US virus cases top 200,000 as California prepares stay-at-home order

The number of daily coronavirus cases in the US topped 200,000 for the first time as the governor of California warned of widespread lockdowns across the state to keep its healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

Covid Tracking Project data on Thursday showed US states reported 210,161 coronavirus cases. That eclipsed the previous record set on Wednesday of nearly 195,700, and comes after the country first passed 100,000 daily infections on November 4. There were a further 2,706 deaths, the third-biggest daily jump since the start of the pandemic.

The number of people currently in US hospitals edged up to a record 100,667, having doubled in the space of a month to reach the 100,000 milestone on Wednesday.

Joe Biden, president-elect, said he would ask all Americans to wear a mask for the first 100 days he is in office, an action he predicted would result in “a significant reduction” in the spread of the coronavirus, he told CNN on Thursday. Mr Biden also said he planned to retain Anthony Fauci as chief medical adviser to the country’s Covid-19 task force.

Column chart of Confirmed Covid-19 cases, daily showing US Covid cases topped 200,000 in a single day for the first time

Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, said he would introduce stay-at-home orders to halt operations at all but the most essential businesses and services for a three-week period in regions where intensive care unit capacity at hospitals falls below 15 per cent.

That threshold could be breached in the coming days in most of the state’s big regions, he said. The Bay Area, around San Francisco, was expected to reach that threshold by “mid to late December”, he added.

Los Angeles, the state’s biggest city, has already issued a “safer-at-home” order directing its nearly 4m residents to remain at home except for essential activities. 

The number of patients hospitalised for coronavirus in California hit a record 9,702 and the number of available ICU beds across the state fell below 1,800 for the first time, according to state data on Thursday. A further 18,591 people in the state tested positive for coronavirus, after Wednesday’s record one-day rise of 20,759.

California — the most populous US state with more than 40m residents — has seen cases and hospitalisations rise sharply in the recent weeks, as have many states across the US.

Line chart of Number of people currently in US hospitals with Covid-19 showing US coronavirus hospitalisations have topped 100,000

Public health officials have sounded dire warnings about the pandemic’s spread in the coming months, before a vaccine is approved and widely distributed. There is particular concern that last week’s Thanksgiving holiday may further accelerate the spread, after millions of Americans ignored advice to stay home and instead travelled to gather with family and friends. 

“December, January and February are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation, largely because of the stress that it is going to put on our healthcare system,” Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday. 

The US has by far the most coronavirus cases in the world, and tallied an unprecedented 4m cases in November alone. The total number of cases now stands at 13.9m, with more than 267,000 deaths, according to Covid Tracking Project. 

California, Texas and Florida — the three most populous US states — have each registered more than 1m cases apiece. But the latest surge in cases has affected virtually every region of the country.

New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana all reported record one-day rises in cases on Thursday, and California and Arizona had their second-highest. The state of Massachusetts, which also reported a record daily jump in cases, is preparing to boost its field hospital capacity this weekend as it readies for its latest surge. 

Video: How the US will roll out the coronavirus vaccine

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