US Covid cases surge to new highs but White House focuses on vaccine hopes | Coronavirus



A day after the US set a daily record for new coronavirus infections, it came very close to doing it again.

Data published by Johns Hopkins University showed that 83,718 new cases were reported nationally on Saturday, nearly matching the 83,757 reported on Friday. Before that, the most cases reported in the US on a single day was 77,362 on 16 July.

Close to 8.6m Americans have contracted the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and about 225,000 have died. Both statistics are the world’s highest. India has more than 7.8m infections but its daily numbers have been declining.

The new figures came as the Trump administration made the extraordinary admission that it had abandoned all pretence of trying to conquer the crisis

“We are not going to control the pandemic,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said on CNN’s State of the Union. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.”

On Saturday night, an outbreak was reported among officials working for Vice-President Mike Pence, chief of staff Marc Short among them. Pence and his wife Karen Pence tested negative on Sunday but five close associates were infected.

US officials fear a surge of infections to come with colder weather and people spending more time indoors, especially as many flout guidelines such as mask-wearing and social distancing. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington forecasts a death toll exceeding 318,000 by 1 January.

Despite evidence the pandemic is worsening, Trump continues to insist there is “light at the end of the tunnel”, repeating false claims at rallies barely a week before the election that the country is “rounding the corner beautifully”.

Meadows’ comments reflected the escalating levels of political rhetoric surrounding the pandemic. In response, Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, said the White House “was admitting defeat”. Sherrod Brown, Democratic senator from Ohio, told NBC’s Meet the Press an early priority of a Biden administration would be to “address the Covid crisis, the pandemic, the public health disaster that Trump has made worse and worse”.

Trump surrogates including Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, echoed the president.

“We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, especially when we get this vaccine at the end of this year or early next year,” McDaniel told Fox News Sunday.

“The president using the military will be able to distribute that vaccine quickly. We’re seeing mortality rates go down, we see that we have enough ventilators, we have enough [personal protective equipment], the hospitals are not being overwhelmed.”

But some states are suffering more than others and pressure on medical services is increasing. Michigan reported more than 3,000 new confirmed cases on Saturday – its highest daily count yet. The 3,338 new cases surpassed the previous single-day record of 2,030, set on 15 October. The state reported 35 deaths, raising its toll to 7,182.

Dr Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said it was “now more important than ever that people take this seriously” and urged residents to wear a face mask every time they are around someone outside their own household, to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.

In Texas, a surge in the border city of El Paso continued with a record 1,216 cases on Saturday, nearly 20% of the state’s 6,125 new cases, according to officials. There have been 3,346 cases in the city in the past three days, in a total of 38,554 since March.

“Today’s spike is part of an unfortunate national surge that we have been planning and preparing for,” public health director Angela Mora said. “Now, we need our community to help us by doing their part and staying home, if and when possible, for the next two weeks in order to stop the rapid spread of the virus.”

Governor Greg Abbott has sent medical equipment and about 500 personnel. There have been more than 858,000 cases in Texas and nearly 17,500 deaths, 81 reported on Saturday.

Tennessee recorded 2,574 new cases on Saturday and 24 new deaths, bringing deaths in the state to 3,100. One hospital said it was suspending all elective procedures requiring an overnight stay due to a surge in Covid patients, the Daily Herald of Columbia reported. As of Friday evening, Columbia’s Maury Regional Medical Center was treating 50 Covid-19 patients, 20 of whom were in the 26-bed intensive care unit.

On Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Health reported that hospitalizations had reached a new record of 1,300 and said it had an ICU bed availability of just 11%. Martin Chaney, Maury Regional’s chief medical officer, said small home gatherings have become the emerging threat.

“In our homes, we all let our guard down,” Chaney said. “You think it is safe to not socially distance, and you take your masks off. That is spreading the disease very rapidly.”

Maury Regional has consistently seen a surge in cases about two weeks after each major holiday, Chaney said.

“The time has long passed for our community to take this virus seriously,” said Alan Watson, chief executive of Maury Regional Health.

Hopes of an economic relief package passing Congress before the election still look bleak. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, told CNN on Sunday she was open to more negotiation, despite her party blocking a $500bn bill in the Senate.

“Let’s just be hopeful,” she said. “We’re nine days before an election. We’re trying to unify the country and one way to do it is to come together to crush the virus, so that we can open our economy, open our schools and feed 17 million children who are food insecure in our country.”



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