The US set yet another record for new coronavirus cases on Friday, at almost 250,000, even as a second vaccine, from Moderna, was approved.
According to Johns Hopkins University, 249,709 new cases were recorded, up from more than 247,000 on Thursday and part of caseload close to 17.5m. There were 2,814 deaths, down from more than 3,300 on Thursday but still among the deadliest days in US history. The death toll stood at 313,406.
According to the Covid Tracking Project, 114,751 people were hospitalised, another record high. Nearly 22,000 people were in intensive care.
With Congress unable to agree a new stimulus and relief package – and narrowly avoiding a government shutdown on Friday – states were struggling to cope.
California, the most populous state, recorded more than 41,000 new cases and 300 deaths, both among its highest single-day totals during the pandemic. In the last week, California has reported more than a quarter-million cases and 1,500 deaths.
Hospitals are battling to find beds amid fears exploding infections will exhaust resources and workers. As of Friday, nearly 17,000 people in California were hospitalised with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 infections, more than double the previous peak in July. A state model showed the number could reach a staggering 75,000 by mid-January.
More than 3,500 confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patients were in intensive care.
“There’s no room at the inn, so to speak,” Mark Uffer, Corona Regional Medical Center chief executive, told the Associated Press. “Literally every nook and cranny of the hospital [near Los Angeles] is being used.”
Some areas are “just right at that cusp of getting overrun”, said Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, at an event organised by the California State University system.
Some hospitals in southern California are preparing for the possibility that they may have to ration healthcare resources, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing a document circulated to four hospitals run by Los Angeles County.
“Some compromise of standard of care is unavoidable,” the document obtained by the Times read.
“We do still have physical beds available,” Dr Amy Herold, chief medical officer for Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But we need staff to take care of patients. It doesn’t do a whole lot of good to be sitting in a bed with nobody taking care of you. People are working overtime over and over again and they are exhausted and it is just getting worse.”
Amid the surge of cases, there were signs of progress: some California hospital cleaning staff, who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic for months disinfecting coronavirus patients’ rooms, were at the front of the line to receive a coronavirus vaccine.
Getting the vaccine felt like “a door to the future”, Angela Balam told the Los Angeles Times.
One San Francisco hospital announced that a senior custodian, William Wyatt, was the first to receive the vaccine, a choice that Bob Wachter, the chair of the University of California San Francisco’s medical department, celebrated as an important sign of “the culture and priorities” of the hospital.
There was some good news in Michigan, where lawmakers and the governor, Gretchen Whitmer, agreed a $465m pandemic spending plan, including relief payments to businesses and workers. The legislation received overwhelming Senate support late on Friday and was expected to win House passage on Monday.
Nearly half of the funding would be used to continue, through March, a maximum 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in a year instead of 20. The bill would provide $45m in assistance to employees who have been laid off or seen hours cut due to a state order that prohibited indoor dining and closed entertainment venues. A worker could get up to $1,650.
Small businesses would receive $55m in grants up to $20,000 if they had to close, $15,000 if they partially closed. Concert and other live entertainment sites could qualify for $40,000.
In Washington, however, Democrats and Republicans in Congress remain unable to agree on a plan for relief. From the White House on Friday, as talks on Capitol Hill continued, Donald Trump heralded approval by the Food and Drug Administration of the Moderna vaccine, which follows a Pfizer-developed shot into general use.
“Congratulations, the Moderna vaccine is now available!” the president tweeted. The vaccine adds to the federal government’s resources and boosts its push to make vaccination available to all by spring or early summer 2021.
Amid baseless claims that his election defeat by Joe Biden was caused by voter fraud, Trump also retweeted a succession of messages claiming lockdowns and mask mandates, common measures to seek to slow the spread of Covid-19, do not work.