President Donald Trump talked just five days ago about the possibility of opening America by Easter Sunday, but has now extended restrictive social-distancing guidelines until the end of April.
The death toll in the nation could exceed 100,000 people, Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said.
One doctor working at a hospital in the heart of the virus zone, in Brooklyn in New York described the situation as "a medical war zone".
“Every day I come in what I see on a daily basis is pain, despair and healthcare disparities,” she said, speaking from Brookdale Hospital.
“We are scared too, we’re fighting for your lives and we’re fighting for our own lives.
"We’re trying to keep our head above water and not drown.”
The pressure is on all parts of the hospital.
As the lab runs multiple tests and the morgue has now spilled over into a truck parked at the back.
Reinforcements have arrived - not just a field hospital in Central Park but also a hospital ship sailing into New York harbour with 1,000 beds available.
President Trump’s comments, coming a day after he made a U-turn and announced he would not ease the guidelines and get the economy back up and running by Easter, perhaps seemed inevitable.
In the face of stark projections from his team and searing images of overwhelmed hospitals in his native New York City, Mr Trump instead extended to April 30 the social-distancing guidelines, which had been set to expire on Monday.
Many states and local governments already have stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.
On Sunday, Dr Fauci said the US could experience between 100,000-200,000 deaths and millions of infections from the pandemic.
That warning hardened a recognition in Washington that the struggle against coronavirus will not be resolved quickly even as Mr Trump expressed a longing for normalcy.
“It would not have been a good idea to pull back at a time when you really need to be pressing your foot on the pedal as opposed to on the brakes,” Dr Fauci said on CNN on Monday, describing how he and Dr Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force coordinator, had convinced Mr Trump to reconsider.
“We showed him the data.
"He looked at the data.
"He got it right away,” Dr Fauci said.
“It was a pretty clear picture.
"Dr Debbie Birx and I went in to the Oval Office and leaned over the desk and said, ‘Here are the data. Take a look’.
"He just shook his head and said, ‘I guess we got to do it’.”
Americans are now being asked to prepare for at least another 30 days of severe economic and social disruption, with schools and businesses closed and public life is upended.