On a call with campaign staff, US President Donald Trump has dismissed Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, as a "disaster".
Trump and Fauci, a member of his coronavirus task force, have been at odds over how best to handle a pandemic that has killed more than 219,000 people in the United States and weakened the Republican president's 3 November re-election bid.
Fauci has openly complained about being cited in a Trump re-election campaign advertisement and said in an interview broadcast on Sunday night (US time) by CBS' 60 Minutes that he was not surprised Trump himself contracted the virus.
Speaking from his signature hotel in Las Vegas ahead of two rallies in Arizona, Trump said Americans were fed up with pandemic restrictions.
"People are tired of Covid," Trump said. "People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.
"Fauci is a disaster. If I listened to him, we'd have 500,000 deaths," Trump said.
"Fauci is a nice guy. He's been here for 500 years."
Fauci, 79, is one of the most respected scientists in the United States and has served under Republican and Democratic presidents. He has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.
Trump suggested he had avoided firing Fauci because of the negative blowback he would receive.
Trump took his frustration out on Fauci midway through a call intended to buck up his national team of campaign workers amid a spate of stories suggesting a campaign in turmoil. With nearly two weeks to go until Election Day, Democrat Joe Biden holds a lead in national opinion polls and in many battleground states where the election is likely to be decided.
70,000 new cases in one day
Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are growing rapidly across the US, experts say, with new hospital admissions also increasing around the country.
Nearly 70,000 new cases were recorded on Friday - the highest number of new infections seen in one day since July.
Cases have been trending upward for 48 states over the past week.
Only two states, Missouri and Vermont, are recording numbers that are improving.
Ten states on Friday hit their all time high for new cases reported in a single day. They include the mid-western and interior states of Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
On Saturday, new cases fell to over 57,000. On Sunday, the daily infection rate fell again to over 48,000.
As infections rise, hospital admissions have also risen in 39 states over the past two weeks. Wisconsin, a crucial presidential swing state, is among the hardest hit, with nearly 10 percent of the state's hospital beds currently occupied by Covid-19 patients.
The state has now erected a field hospital on the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair Park to serve as an overflow facility for hospitals.
Experts say the death toll is not expected to rise as rapidly as it did in the beginning of the pandemic, as many of the new cases are in young people who are more likely to survive the disease caused by the virus.
Health officials warn that infections are likely to get worse during colder months, when people tend to congregate indoors more often.
- Reuters / BBC