Steady movement toward a vaccine rollout on the eve of a critical review by leading US medical experts comes as Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations surged alarmingly higher, straining healthcare systems in some pandemic hot spots to the breaking point.
Ten mostly rural counties scattered across California reported having no intensive care unit beds available on Wednesday, according to state health data analysed by Reuters.
In the agricultural heartland of the California's Central Valley, Covid-19 admissions overwhelmed some individual hospitals altogether. In Fresno County, home to 1 million people, only seven ICU beds remained unfilled on Wednesday.
The number of covid patients hospitalised nationwide grew to a new all-time high of 105,805 by late Wednesday, up 18 percent over the previous two weeks.
The United States has documented an average of 2259 deaths and 205,661 new infections each day over the past week, a toll that US health officials warn is likely to accelerate in the coming months before a vaccine becomes widely available to the public.
At least 3112 US patients perished on Wednesday alone, according to a Reuters tally of state-by-state data, surpassing the previous 3 December record of 2861 deaths and marking the first time the virus had claimed 3000 American lives or more in a single day.
To date, the highly contagious respiratory illness has killed more than 289,000 Americans, out of some 15 million known to have been infected since January.
Medical experts have said the crisis will only worsen in the weeks ahead amid colder weather, especially if Americans continue to disregard warnings to avoid unnecessary travel and large gatherings over the holidays.
Besides the monumental human cost, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy, forcing millions out of work as public health authorities imposed sweeping restrictions on social and economic life in an effort to tamp down the contagion.
Congress, meanwhile, struggled to end a months-long political stalemate over an economic assistance.
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives was set to vote on a one-week stopgap funding bill to buy more time to reach a deal on a larger relief package, as a bipartisan group released details of their proposal.
US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters lawmakers were still "looking for a way forward" on Covid-19 aid, then took to the Senate floor to blast Democratic leaders for rebuffing two Republican offers earlier this week.