US sees highest number of new Covid-19 cases in past two days

North Dakota residents prepare to self-administer Covid-19 saliva tests at a testing site in Minnesota on Oct 25, 2020.
North Dakota residents prepare to self-administer Covid-19 saliva tests at a testing site in Minnesota on Oct 25, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States has seen its highest ever number of new Covid-19 cases in the past two days, keeping the pandemic a top election issue as Vice-President Mike Pence travels the country to campaign despite close aides testing positive.

The US reported 79,852 new infections last Saturday (Oct 24), close to the previous day's record of 84,244 new cases. Hospitalisations are also rising and have hit a two-month high, and deaths are trending upwards, according to a Reuters tally.

So far in October, 29 states have set records for increases in new cases, including five considered key in the Nov 3 presidential election: Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Cases in the Midwest set a new record last Saturday and the number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients in that region hit an all-time high for the ninth day in a row.

Hospitals are strained in several states including North Dakota, which is the hardest hit based on recent new cases per capita, according to a Reuters analysis.

The city of El Paso in Texas is asking residents to stay home for the next two weeks and the wider El Paso County closed its parks and recreational facilities for 14 days.

Over the last three weeks, the number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients in the El Paso area has tripled to a record 786, according to state data.

"If we continue on this trend, we risk detrimental effects to our entire healthcare system," the city's public health director, Ms Angela Mora, said in a statement.

"For the sake of those hospitalised and the front-line healthcare workers working tirelessly each day to care for them, we ask you to please stay home for two weeks and eliminate your interactions with those outside your household until we can flatten the curve."

Last Saturday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott asked the federal government to allow the use of an army medical centre at Fort Bliss by non-coronavirus patients to ease the burden on hospitals.

On Sunday, Mr Abbott said state emergency management officials will open an alternate care site this week, initially with 50 beds, at the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Centre.

New White House outbreak

Multiple senior aides have tested positive, including Mr Pence's chief of staff, Mr Marc Short, who tested positive last Saturday. Despite the outbreak, the White House said the Vice-President would press ahead with campaigning, visiting North Carolina on Sunday and Minnesota on Monday.

The new infections offered a reminder of the way President Donald Trump - who was hospitalised for three nights this month after contracting Covid-19 - and those around him have downplayed the advice of public health experts to wear masks and observe social distancing guidelines to stem Covid-19 transmission.

Asked on CNN's State of the Union why Mr Pence was not following US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to quarantine for 14 days after such exposure, Mr Meadows on Sunday cited the Vice-President's status as "essential personnel".

The latest outbreak follows what health experts described as a super-spreader event at the White House on Sept 26 where Mr Trump announced his nomination of Ms Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.