US sets deadly record: More than 3,200 COVID deaths as vaccine nears

Officials say they are preparing for a vaccine roll-out as soon as Sunday as hospitals reach maximum capacity.

A healthcare worker beckons incoming cars at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site as the COVID-19 outbreak continues in Madison, Wisconsin, on October 31, 2020 [File: Bing Guan/Retuers]
A healthcare worker beckons incoming cars at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site as the COVID-19 outbreak continues in Madison, Wisconsin, on October 31, 2020 [File: Bing Guan/Retuers]

The United States saw a record number of COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and dozens of hospitals reached capacity due to the pandemic’s spread, as the country prepares for a vaccine roll-out in the coming days.

COVID-19 deaths reached 3,253, the Reuters news agency reported, with a record 106,219 people hospitalised with the highly infectious respiratory disease.

The US leads the world in coronavirus cases. At least 1,572,423 have been infected with the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally. Nearly 290,000 have died as of Thursday.

Many observed Wednesday’s toll is higher than the 2,977 people who died on September 11, 2001, the attacks which saw planes flown into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, launching a war in Afghanistan that continues today.

Healthcare professionals and support staff, exhausted by the demands of the pandemic, have been watching patients die alone as millions of Americans refuse to follow medical advice to wear masks and avoid crowds in order to curb the virus’ spread.

Out of the roughly 2,200 US counties, in 126, hospitals were 90 percent occupied on average, according to US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data analysed by the COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project.

Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, Minnesota and Oklahoma are states with the highest rates of hospitalisation.

Intensive care units at hundreds of hospitals across the country were at or near capacity, HHS data showed.

Ten mostly rural counties in California reported having no ICU beds on Wednesday, according to state health figures analysed by Reuters.

A vaccine to help stem infections could start reaching healthcare workers, first responders and nursing home residents as soon as Sunday, though more likely early next week, according to Trump administration officials.

US Army General Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine development programme, said all the vaccine doses remained in the hands of the pharmaceutical companies.

“But we’ve worked many rehearsals and planning cycles … and that’s why I’m confident that as soon as EUA (emergency use authorization) comes aboard, we’ll start packing to the final destinations and distribution will begin within 24 hours,” Reuters quoted Perna as saying.

Shania Dod opens a test kit to collect a sample from a patient at a United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Houston [David J Phillip/AP Photo]

A panel of independent medical experts is expected to decide on Thursday whether to recommend a vaccine from Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE for emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration.

FDA consent could come as early as Friday or Saturday, followed by the first US injections on Sunday or Monday, Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp, told Fox News.

A second vaccine developed by Moderna is a week behind.

Widespread inoculations, however, could take months.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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