The state of New York overtook Italy on Tuesday, reporting 138,836 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to a Reuters tally.

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 U.S. epicentre of the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday.

New York was one of several states, along with the nation as a whole, to post their highest daily loss of life from COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the virus. A staggering 731 fatalities were reported in Cuomo’s state alone.

But early statistical signs the crisis might be peaking provided little comfort to weary doctors and nurses on the front lines of the outbreak, as hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units overflowing with COVID-19 patients.

“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 she 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.”

In Wisconsin, voters on Tuesday braved the coronavirus outbreak to wait 6 feet (1.8 m) apart in lines for hours and cast ballots in the state’s presidential primary and local elections.

For the United States, the tally of known coronavirus infections approached 400,000 on Tuesday, with the number of deaths surpassing 12,700 in a record single-day jump of more than 1,800 nationwide.

New York state accounted for more than a third of US confirmed coronavirus cases to date, and nearly half the cumulative death toll — 5,489 as of Tuesday.

But Cuomo said the rising number of deaths was a “lagging indicator” coming days or weeks after the onset of infections.

He pointed instead to slowing rates of coronavirus hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and ventilator intubations as signs social distancing measures imposed last month were working.