US hospital COVID-19 cases surge, aid package takes shape

US COVID-19 hospitalizations soared to a new record yesterday as states closely track intensive care unit (ICU) capacity and staffing and take more steps to bolster capacity in anticipation of a post-Thanksgiving spike in cases.

No end in sight for hospitalization rise

Though it's difficult to interpret COVID-19 trends soon after a holiday based on daily new case numbers, hospitalization levels are a steadier metric for monitoring the impact of the virus. As of yesterday, the number of Americans currently hospitalized for COVID-19 reached 96,039, up from 93,219 the day before, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

In California, hospital ICUs could be overwhelmed by Christmas, NPR reported. The state reported a single-day record of 14,034 cases yesterday, and 75% of the state's ICU beds are occupied. Yesterday, Los Angeles entered a new lockdown, which prohibits residents from gathering with people outside of their household.

On the other side of the country, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday ordered hospitals to increase their bed count and identify additional medical workers who could staff them, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Aid package takes shape

In Washington, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is expected to unveil a $908 billion coronavirus relief package today, the Washington Post reported. The total is much lower than the package proposed by Democrats in the House of Representatives, but higher than earlier offers from the White House and Republicans in the Senate.

And with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccine advisers expected to vote on COVID-19 prioritization recommendations today, the next eagerly anticipated step is for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vaccine advisors to weigh in on emergency use authorization (EUA)  applications from Pfizer and Moderna.

According to media reports, the White House has asked FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, to come to the White House today to explain why Pfizer's EUA hasn't been approved yet, CNN reported. The FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) meets on Dec 10 to consider Pfizer's vaccine and will meet a second time on Dec 17 to weigh Moderna's application.

In another development, Scott Atlas, MD, President Trump's special advisor on coronavirus, resigned from his post yesterday, Fox News reported. His 130-day status as a special government employee is slated to expire this week.

Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no infectious disease background, joined the administration in August and often clashed with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force over his focus on a "herd immunity" approach to managing the pandemic.

Workplace deaths, Ohio impeachment step

In other US headlines:

  • Though laws require companies to report work-related employee deaths, workplace deaths related to COVID-19 haven't been reported to state or federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offices since the pandemic began, according to Kaiser Health News. Work safety advocates say OSHA has given employers too much leeway on whether to report COVID-19 deaths.

  • In Ohio, a group of Republican lawmakers has filed articles of impeachment against Gov. Mike DeWine over the state's coronavirus restrictions, The Hill reported. The group maintains that the orders violate citizens' civil liberties and are unconstitutional.

  • The United States reported 157,901 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, along with 1,172 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard. The nation's overall totals are now at 13,605,981 cases and 269,192 deaths, per the group's tracker.

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