31 Oct 2020

'American fiasco': Record Covid increase as election looms

11:12 am on 31 October 2020

A record surge of coronavirus cases in the United States is pushing hospitals to the brink of capacity and killing up to 1000 people a day, the latest figures show, with much of the country's attention focused on next week's presidential election.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 29: Members of the Wisconsin National Guard operate a mobile COVID-19 test center on the grounds of Miller Park on October 29, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin National Guard members operate a testing centre in Milwaukee. Wisconsin, a battleground state in the US presidential election, has been hard hit by Covid-19. Photo: AFP

The United States recorded its 9 millionth case today, nearly 3 percent of the population, with almost 229,000 dead since the outbreak of the pandemic earlier this year, according to a Reuters tally of publicly reported data.

The country broke its single-day record for new coronavirus infections yesterday, reporting at least 91,248 new cases, as 17 states reported their highest daily number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients since the pandemic started, according the tally.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: Michael Stanley an employee for the MTA, is administered a COVID-19 test on October 30, 2020 in New York City.

Photo: AFP

More than 1000 people died of the virus, marking the third time in October that milestone has been passed in a single day. The number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients has risen over 50 percent in October to 46,000, the highest since mid-August.

Among the hardest hit states are those most hotly contested in the campaign between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, such as Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The surge has revived some of the worst images of the devastating first wave of the virus in March, April and May, with people on ventilators dying alone in hospital isolation and medical staff physically and mentally exhausted.

"Our hospitals cannot keep up with Utah's infection rate. You deserve to understand the dire situation we face," Utah Governor Gary Herbert said on Twitter, echoing officials in other states and public health experts.

DRAPER, UT - SEPTEMBER 21: Employees at Spectrum Solutions assembles COVID-19 saliva test kits on September 21, 2020 in Draper, Utah.

Saliva tests for Covid-19 being produced at a factory in Draper, Utah. Photo: AFP

Utah was among 14 states to report record increases in deaths this month and among 30 states to report record increases in cases.

In the battleground state of Wisconsin, hospitals in Green Bay warned that President Trump's rally there could make the outbreak worse.

"It is more important now than ever to avoid large crowds, especially here in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where we are seeing some of the most rapid spread of Covid-19 in the United States," a joint statement from several hospitals said.

'Not quite prepared'

"We are having some of the largest outbreaks that we've had during the entire pandemic. And nine, 10 months into this pandemic, we are still largely not quite prepared," said Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island.

"We don't have the kind of testing that we need. There are a lot of problems with large outbreaks happening in many, many different parts of the country. And of course, we're going into the fall and winter, which will, of course, make things very, very difficult," Jha told Reuters in an interview.

Trump has repeatedly played down the virus, saying for weeks that the country is "rounding the turn," even as new cases and hospitalisations soared. He maintained his upbeat tone in a tweet today, saying the country was doing much better than Europe had in confronting the pandemic.

Biden and fellow Democrats in Congress have criticised the president for his handling of the health crisis.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris confer on stage outside the Chase Center after Biden delivered his acceptance speech  in Wilmington, Delaware.

Joe Biden has centred his challenge for the presidency on Donald Trump's poor handling of the pandemic. Photo: AFP

In the US House of Representatives, Democrats released a report today condemning the Trump administration's pandemic response as being "among the worst failures of leadership in American history". The failures had forced at least 6 million Americans into poverty and left millions more jobless, it said.

"The virus is a global scourge, but it has been an American fiasco, killing more people in the United States than in any other country," said the 71-page interim report by Democratic staff of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which was created in April.

Scientists overruled or sidelined, Democrats say

Based on dozens of Democratic-led probes conducted during the panel's first six months, the report said investigators identified more than 60 instances in which Trump administration officials overruled or sidelined top scientists to advance the president's political interests.

The subcommittee found over $US4 billion of potential fraud in programmes to help struggling small businesses and accused the administration of directing funding for critical supplies to companies that had political connections or lacked experience, often without competition.

"The administration's response to this economic crisis has benefited larger companies and wealthy Americans, while leaving behind many disadvantaged communities and struggling small businesses," the report said.

After his hospitalisation with Covid-19 in early October, Trump resumed the large campaign rallies that draw thousands of supporters packed together, many not wearing masks. The Trump campaign says the rallies are safe and that masks and social distancing are encouraged.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation on September 22, 2020, Pennsylvania.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania last month. Photo: AFP

A CNN investigation found that 14 out of 17 counties surveyed showed an increased rate of new Covid-19 cases one month after hosting Trump rallies. The report presented the health data without drawing a causal link.

Rates of infection in eight of the 14 counties had been decreasing one month before the rallies, it said. In 10 counties, the new rates of infection were growing faster than the overall rate for the state. The report studied counties in 13 states including election battlegrounds of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida.

- Reuters / BBC

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