42 states.
"Let's not get complacent," Cuomo told a news conference. "Social distancing is working ... That's why you see those numbers coming down."
READ: New York's Cuomo sees coronavirus crisis slowing despite record daily death toll
Across the country, California governor Gavin Newsom said the infection curve in his state - the first to impose stay-at-home orders - was "bending but it's also stretching", with the virus outbreak there expected to peak in mid- to late May.
"The curve continues to rise, but now it is slower," he told a news briefing.
In another glimmer of good news, US surgeon general Jerome Adams said on Tuesday the pandemic may end up killing fewer Americans than the range of 100,000 to 240,000 projected earlier by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The latest research model from the University of Washington - one of several cited by leading health authorities - had forecast US coronavirus deaths totaling fewer than 82,00 by Aug 4.