The US set yet another daily record for new coronavirus cases on Friday, topping 184,000, while Donald Trump promised imminent distribution of a vaccine â€“ except to New York, which he threatened to leave out for political reasons â€“ and the president-elect, Joe Biden, pleaded with Americans to follow basic mitigation measures.
According to Johns Hopkins University, 184,514 new cases were recorded on Friday, up from 153,496 on Thursday. More than 10.7 million cases have been recorded in total and more than 244,000 have died. Deaths are also increasing: 1,431 were reported on Friday, the highest toll in 10 days if more than a thousand less than the highest such toll, from April.
At the White House, in his first remarks since losing the election to Biden, Trump said he expected a vaccine developed by Pfizer to receive emergency use authorisation â€œextremely soonâ€, and to be available to the general population by April.
He also said the federal government would not deliver the vaccine to New York, because its governor, Andrew Cuomo, â€œdoesnâ€™t trust where the vaccine is coming fromâ€. Trump and Cuomo have clashed frequently during the pandemic.
Cuomo told MSNBC: â€œNone of what he said is true, surprise surprise. Weâ€™re all excited about the possibilities about a vaccine.â€
Trump also took a shot at Pfizer, saying its statement that it was not part of Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine effort, was â€œan unfortunate misrepresentationâ€. Pfizer did not receive support for research or manufacturing, but has agreed to sell its vaccine to the federal government. A spokeswoman said the company was proud to be part of Operation Warp Speed â€œas a supplier of a potential Covid-19 vaccineâ€.
If Trumpâ€™s timeline for the vaccine holds, he will be out of power by the time it is distributed to the general population. Trump has not conceded defeat and is mounting legal challenges in battleground states. But he has little to no chance of success and Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president in Washington on 20 January.
Preparing for government from Wilmington, Delaware, Biden has named his own Covid taskforce. On Friday one member, Dr Celine Grounder, alluded to delays in providing national security briefings to Biden caused by Trumpâ€™s refusal to concede when she told CNN the virus was now â€œessentially a national security threat [because] Americans are getting infected and sickened by coronavirus, dying from coronavirus, and how the economy is being impacted by the coronavirusâ€.
Shortly before Trump spoke, Biden issued a statement with a conspicuously presidential tone.
â€œThe crisis does not respect dates on the calendar,â€ he said. â€œIt is accelerating right now. I renew my call for every American, regardless of where they live or who they voted for, to step up and do their part on social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing.â€
With winter closing in, socialising moving indoors and case numbers reaching levels regularly warned of by Dr Anthony Fauci, a widely trusted expert with whom Trump has regularly clashed, states across the Republican midwest are struggling. Hospital resources are stretched and governors have appealed for help.
â€œItâ€™s on fire,â€ Mike DeWine, the governor of Ohio, told the Wall Street Journal. â€œWeâ€™ve never seen anything like this. Our spring surge and summer surge were nowhere like this.â€
Another Republican, Doug Bergum of North Dakota, ordered a mask mandate and imposed business restrictions. In Nevada, Democratic governor Steve Sisolak tested positive.
The governors of New Mexico and Oregon have ordered strict social limitations. Imposing a two-week stay-at-home order, Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Democratic governor of New Mexico, said: â€œWe are in a life-or-death situation, and if we donâ€™t act right now, we cannot preserve the lives, we canâ€™t keep saving lives, and we will absolutely crush our current healthcare system and infrastructure.â€
Oregon governor Kate Brown, also a Democrat, said: â€œThis situation is dangerous, and our hospitals have been sounding the alarm. I know this is hard, and we are weary. But we are trying to stop this ferocious virus from quickly spreading far and wide.â€
In Idaho, Governor Brad Little, a Republican, has enlisted the state national guard to assist in pandemic response and slowed reopening plans.
On the east coast, Ned Lamont, the governor of Connecticut, entered quarantine after an aide tested positive. In New York, public schools could close on Monday while New York Cityâ€™s courthouses, which may be the busiest in the US, are imposing restrictions on in-person proceedings, after positive tests were recorded among court employees.
Cuomo said he would meet with leaders of six north-eastern states, to figure out supplemental steps.
On the national stage, Trump said: â€œIdeally we wonâ€™t go to a lockdown. I will not go â€“ this administration will not be going to a lockdown. Hopefully the â€“ whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration will be.
â€œI guess time will tell. But I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown.â€
Biden has promised to follow advice from scientists about new social restrictions, although he walked back an initial statement that he would go back into widespread lockdown if so advised. He supports a national mask mandate.
Several dozen US Secret Service agents have contracted the virus, likely as a result of staffing events at the White House and on the campaign trail at which mitigation measures were not enforced. Trump, members of his family, cabinet members and senior aides and top Republicans have tested positive. In October, the president spent three days in hospital.
One scientific model predicts more than 400,000 deaths by March. Two weeks ago, in an interview with the Washington Post, Fauci warned of a winter of more than 100,000 new cases a day and said the country was in for â€œa whole lot of hurtâ€. The US has now recorded more than 100,000 cases a day for 10 days running.