The US had its deadliest day of the pandemic on Thursday, reporting more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths for the first time, as cases and hospitalisations surged to record levels following the holiday season.
The country recorded a total of 4,033 fatalities attributable to coronavirus, according to Covid Tracking Project data, led by record or near-record increases in Texas, Arizona and California. The death toll surpassed the previous record of 3,903 on December 30.
The number of people currently in US hospitals with Covid-19 eased to 132,370, down 94 from Wednesday’s peak. States reported 266,197 new infections, the second-biggest one-day increase since the start of the pandemic, as New York, Florida and North Carolina set daily records for new cases of more than 10,000 apiece.
Over the past week, 19,418 deaths in the US have been attributed to coronavirus, a record for a seven-day period, or an average of 2,774 per day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecast on Thursday that 12,900-24,900 deaths “will likely be reported” in the week ending January 30.
By that date, the CDC projected the country’s overall death toll would be in the range of 405,000-438,000. This is compared with the 356,229 deaths on Thursday, according to Covid Tracking Project data.
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Anthony Fauci, who will be president-elect Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said he believed “things will get worse as we get into January”.
“That likely will be a reflection of the holiday season travel and the congregate settings that usually take place socially during that period of time,” he said in an interview with NPR on Thursday.
The latest rise in coronavirus fatalities — which lag behind increases in cases and hospitalisations — has come from states in the south and west of the country, which were hit hard during the summer and are seeing hospital resources stretched. The surge is more than offsetting declining fatality trends in the Midwest, which became a hotspot in the autumn.
The sunbelt states of Texas and Arizona on Thursday both reported their deadliest day of the pandemic, with 393 and 297 fatalities respectively, as well as record levels of hospitalisations.
California reported 583 deaths, just two shy of its peak on January 1, but hospitalisations hit a record high of 22,851. There are just 1,210 intensive care unit beds available across the state, a record low, with no availability in the broad regions of southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.
In Los Angeles county, home to about one-quarter of the state’s almost 40m residents, hospitalisations have more than tripled since the end of November and about one in five people tested over the past week has been positive for coronavirus.
Local officials took drastic steps this week in a bid to ease the strain on hospitals, ordering medical facilities to delay non-essential surgeries and for ambulance operators to ration supplemental oxygen amid a shortage.
State leaders expect conditions to become even more challenging. Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, said this week that a slight retreat from the state’s record infection numbers late last month was probably a lull before a “surge on top of the surge” that may stem from increased social interaction during the festive season.
The latest national figures come after Pennsylvania, Texas and Connecticut on Thursday became the latest US states to confirm their first cases of the fast-spreading UK variant of the virus. Before the latest additions, a total of 52 cases of the mutant strain had been confirmed in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and New York, according to the CDC.