The US has recorded its biggest daily death toll of the pandemic so far, on the same day it also reached a record number of COVID-19 patients in hospital.
A further 2,658 coronavirus deaths were reported on Wednesday – the equivalent of nearly two deaths a minute – according to Johns Hopkins University.
The widely-respected COVID Tracking Project also found the number of coronavirus patients in hospital had surpassed 100,000 for the first time.
It follows a warning from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director that the pandemic will pose the greatest health threat the US has ever faced in the next few months.
Urging Americans to redouble their efforts in keeping the virus at bay, Dr Robert Redfield said: “The reality is that December, January and February are going to be rough times.
“I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
He said the latest surge in cases has already proved more devastating than previous wave, with a steeper trajectory of deaths and hospital admissions.
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In a solemn warning, he added: “We’re potentially looking at another 150,000 to 200,000 people [dead] before we get into February.”
More than 270,000 people have died in the US since the start of the pandemic and there have been 13.8 million confirmed infections.
New cases are currently averaging about 160,000 a day, with deaths averaging more than 1,500 a day.
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In particular, cases are surging in places such as Illinois, California, Indiana, Kentucky and Texas.
Kentucky governor Andy Beshear said the virus is “spreading like wildfire” and the rapid increase in cases has left some hospitals struggling to cope.
Across the US, hospitals have been converting cafeterias, waiting rooms and even a car park to makeshift treatment areas.
Officials say people are still not taking basic precautions against the virus, particularly in rural areas, and healthcare workers say they are paying the price.
Dr Eli Perencevich, an epidemiology and internal medicine professor at the University of Iowa, said: “It’s sending everyone to war, really.
“We’ve decided as a society that we’re going to take all the people in our health care system and pummel them because we have some insane idea about what freedom really is.”