US virus deaths 'could hit 500,000' by Feb

The coronavirus has infected more than 8.4 million people in the US since the start of the pandemic.
The coronavirus has infected more than 8.4 million people in the US since the start of the pandemic.

The US death toll from COVID-19 could surpass 500,000 by February unless nearly all Americans wear face masks, according to researchers, as the country broke its daily record for new infections.

At least 83,948 new cases were reported on Friday due to outbreaks in virtually every part of the country, according to a Reuters tally.

The spike in cases comes less than two weeks before the presidential election on November 3 and is hitting battleground states such as Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The latest estimate of the coming toll, by the widely cited University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, reflects fears that cold winter weather will drive Americans indoors, where the virus is more likely to spread.

"We are heading into a very substantial fall/winter surge," said IHME director Chris Murray, who co-led the research.

The number of possible deaths could drop by 130,000 if 95 per cent of Americans would cover their faces, the IHME said, echoing a recommendation by Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

US Health Secretary Alex Azar attributed the increase in cases nationwide to the behaviour of individuals, saying household gatherings have become a "major vector of disease spread."

Asked about an assertion by President Donald Trump during Thursday night's presidential debate that the United States is "rounding the turn" on the pandemic, Azar told CNN that Trump was trying to provide hope to Americans waiting for a vaccine.

On Thursday, there were 916 reported fatalities in the United States, a day after the country recorded over 1,200 new deaths for the first time since August.

The number of COVID-19 patients in US hospitals has climbed to a two-month high. There are now more than 41,000 hospitalised patients with coronavirus across the country, up 34 per cent from October 1, according to the Reuters analysis.

North Dakota, with 887 new cases on both Thursday and Friday, remains the hardest-hit state, based on new cases per capita, followed by South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin.

Dr. Jeff Pothof, an emergency medicine physician at University of Wisconsin Health in Madison, expressed anxiety about lack of compliance with public health measures in the state, where some groups have challenged Democratic Governor Tony Evers' COVID-19 restrictions in court.

The United States has the most cases in the world at 8.5 million and the most fatalities with 224,000 lives lost. The United States has reported over the past week an average of 60,000 new cases per day, the highest seven-day average since early August.

Australian Associated Press