US medical leaders urge Trump to share Covid-19 data with Biden as states tighten limits

Medical staff check on a patient in the Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Houston, Texas. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US medical establishment weighed in on the White House post-election transition fray on Tuesday (Nov 17), urging President Donald Trump to share critical Covid-19 data with President-elect Joe Biden's team or risk needless, deadly lags in tackling the pandemic.

The extraordinary rebuke, weighing in on the White House post-election transition fray, came in an open letter from three leading healthcare organisations as state and local governments scrambled to fight the virus in the absence of a coordinated national strategy.

"Real-time data and information on the supply of therapeutics, testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital bed capacity and workforce availability to plan for further deployment of the nation's assets needs to be shared to save countless lives," said the letter, signed by the leadership of the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Hospitals Association.

The letter was published a day after Biden, the Democrat who won the tumultuous Nov 3 election that Trump has refused to concede, warned that "more people may die" if the Republican incumbent keeps blocking a smooth succession to the next administration in January.

Dr Vivek Murthy, co-chair of Biden's Covid-19 taskforce, said Tuesday he and other medical advisers had been unable to discuss the pandemic with current administration officials, an obstacle that could compromise the US response to the virus.

The soaring rate of new cases this fall has stricken even rural areas that had dodged the worst of the pandemic over the summer.

Government officials in at least 17 states representing both ends of America's political divide have issued sweeping new public health mandates this month.

These range from stricter limits on social gatherings and non-essential businesses to new requirements for wearing masks in public places.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease specialist, said the country would be better served by a "uniform approach" to fighting the pandemic.

"We need some fundamental public health measures that everyone should be adhering to, not a disjointed, 'One state says one thing, another state says another thing,'" Dr Fauci said in a New York Times interview.

Health experts say greater social mixing and indoor gatherings during the holiday season, combined with colder weather, will accelerate the Covid-19 surge that has sent infections and hospitalisations to record levels in recent weeks.

Forty-one US states have reported record increases in Covid-19 cases in November, 20 have registered new all time highs in coronavirus-related deaths from day to day and 26 have reported new peaks in hospitalisations, according to a Reuters tally of public health data.

Twenty-five states reported test positivity rates above 10 per cent for the week ending on Sunday, Nov 15. The World Health Organisation considers a positivity rate above 5 per cent to be concerning.

Illustrating the risks of large social gatherings, health officials this week linked a Nov 7 wedding that drew some 300 guests to a private location near the town of Ritzville in eastern Washington state to at least 17 Covid-19 infections and two subsequent outbreaks.

In a sign of strains on hospital workers, over 700 nurses at St. Mary Medical Centre in eastern Pennsylvania went on strike Tuesday to protest staffing levels they said were too thinly stretched to provide adequate patient care.

The two-day walkout was called after the hospital and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals deadlocked in talks over working conditions as rising Covid-19 admissions pushed the facility near capacity, the union said.

Ohio and Maryland on Tuesday became the latest states to announce curfews on bars and restaurants to reduce the virus' spread this winter, while the prospect of a widely available vaccine is still months away.

"We're not shutting down, we're slowing down," Mike DeWine of Ohio said in unveiling the 10pm-to-5am curfew in his state. "We have to flatten this curve again and get this under control."

A similar curfew ordered by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan was accompanied by new restrictions limiting indoor capacity of businesses and organisations to 50 per cent of normal capacity.

"We are in a war right now and the virus is winning," Hogan told reporters.

The United States crossed 11 million total infections on Sunday, just eight days after reaching the 10 million mark.

The number of coronavirus patients hospitalised in the United States hit a record of 73,140 on Monday and hospitalisations have increased over 46 per cent in past 14 days, according to a Reuters tally.

Several state officials also have urged citizens to exercise caution around the Thanksgiving holiday and not travel or socialise with extended family for the traditional indoor feast.

Governors of seven midwestern states, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin, released a statement urging citizens to follow medical expert guidance to not celebrate Thanksgiving with people outside their households.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit US region. It reported 444,677 cases in the week ending on Monday, Nov 16, 36 per cent more than combined cases of the Northeast and West regions.

"We understand that our fight against Covid-19 will be more effective when we work together," the Midwest governors said in the statement.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell was even more forward-looking in her holiday warnings, announcing on Tuesday that the city's Mardi Gras parades would be cancelled in February.

"Experts are predicting a 'winter spike' in cases this winter in December and January - right when our carnival calendars get rolling," Cantrell said on the city's website.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.