The US has recorded more than 3100 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, obliterating the record set at the start of the pandemic, while the number of Americans hospitalised with the virus has eclipsed 100,000 for the first time and new cases are topping 200,000 a day, according to new figures.
The three benchmarks altogether showed a country slipping deeper into crisis, with perhaps the worst yet to come, in part because of the delayed effects from Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans disregarded warnings to stay home and celebrate only with members of their household.
Medical staff treat a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Houston, Texas last month.Credit:Bloomberg
Across the US, the surge has swamped hospitals with patients and left nurses and other health care workers shorthanded and burned out.
"The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation," Dr Robert Redfield, head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday.
"The mortality concerns are real and I do think unfortunately before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans that have died from this virus."
The US death toll since the start of the pandemic stands at about 273,000.
Health authorities had warned that the numbers could fluctuate strongly before and after Thanksgiving, as they often do around holidays and weekends, when because of reporting delays, figures often drop, then rise sharply a few days later as state and local agencies catch up with the backlog.
Still, deaths, hospitalisations and cases in the US have been on a fairly steady rise for weeks, sometimes breaking records for days on end.
The US recorded 3157 deaths on Wednesday, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That's more than the number of people killed on 9/11, and it shattered the old mark of 2603, set on April 15, when the New York metropolitan area was the epicentre of the US outbreak.
The number of people in the hospital likewise set an all-time high on Wednesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. It has more than doubled over the past month.
Also, the number of newly confirmed infections climbed just over 200,000 on Wednesday for the second time in less than a week, by Johns Hopkins' count.
Rural and suburban hospitals are particularly affected, threatening their economic viability, Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, told MSNBC on Thursday.
"There's no end in sight because there's so much community spread," Adalja said, warning that the pandemic could force hospital closures.
Still, rapid vaccine development, aided by the Trump administration's "Operation Warp Speed" program, offered a ray of hope.
Britain on Wednesday gave emergency approval to Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine, a sign that US regulators may soon follow suit and allow inoculations within weeks.
Former US presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have volunteered to get their COVID-19 jabs on television to help demonstrate their safety, CNN reported, citing press aides to Bush and Clinton and an Obama interview on Sirius XM radio.
"I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science," Obama said.
AP, with Reuters
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