By Lisa Shumaker and Aleksandra Michalska
Oct 30 (Reuters) - A record surge of coronavirus cases in the United States is pushing hospitals to the brink of capacity and killing up to 1,000 people a day, the latest figures show, with much of the country's attention focused on Tuesday's presidential election.
The United States broke its single-day record for new coronavirus infections on Thursday, reporting at least 91,248 new cases, as 21 states reported their highest daily number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters tally of publicly reported data.
More than 1,000 people died of the virus on Thursday, marking the third time in October that milestone has been passed in a single day. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has risen over 50% in October to 46,000, the highest since mid-August.
The surge has revived some of the worst images of the devastating first wave of the virus in March, April and May, with people on ventilators dying alone in hospital isolation and medical staff physically and mentally exhausted.
"Our hospitals cannot keep up with Utah's infection rate. You deserve to understand the dire situation we face," Utah Governor Gary Herbert said on Twitter, echoing a similar refrain from other state and local officials and public health experts.
Utah was among 14 states to report record increases in deaths this month and among 30 states to report record increases in cases. The United States has recorded over 229,000 deaths and nearly 9 million cases, both the highest single-country totals in the global pandemic.
Among the hardest hit states are those most hotly contested in the campaign between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, such as Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
'NOT QUITE PREPARED'
"We are having some of the largest outbreaks that we've had during the entire pandemic. And nine, 10 months into this pandemic, we are still largely not quite prepared," said Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island.
"We don't have the kind of testing that we need. There are a lot of problems with large outbreaks happening in many, many different parts of the country. And of course, we're going into the fall and winter, which will, of course, make things very, very difficult," Jha told Reuters in an interview.
The White House coronavirus task force has warned states in the middle and western parts of the country that aggressive measures will be necessary to curb the spread, CNN reported, citing weekly state reports it had seen.
"We continue to see unrelenting, broad community spread in the Midwest, Upper Midwest and West. This will require aggressive mitigation to control both the silent, asymptomatic spread and symptomatic spread," it cited one of the reports as saying.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the virus, saying for weeks that the country is "rounding the turn," even as new cases and hospitalizations soar. On Thursday, he again argued against taking stricter measures.
Biden and fellow Democrats in Congress have criticized the president for his handling of the health crisis.
One of the country's most conservative business groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday urged member companies and local community leaders to step up efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus with mask mandates and other measures.
(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker and Aleksandra Michalska Writing by Daniel Trotta Editing by Frances Kerry)