Two more Cambodians have died from COVID-19 in the United States where the pandemic is spreading like wildfire.
Both deaths were in New York state, which is the epicentre of the outbreak in the US, and follows the passing of a Cambodian woman in Washington on March 22.
On Saturday, Watt Samkki, a Cambodian pagoda based in Brooklyn, New York, announced a 63-year-old temple member, had lost his battle against COVID-19 the day before.
“Unfortunately, there is no way we can organise any event for him due to the dire situation we are facing now,” an announcement on Watt Samkki’s Facebook page said. “We will do something when things gets back to normal.”
On Saturday, another Cambodian residing in New York was reported to have died from the virus.
The victim was identified as a 54-year-old man. His passing has not been officially confirmed, but videos of Cambodian monks in the US who were praying for his soul have been posted on social media.
On March 22, Nuth Chunheang, the 65-year-old mother of Cambodian Rice Federation director Song Saran, died from COVID-19 in Seattle, Washington.
Koy Kuong, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said yesterday he had heard about the two new deaths, but is waiting for official information from the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in New York.
“Until now, we do not know how many Cambodians have been infected with or died from COVID-19,” he said. “We are waiting for our officials in the US to send us all the relevant information.”
Mr Kuong was not sure how many Cambodians are living in the US, but according to a 2010 US Census, the figure is estimated to be 276,667, with most of them concentrated in California, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Last week, a Cambodian man residing in Marietta, Georgia posted a video on social media which criticised the ability and capacity of US medical staff and facilities to test for virus. He had gone to a hospital to test “after having shown some symptoms”.
“The doctor asked about my symptoms… he just tested me for a cold and used a stethoscope to check my lungs and then assumed I was not infected with COVID-19,” said the Cambodian man wearing a pair of sunglasses and a surgical mask in front of the hospital in the video. “Surprisingly, when I asked him why he did not test me for COVID-19, he [the doctor] said they do not have the equipment to do that. And this is America, right in Marietta, the capital of Georgia!”
The US Embassy to Cambodia declined to comment on the deaths of the Cambodians in the US or the accusation made by the man in the video.
“COVID-19 is a global health crisis, and governments worldwide are grappling with unprecedented challenges as they tackle this pandemic,” said US Embassy spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg in an email.
“Together with partners around the world, the United States is diligently working to mobilise all resources to respond to the threat of COVID-19 rapidly, both at home and abroad.”
“Our hearts go out to anyone who has lost loved ones in this global tragedy,” she added.
The loss of the Cambodian lives in the US is made sadder by the fact there has not been any death from the coronavirus in the Kingdom.
However, in the United States the pandemic is spreading like wildfire.
US governors on Sunday appealed to the White House for a national strategy against the fast-spreading coronavirus, as deaths surged and health authorities warned the coming week could resemble a “Pearl Harbour moment.”
The US death toll was creeping toward the grim milestone of 10,000 as the pandemic’s epicentre in New York racked up hundreds of lives lost a day and hospitals girded for an influx of new infected patients.
Anthony Fauci, the senior American scientist battling the pandemic stateside, warned of a looming “escalation,” saying Americans should prepare for “a bad week.”
“I will not say we have it under control,” Fauci told CBS Sunday. “That would be a false statement.”
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams sounded an even more dire alarm.
“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” he told Fox News.
“This is going to be our Pearl Harbour moment, our 9-11 moment, only it’s not going to be localised.”
Most of the nation is under shelter-in-place orders, but nine states have yet to issue such regulations, while the federal government has declined to mandate anything on a national level.
Adams noted that the nine states without orders were producing much of the US food supply.
Still, he pleaded with state leaders to urge residents to stay home for at least the next seven to 10 days: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part.”
The coronavirus death toll in hardest-hit New York state rose to 4,159, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, up from 3,565 a day prior.
It was the first time the day-over-day toll had dropped – on Saturday it hit a record 630 deaths in 24 hours – but Cuomo told journalists it was too early to tell whether that was a “blip.”
New York’s peak could arrive over the next week, he said, though he cautioned it was unclear if the apex would be a point, followed quickly by a decline, or a lingering plateau.
The state has now reported 122,031 confirmed infections – roughly one-tenth the worldwide total.
Cuomo said he aimed to shift patients away from already overburdened hospitals to others with more capacity and equipment.
“I can’t say to a hospital, I will send you all the supplies you need, all the vents you need. We don’t have them,” he said, referring to life-saving ventilator equipment. “You are going to have to shift and deploy to different locations.”
The governor said rapid testing, still out-of-reach, was key to a “return to normalcy,” while reiterating appeals for equipment including ventilators from other states as well as from the federal stockpile.
Cuomo vowed to return the favour as the virus spreads elsewhere – New Jersey, Michigan and Louisiana are all emerging hotspots – saying that New York could offer a strategic blueprint.
On the Sunday morning talk show circuit, other state governors voiced alarm that the Donald Trump administration has not offered a unified policy plan.
“Not having a national strategy where there is one policy for the country as opposed to a patchwork based on whomever the governor is, is something that I think is creating a more porous situation where COVID-19 will go longer and more people will get sick,” Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer said on Fox News.
“We are not one another’s enemy,” she added. “The enemy is COVID-19. And it has to be all hands on deck, from the federal level, to the state level, to the local level.”
Throughout the weekend Trump stressed that the US – where infections have surpassed 330,000 – cannot remain economically shut down forever, and continued to leave it to the states to declare their own mitigation strategies and lockdown orders.
Illinois’ Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker skewered the Trump administration for not better preparing the nation, leaving the virus to slam the US as it has Europe and China.
“If they had started in February building ventilators, getting ready for this pandemic, we would not have the problems that we have today, and frankly, very many fewer people would die,” Pritzker told CNN.
At his briefing the president later accused Pritzker of “always complaining.”
Additional reporting by AFP