A record surge of coronavirus cases in the United States is pushing hospitals to the brink of capacity and killing up to 1,000 people a day, the latest figures show, with much of the country's attention focused on Tuesday's presidential election.
The United States broke its single-day record for new coronavirus infections on Thursday, reporting at least 91,248 new cases, as 21 states reported their highest daily number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters tally of publicly reported data.
More than 1,000 people died of the virus on Thursday, marking the third time in October that milestone has been passed in a single day. The number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients has risen over 50% in October to 46,000, the highest since mid-August.
Among the hardest hit states are those most hotly contested in the campaign between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, such as Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The surge has revived some of the worst images of the devastating first wave of the virus in March, April and May, with people on ventilators dying alone in hospital isolation and medical staff physically and mentally exhausted.
"Our hospitals cannot keep up with Utah's infection rate. You deserve to understand the dire situation we face," Utah Governor Gary Herbert said on Twitter, echoing a similar refrain from other state and local officials and public health experts.
Utah was among 14 states to report record increases in deaths this month and among 30 states to report record increases in cases. The United States has recorded over 229,000 deaths and nearly 9 million cases, both the highest single-country totals in the global pandemic.
'NOT QUITE PREPARED'
"We are having some of the largest outbreaks that we've had during the entire pandemic. And nine, 10 months into this pandemic, we are still largely not quite prepared," said Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island.
"We don't have the kind of testing that we need. There are a lot of problems with large outbreaks happening in many, many different parts of the country. And of course, we're going into the fall and winter, which will, of course, make things very, very difficult," Jha told Reuters in an interview.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the virus, saying for weeks that the country is "rounding the turn," even as new cases and hospitalizations soar. He maintained his upbeat tone in a tweet on Friday, saying the country is doing much better than Europe in confronting the pandemic.
Biden and fellow Democrats in Congress have criticized the president for his handling of the health crisis.
After his hospitalization with Covid-19 in early October, Trump resumed the large campaign rallies that draw thousands of supporters packed together, many not wearing masks. The Trump campaign says the rallies are safe and that masks and social distancing are encouraged.
A CNN investigation found that 14 out of 17 counties surveyed showed an increased rate of new Covid-19 cases one month after hosting Trump rallies. The report presented the health data but did not draw a causal link.
Rates of infection in eight of the 14 counties had been decreasing one month before the rallies, it said. In 10 counties, the new rates of infection were growing faster than the overall rate for the state. The report studied counties in 13 states including election battlegrounds of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida.
One of the country's most conservative business groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday urged member companies and local community leaders to step up efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus with mask mandates and other measures.