(Reuters) - Officials pleaded with Americans to stay at home and redouble efforts to curtail the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, defending unpopular public health measures as record hospitalizations pushed medical professionals to the brink.
“We are on fire with COVID,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said on CNN, speaking in support of restrictions imposed last week that included new constraints on retail activity and school closures. “We’re just trying to do the right thing.”
The number of patients being treated for coronavirus infections in U.S. hospitals surpassed 86,000 on Tuesday, an all-time high, while 30 of the 50 states reported a record number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations this month.
The soaring caseload has taxed already exhausted healthcare providers and further strained medical resources as 171,000 Americans test positive and another 1,500 or more perish from COVID-19 every day, on average.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged the public to grasp “the severity of the moment” and remain diligent in wearing face coverings, avoiding crowds and practicing good hand hygiene until newly developed therapeutic treatments and vaccines can be made widely available in the months ahead.
“We just need you, the American people, to hold on a little bit longer,” Adams, a White House coronavirus task force member, told Fox News in an interview.
Adams joined a chorus of health authorities calling for people to reconsider any plans to travel or to congregate in large groups beyond their immediate households over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend starting Thursday.
HOW TO JUST SAY ‘NO’
California’s top health official, Dr. Mark Ghaly, went so far in his weekly public COVID briefing on Tuesday to offer up “COVID chat” talking points for politely but firmly declining invitations to family gatherings that might be unsafe.
“Saying ‘no’ to people you love is never easy ... but knowing how and when to say ‘no’ is the first step to protecting your health and the health of the people you care about,” Ghaly wrote.
Government data and projections from the American Automobile Association show such pleas are being widely disregarded.
Although fewer in number than is typical, millions of Americans have flocked to airports and highways in recent days, leading to the busiest U.S. travel period since the early days of the pandemic in March.
One travel complication may soon be relaxed, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers shortening its recommended 14-day quarantine after potential exposure to the virus for individuals who test negative during their isolation.
Health authorities also said this week they expect the first vaccines to win U.S. regulatory approval for distribution next month and begin to be administered to front-line healthcare workers and other high-priority individuals by mid-December. But the shots are unlikely to become widely available to the general public on demand before April or May, experts have said.
In the meantime, doctors will soon have additional medical treatments for COVID-19 at their disposal.
A newly authorized antibody combination therapy from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc was due to begin U.S. government distribution on Tuesday.
And Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the opening of an outpatient facility to provide infusions of the experimental antibody drug bamlanivimab to COVID-positive individuals at a state-run alternative-care site in El Paso, a city especially hard hit by the virus.
After an initial wave of infections centered in and around major U.S. cities during the spring, the COVID-19 pandemic now has engulfed rural and small-town America.
Infection rates in a dozen Midwestern states have more than doubled those of any other region, according to the COVID Tracking Project, soaring 20 times higher from mid-June to mid-November.
Many Midwestern hospitals have reported severe shortages of beds, equipment and clinical staff, and are asking staffers to work more to accommodate the crush. Some of the most dire scenarios are playing out in regions where the public has been most resistant to wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“There’s a disconnect in the community, where we’re seeing people at bars and restaurants, or planning Thanksgiving dinners,” said Dr. Kelly Cawcutt, an infectious disease physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. As health workers, she said, “we feel kind of dejected.”
Officials in Mississippi warned the surge of COVID-19 admissions of the past two weeks was unsustainable.
“Stay home, stay protected and keep yourself and others well,” the Mississippi State Department of Health said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Not all Americans were throwing caution to the wind for the holiday.
Jerard Gunderway, 44, driving from Massachusetts to North Carolina for Thanksgiving, said his family was limiting its gathering to just to him, his wife and stepdaughter.
“Just family during this situation right now. Keep everyone safe,” he said from a rest stop in Connecticut. “I try to keep it low-key until we figure this all out.”