By Susan Heavey and Maria Caspani
(Reuters) – State and federal 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 healthcare professionals to the brink.
“We are on fire with COVID,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said on CNN after enacting new restrictions last week including retail curbs and school closures. “We’re just trying to do the right thing.”
The United States surpassed 86,000 hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Tuesday, a record, as 30 of the 50 states reported record numbers of patients this month.
That has taxed already exhausted healthcare providers as more than 1,500 coronavirus deaths and 171,000 new cases pile up daily on average.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams asked Americans to grasp “the severity of the moment” and remain vigilant by wearing masks, avoiding crowds and frequently washing hands until promising vaccines and therapies can be administered.
“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 urged people to adjust their plans ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, which has led to the busiest U.S. air travel since the early days of the pandemic in March, with millions of people flying despite the hazards of a crowded airport. U.S. health officials last week strongly recommended that Americans avoid travel for the holiday.
Global pharmaceutical companies have reported promising trial results in the development of vaccines, which could be administered to high-priority patients in December.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government will begin distributing Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc’s newly authorized COVID-19 antibody combination therapy starting Tuesday.
In Texas, where the western city of El Paso has been ravaged by the virus, the state said it has established a facility to treat COVID-19 patients with bamlanivimab, an experimental therapy granted emergency approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The so-called infusion wing has been provided with 1,000 doses.
But hospitals need immediate relief.
After pounding big U.S. cities in the spring, COVID-19 now has engulfed rural and small-town America. Case rates in the 12 Midwestern states are more than double that of any other region, according to the COVID Tracking Project, up more than 20 times from mid-June to mid-November.
Many Midwestern hospitals severely lack beds, equipment and clinical staff, providers say, and are asking staffers to work longer hours and more frequent shifts.
“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.”
Further south, Mississippi warned that 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.
While many Americans have chosen to ignore the best medical advice and put their families at risk, others have scaled back Thanksgiving plans or moved their holiday meals outdoors.
Jerard Gunderway, 44, who was driving from Massachusetts to North Carolina for Thanksgiving, said his family was limiting the 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.”