The United States reported an alarming increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations on the same day Americans went to polls to elect their next president under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 91,000 new daily infections were recorded on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, taking the nationwide caseload past 9.38 million people.
While daily infections rose in all but three states, the surge was most pronounced in the Midwest and Southwest.
Meanwhile, the states of Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota and New Mexico all reported record high hospitalizations this week.
The latest surge — what experts are calling a “third wave” — in the worst-affected nation has raised concerns among U.S. health officials and voters. The pandemic has already dominated a polarizing election campaign process.
While many Americans took advantage of expanded access to mail-in voting, lines were long in many polling places, with a record turnout expected.
“It’s very serious that we have 400 people gathered in one space at the height of the pandemic here in Wisconsin. So, we’ve tried to take every measure to limit the movement throughout the room,” said Claire Woodall-Vogg, the election commission director of the city of Milwaukee, where poll workers were spread out into 12 different pods to limit contact.
Wisconsin health officials reported 5,771 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, a new record.
In Indiana, the Republican candidate for attorney general tested positive for COVID-19 after developing “some symptoms,” his campaign announced on Tuesday. Former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita had been quarantining with his family after learning he was exposed to the virus, it said.
Meanwhile, hospitalizations reached a record of 730 people in Iowa on Monday, with hospital officials warning that facilities and staff could be overwhelmed without serious efforts to curtail the virus spread.
Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said the state is entering its third peak, one that is higher than previous ones in May and July.
“The infection rate is definitely a leading indicator for hospitalizations, and the hospitalization rate is a leading indicator of mortality,” Gunasekaran told the Associated Press.
Health officials in Nebraska said hospitalizations have doubled in recent weeks, reaching a record 613 on Sunday.
“No doubt if this trend continues — not just at our hospitals — but every hospital in the state could be at capacity in a very short period of time,” said Dr. Cary Ward, chief medical officer for CHI Health’s network of 14 hospitals across eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, during a video call with reporters.
In Missouri, leaders of several rural hospitals raised alarms about bed capacity during a conference call last week with Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who drew renewed fire from his Democratic election challenger for his refusal to issue a statewide mask mandate. Missouri’s health department reported 1,659 hospitalizations statewide Monday, surpassing by 10 the previous record set a day earlier. Among the five additional deaths was a 13-year-old boy, the first child under 14 to die from the virus in Missouri.
New Mexico’s hospitalizations marked a new high for the 12th day in a row, with 401 reported on Tuesday. The state also set a record for the number of COVID-19 cases reported in a single day, 1,141. In Colorado, officials said more residents have been hospitalized with the coronavirus than at any time since a peak in April.
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U.S. President Donald Trump, who was briefly hospitalized with the virus, has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the pandemic and pushed to reopen the economy. His response to the pandemic has angered many voters and been sharply criticized by his Democratic challenger, former vice president Joe Biden.
The virus has killed more than 232,000 people in the country. The seven-day rolling average for deaths from COVID-19 has risen over the past two weeks from about 58,424 on Oct. 19 to 83,805 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
“The fact that he (Trump) acts like this is a fake virus that the entire world is out to get him out of office shows just how convoluted his thinking is,” said Carrie Rogers, 44, a software development manager from Mount Laurel, N.J., who dropped off her ballot for Biden in one of hundreds of locked boxes set up around the state.
Of equal concern is the fear of more economic pain if the country heads into another round of lockdowns to contain the virus. While the U.S. economy grew at a record 33.1 per cent annual rate in the July-September quarter, it has yet to fully rebound from the plunge in the spring.
Trump’s message prioritizing economic recovery over virus containment resonated with voters like Jason Schanta, a business owner and father of twin 13-year-old boys from Fountain Valley, Calif. He said his business was doing well before the pandemic, motivating him to vote for the president.
“I don’t trust Biden to get it open,” Schanta said of the economy.
— With files from the Associated Press