The US has tallied more than 1m new coronavirus cases since the start of November as the pandemic accelerates in nearly all regions of the country, prompting officials to warn of a fresh strain on the healthcare system and weigh new restrictions to contain the spread of the disease.
President Donald Trump scheduled a Friday afternoon conference to discuss the development of a vaccine after having been largely silent on the pandemic since losing the presidential election to Joe Biden, leaving US state and local officials to act to contain the rise.
“This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking,” Mr Biden said in a statement on Friday. “I am the president-elect, but I will not be president until next year. The crisis does not respect dates on the calendar, it is accelerating right now. Urgent action is needed today, now, by the current administration — starting with an acknowledgment of how serious the current situation is.”
The crisis has deepened as the weather has cooled. There were 150,526 new cases nationwide on Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a record for the third straight day. The overall number of US cases now exceeds 10.4m, by far the highest in the world.
The death toll has reached 1,000 a day on average over the past seven days, according to Covid Tracking Project data. More than 234,328 people in the US have died since the pandemic began, and the number in hospital reached 67,000 on Thursday, the data showed.
Across the country, officials have urged residents to take greater precautions to contain coronavirus heading into the Thanksgiving holiday during the last weekend of the month, which typically sees millions of Americans travel to gather with family and friends for a large meal.
The western state of Utah issued a state of emergency and warned that its hospitals were under unprecedented strain. Chicago, the third-largest US city, issued a 30-day stay-at-home advisory, urging residents to limit non-essential activity outside their homes and reconsider Thanksgiving travel, as the state of Illinois registered a new single-day record increase in cases.
Three west coast states — California, Oregon and Washington — advised residents to self-quarantine when travelling out-of-state and cancel non-essential travel plans.
Hours later, Kate Brown, Oregon governor, announced a two-week “freeze” as the state reported more than 1,000 new cases of coronavirus for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The order will further limit social gatherings and order restaurants to close all dine-in seating starting on November 18. “The dreaded winter surge is here,” she said.
Under the directive, indoor and outdoor gatherings can include up to six people from no more than two households, restaurants and bars can provide take-out service only, gyms must close, and churches and other religious services will be capped at 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors. The state will also limit retailers, including grocery stores, to a maximum of 75 per cent capacity while encouraging kerbside pick-up.
A New York state order directing bars and restaurants and gyms to cease service after 10pm and cap social gatherings at 10 people will take effect on Friday.
The north-east state was one of the hardest hit during the early months of the pandemic. On Friday, it reported more than 5,401 new cases, the most since April. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic governor, warned that further restrictions could be imposed if the latest rise was not contained.
“The bad news is that we’re in a sea of Covid rising around us,” he said.
Bill de Blasio, New York City mayor, warned on Friday that the city’s school system — the nation’s largest — could shut down as early as Monday as Covid cases rebound. Detroit, the largest city in Michigan, said earlier this week that public schools would temporarily switch to all-remote education due to the rapid rise in cases.
Some officials, including the governors of Ohio, Illinois and Maryland, have warned that if residents do not take greater precautions against the disease, they would be forced to implement stricter statewide shutdowns once again.
The governor of Virginia announced new statewide restrictions on Friday, including a reduction in the maximum size of gatherings from 250 to 25 people, an expansion of the mask mandate for indoor public spaces, and a 10pm curfew for on-site alcohol consumption.
While Mr Trump refuses to concede defeat in the election, Mr Biden has been laying the groundwork to address the pandemic when he takes office in January, including the establishment of his own coronavirus task force.
A member of Mr Biden’s task force, Céline Gounder, an infectious disease expert, told the Financial Times that Mr Trump’s flagship vaccination programme, Operation Warp Speed, should be overhauled to focus on coronavirus testing. That would amount to a shift in direction for the sprawling federally-funded effort that has paid billions of dollars to drug companies to develop vaccines.
The head of Operation Warp Speed told the FT that officials need to be allowed contact with Mr Biden’s team if the project is to continue uninterrupted.
Moncef Slaoui, who leads Operation Warp Speed, said: “I hope nothing interferes with this. It is a matter of life and death for thousands of people. The operation has always been about making vaccines and therapeutics available faster for the country and for the world.”
Additional reporting by Joshua Chaffin
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