The United States set a double record on Wednesday registering more than 3,700 deaths and over 250,000 new Covid-19 cases in just 24 hours, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
With the new reported fatalities, the death toll in the US has now reached more than 307,291.
The country has seen a spectacular spike in Covid infections for more than a month now, with some 113,000 people currently hospitalised due to the virus, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The numbers far outpace the rest of the world. About five percent of the US population has contracted the virus, or about 17 million people.
The United States has already rolled out its vaccination programme against COVID-19, and it aims to get 2.9 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech, by the end of the week.
But Dr Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), earlier warned that the country’s healthcare system could face a collapse before vaccines become more widely available by next year.
Redfield had noted that the latest coronavirus surge had already proven more devastating than previous waves in terms of its geographic scope and steeper trajectory of rising infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths.
Earlier this month, the University of Washington’s influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation had projected the death toll could reach nearly 450,000 by March 1 without greater attention to social distancing and mask-wearing.
Biden, Pence to get vaccine
As this developed, the White House announced on Wednesday that US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen will be vaccinated for COVID-19 on Friday in a public event.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams also will get the vaccine on Friday.
The announcement comes as sources close to President-elect Joe Biden say he is expected to receive the shot as soon as next week.
The Reuters and the Associated Press news agencies cited transition officials familiar with the matter as saying Biden will publicly take the vaccine
Biden said on Tuesday that Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, advised him to get the vaccine “sooner than later”.
Biden has said that he wants to keep front-line healthcare workers and vulnerable people as the top priority as the vaccine is rolled out throughout the country.
Biden, 78, is in a high-risk category for the coronavirus because of his age.
Initial doses of the vaccine, which became available this week, have been set aside for doctors, nurses and other front-line medical workers, along with residents and staff of nursing homes and some US government officials.
Relief bill still pending
Meanwhile, legislators are also haggling over another relief bill to mitigate the economic effect of the virus.
A $900bn COVID-19 aid bill expected to include $600-$700 stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits, though details are still being negotiated as a Friday deadline looms, Reuters reported.
Top members of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-led Senate sounded more positive than they have in months on a fresh response to a crisis that has killed more than 304,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.
“We made major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Wednesday.
“We need vaccine distribution money, we need to re-up the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to save jobs, we need to continue to provide for laid-off Americans.”
PPP is the federal loan and grant aid programme to small businesses suffering from the pandemic.
But congressional aides were struggling on Wednesday to draft legislative language as rates of COVID-19 infections soar to new highs.