WASHINGTON/NEW YORK - The daily US death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 3,000 for the first time, prompting pleas for Americans to scale back Christmas plans even with vaccines on the cusp of winning regulatory approval.
COVID-19 deaths reached 3,253 on Wednesday, pushing up the US total since the start of the pandemic to 289,740. A record 106,219 people were hospitalized with the highly infectious respiratory disease.
Healthcare professionals and support staff, exhausted by demands of the pandemic, have been watching patients die alone as millions of Americans refuse to follow medical advice to wear masks and avoid crowds to contain the spread.
Nursing home residents and staff have also felt the burden.
"This is a pandemic that no one has ever experienced in our lifetimes," Stephen Hanse, president of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living, told Reuters on Thursday.
The one-day death toll exceeded the number of lives lost from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, underscoring the human toll and the call for Americans to redouble efforts.
"No Christmas parties. There is not a safe Christmas party in this country right now," Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of US President-elect Joe Biden's COVID-19 advisory board, told CNN on Thursday.
"It won't end after that but that is the period right now where we could have a surge upon a surge upon a surge," Osterholm said.
In the meantime, intensive care units at hundreds of hospitals across the country were at or near capacity, data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed.
Ten mostly rural counties in California reported having no ICU beds on Wednesday, according to state health figures analyzed by Reuters.
Besides the human cost, the pandemic has forced millions out of work as state and local officials impose restrictions on social and economic life to contain the outbreak.
Congress, meanwhile, has struggled to end a months-long stalemate over economic assistance.
Disagreements remain over business liability protections demanded by Republicans and aid to state and local governments sought by Democrats before a final deal is reached on pandemic assistance.