The United States has suffered its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic to date, with a record 3656 deaths and 276,403 new cases on Wednesday.
As of Thursday the total number of cumulative cases in the US has passed 17 million and the death toll stands at 310,095.
“I want to be clear – our hospitals are under siege and there is no end in sight,” Los Angeles County director of health services Dr Christina Ghaly said on Wednesday, Deadline reported.
“Unless we remain more vigilant and more diligent through the holidays and beyond, we will not be able to stop the surge.”
Los Angeles County is America’s worst affected county with 8568 total deaths. Its numbers on Wednesday reflected the national trend, with a record number of deaths and new confirmed cases.
Dr Gahaly said one in every 80 residents of the county were now infected, with nearly 5000 people hospitalised and hospitals seeing 600 new patients per day.
“(That number) could be between 700 and 1350 by the end of December,” she said.
“The number of patients that need ICU care in the county could exceed the current 2500 ICU beds by 1000 or more. We are off the grid in terms of our previous projections.”
Data from the COVID-19 Tracking Project as of Wednesday showed hospitalisations across the US had reached a record 113,090, including 21,936 patients in intensive care and 7778 on ventilators, The Hill reported.
Wednesday also marked the 44th consecutive day of more than 100,000 new cases – a milestone first reached the day after the election. Daily new cases reached 200,000 for the first time the day after Thanksgiving.
Health experts have blamed the recent spike in new cases on holiday gatherings.
Millions of Americans ignored recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid travelling or gathering with people outside their immediate household.
Even with the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine beginning this week, health experts have say the uptick is a warning for the Christmas holidays.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases expert, told The Washington Post this week he would not be seeing his three adult daughters for Christmas, and urged others to do the same.
“I’m going to be with my wife – period,” the 79-year-old said.
“The Christmas holiday is a special holiday for us because Christmas Eve is my birthday. And Christmas Day is Christmas Day. And they are not going to come home. That’s painful. We don’t like that. But that’s just one of the things you’re going to have to accept as we go through this unprecedented challenging time.”
The first 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine began distribution this week, days after it was granted emergency use authority by the Food and Drug Administration.
On Thursday, the FDA’s vaccine advisory panel voted in favour of a second vaccine from Moderna for broad distribution, paving the way for final emergency-use sign-off.
Health Secretary Alex Azar said on a conference call on Wednesday that 5.9 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, in addition to another two million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, could begin to roll out next week.
Heavy snow and ice on the eastern seaboard could potentially complicate the distribution operation.
Operation Warp Speed chief operating officer, US Army General Gustave Perna, said delivery companies FedEx and UPS had developed contingency plans for bad weather.
“We are on track with all the deliveries we said we were doing,” he told reporters at a briefing.
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to receive the vaccine early next week, according to his transition team – and he plans to get the shot in public, as health experts and political leaders seek to reassure Americans.
“I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” the 78-year-old told reporters on Wednesday.
“When I do it, I’ll do it publicly, so you can all witness my getting it done.”
President Donald Trump earlier this week tweeted that he was “not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time”.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Tuesday that the 74-year-old – who recovered from the virus after being hospitalised in October – would get the vaccine when his medical team determined it was best.
“The vaccine and the vaccine rollout are getting the best of reviews,” Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday. “Moving along really well. Get those ‘shots’ everyone!”