The US is facing one of the biggest health crises in history along with growing political unrest over the Presidential election, plunging the country into turmoil.
The COVID-19 situation has been overshadowed this week by the deadly Capitol riots and impending inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden – but the virus is more out of control than ever before.
There are now more than 22.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and almost 380,000 deaths across the US.
For the first time since the pandemic began the country is now averaging more than 3000 virus deaths each day.
The situation in hospitals across the country has gone from bad to worse, with many facilities unable to cope with the onslaught of new patients.
A map created by The COVID Tracking Project shows which hospitals are being pushed to the brink and which facilities have already reached their patient capacity.
Epidemiologists fear the situation could deteriorate even further as highly contagious, mutant strains of the virus take hold.
As of Monday, there were 129,748 coronavirus patients being cared for in US hospitals.
In multiple regions, particularly in California and Arizona, numerous hospitals are at 100 per cent capacity, including ICU beds.
The vast majority of beds are currently occupied by coronavirus patients, with analysis from The COVID Tracking Project describing the hospitalisation numbers in the first week of the New Year as “grim”.
“With case numbers still wobbly after recent holidays, hospitalisation are our best indicator of the movement of the pandemic, and they suggest a major resurgence of the virus in the South,” the Project said on Thursday.
“Every single southern state has seen hospitalisation rise significantly since the middle of last month, and 13 states in the South set new records for COVID-19 hospitalisation in the past seven days.”
In the west, Arizona, California, and Nevada are all experiencing alarming hospitalisation rates.
There are now 670 people hospitalised with COVID-19 per million in Arizona, according to data from the Project, causing hospitals in the state to prepare to ration care.
“In Southern California, the virus rages on, with Los Angeles County alone reporting a death due to COVID-19 every ten minutes on average, and a new infection every six seconds,” the Project states.
“Oxygen shortages and ICU overcrowding have forced paramedics to begin rationing care, with Los Angeles County ambulances directed not to ‘transport patients with little chance of survival to hospitals, and to conserve the use of oxygen’.”
The US is now ramping up vaccination efforts after the rollout of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines got off to a disappointing start.
Following the announcement late last year that the vaccines had been approved for distribution, it was predicted that 20 million people would be immunised by the end of 2020.
However, by the end of the year just 3 million US citizens had received the shot, prompting waves of criticism from health officials.
As part of ongoing efforts to expand access to the vaccines, the Federal Government will allow makers to release all their available doses instead of reserving booster shots.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told ABC News the manufacture of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was now “predictable enough that second doses are available for people from ongoing production”.
This marks a break from the previous plan in which second doses were held back for those people who had received their first, to ensure that there was no delay.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require boosters after three and four weeks, respectively.
Mr Azar told reporters on a press call that he would now be recommending that states begin to widen the criteria for who gets vaccinated, starting with people over 65 without health conditions and people under 65 with health conditions.
He added the rollout so far had been “over hospitalised” and needed to shift to pharmacies, local health centres and mass vaccination sites.
– With AFP