'This is going to be our Pearl Harbor': Surgeon general warns USA faces worst week of coronavirus outbreak

William Cummings, USA TODAY

Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the coronavirus pandemic rivals some of the darkest moments in U.S. history, including the two worst foreign attacks on American soil: the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings. 

"This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly," Adams told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace. "This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that." 

The worst lies ahead: Dr. Deborah Birx warns hot spots will see a spike in coronavirus deaths over next 6-7 days

His comments echo what leading health care officials have said for days in an attempt to prepare the nation for what's to come and in the hope of lessening a grim reality by stressing the need for aggressive social distancing measures. 

There were more than 325,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the USA and more than 9,200 had died from the disease as of 3 p.m. EDT Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

What's coming this week 

Saturday, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said she expected that death toll to rise quickly in the coming week in three "hot spots" where there are a large number of confirmed cases: New York, Detroit and Louisiana. 

Birx said projections show those three areas will reach their peak numbers of deaths per day from the virus, "all of them hitting together in the next six to seven days."

When asked how many deaths can be expected, Birx referred reporters to healthdata.org, which predicts, based on the Christopher Murray model, that New York will reach a peak of 855 deaths a day on Friday. By comparison, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported Sunday there had been 594 coronavirus-related deaths in his state in the past 24 hours.

To help address New York's crisis, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he was deploying more than 1,100 military medical personnel to New York City, where the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was converted into a field hospital with a 2,500-bed capacity. Esper said it will be the "largest hospital in the United States." Eight other field hospitals have opened across the USA, and 22 more are scheduled to open in the coming weeks, Esper said. 

Want to talk more about politics?: Join our Facebook group: ‘Across the Aisle, Across the Nation.’

The Murray model predicts Michigan will hit a peak of 173 deaths per day on Saturday and Louisiana will hit a peak of 76 deaths a day on Friday. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told CNN on Sunday that he expects his state will run out of ventilators and hospital beds on or before that date. 

"It's growing exponentially," Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told Fox News on Sunday. "This is something that is aggressively growing in all age groups all across our most populous part of the state, which is southeast Michigan." She said hospitals in her state were at capacity. 

Where are the next problem areas? 

Birx said Pennsylvania, Colorado and the District of Columbia are potential hot spots where "they are starting to go on that upside" of the coronavirus mortality curve.

According to the Murray model, Colorado and Pennsylvania could each lose more than 2,000 people to the coronavirus. 

The projection says the national peak will occur April 16, when the daily death toll will reach more than 2,600, about double the more than 1,300 deaths reported Saturday. That reflects an exponential increase from the 525 deaths the previous Saturday, March 28, and 46 deaths on March 21. 

Based on the projection, a total of 93,531 Americans will die from the virus by Aug. 4. In a worst-case scenario, the model shows as many as 180,000 could die by that date. Even the worst-case figure assumes "full social distancing through May 2020." Without those measures, the count could climb even higher. 

Last week, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci predicted the final toll could be 100,000 to 200,000

“It’s going to be a very deadly period, unfortunately,” President Donald Trump said Saturday at a White House news conference.

A plea for more orders to stay home 

Sunday, the surgeon general stressed that people and the government still have the "power to change the trajectory of this epidemic" and that there is hope that the worst projections can be avoided if Americans follow strict social distancing guidelines. 

"I want Americans to understand that, as hard as this week is going to be, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part for the next 30 days," Adams said. 

In an effort to ensure that their citizens practice social distancing, most governors have issued stay-at-home orders restricting all but essential activities.

Nine Republican governors have resisted such a move despite calls to do so from leading health officials such as Fauci, prompting many to call on Trump to issue a federal order for people to stay home across the USA. 

The surgeon general said the administration's guidelines, which call for strict social distancing until at least April 30, "are essentially our national stay-at-home order." 

"It's important to understand that most people across the country are doing the right thing," Adams said. "Over 90% of the country is staying at home. And a good proportion, more than average, are staying at home even in those nine states." 

He said those nine states where a stay-at-home order hasn't been issued "actually produce a large amount of our food" and are balancing the need to "provide for the rest of the country" with the need to avoid spreading the virus. 

"The governors are intensely protective of their right, and rightly so, to be able to decide what's best for their states," he said. "And we're going to do everything we can as scientists and as physicians, as medical professionals, to help them understand what we think the right thing is for them to do." 

Adams said governors resisting a stay-at-home order can help if they are willing to "give us what you can" in terms of asking people to stay home. 

"Give us a week. Give us whatever you can to stay at home during this particularly tough time when we're going to be hitting our peak," he said. "I just want everyone to know that, from a national perspective, the surgeon general was saying, no matter where you are, stay at home. At least give us a week or two, if you can. We want you to do it for 30 days, but even in those nine states, give us what you can, so we can get this peak and start to come down on the other side."

Some governors are resisting  

Those governors have given various explanations for their reluctance to order their residents to stay at home, ranging from doubts about the effectiveness to concerns about government overreach. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday at a news conference that Fauci "maybe doesn't have all the information." She said her state took a wide range of actions that effectively amounted to a stay-at-home order. 

"One of the things that I have asked Iowans since the start is to remain calm and to be informed. The term 'shelter in place' does not mean that any state's orders are different from or stronger than what we are doing in Iowa," Reynolds said. 

"The people themselves are primarily responsible for their safety," South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said Wednesday, adding the state constitution prevented her from taking "draconian measures much like the Chinese government has done." 

Friday, Noem said projections show up to 70% of her state's residents could become infected, but a stay-at-home order would not be worth the disruptions it would cause to daily life. 

Whitmer slammed the lack of a national approach to the problem and said it has resulted in a "patchwork based on whomever the governor is." She said that is "creating a more porous situation where COVID-19 will go longer and more people will get sick and, sadly, more lives may get lost." 

'I just don't understand': Anthony Fauci shows support for more state stay-at-home orders

Coronavirus in the USA: How all 50 states are responding – and why there is no federal stay-at-home order

Contributing: Michael Collins, John Fritze and David Jackson, USA TODAY; Trevor J. Mitchell, Sioux Falls (S.D) Argus Leader; Nick Coltrain, Des Moines Register; The Associated Press 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Surgeon General Jerome Adams: Coronavirus rivals Pearl Harbor, 9/11