The Associated Press

Straining to handle record numbers of COVID-19 patients, hundreds of the nation's intensive care units are running out of space and supplies and competing to hire temporary traveling nurses at soaring rates. Many of the facilities are clustered in the South and West.

An Associated Press analysis of federal hospital data shows that since November, the share of U.S. hospitals nearing the breaking point has doubled. More than 40% of Americans now live in areas running out of ICU space, with only 15% of beds still available.

Intensive care units are the final defense for the sickest of the sick, patients who are nearly suffocating or facing organ failure. Nurses who work in the most stressed ICUs, changing IV bags and monitoring patients on breathing machines, are exhausted.

"You can't push great people forever. Right? I mean, it just isn't possible," said Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom, who is among many hospital leaders hoping that the numbers of critically ill COVID-19 patients have begun to plateau. Worryingly, there's an average of 20,000 new cases a day in Texas, which has the third-highest death count in the country and more than 13,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19-related symptoms.

According to data through Thursday from the COVID Tracking Project, hospitalizations are still high in the West and the South, with over 80,000 current COVID-19 hospital patients in those regions. The number of cases reported in the U.S. since the pandemic's start surpassed 25 million on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Encouragingly, hospitalizations appear to have either plateaued or are trending downward across all regions. It's unclear whether the easing will continue with more contagious versions of the virus arising and snags in the rollout of vaccines.

In New Mexico, one surging hospital system brought in 300 temporary nurses from outside the state, at a cost of millions of dollars, to deal with overflowing ICU patients, who were treated in converted procedure rooms and surgery suites.

"It's been horrid," said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque. He's comforted that the hospital never activated its plan for rationing lifesaving care, which would have required a triage team to rank patients with numerical scores based on who was least likely to survive.

"It's a relief that we never had to actually do it," Mitchell said. "It sounds scary because it is scary."

In Oklahoma City, OU Medicine Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cameron Mantor said while the vaccines hold promise, hope still seems dim as ICU cases keep mounting. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at OU Medicine has declined from more than 100 daily in recent weeks to 98 on Wednesday, Mantor said.

"What is stressing everybody out," Mantor said, "is looking at week after week after week, the spigot is not being turned off, not knowing there is a break, not seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

House sending Trump impeachment to Senate

WASHINGTON — As the House prepares to bring the impeachment charge against Donald Trump to the Senate for trial, a growing number of Republican senators say they are opposed to the proceeding, dimming the chances that former president will be convicted on the charge that he incited a siege of the U.S. Capitol. 

House Democrats will carry the sole impeachment charge of "incitement of insurrection" across the Capitol late Monday evening, a rare and ceremonial walk to the Senate by the prosecutors who will argue their case. They are hoping that strong Republican denunciations of Trump after the Jan. 6 riot will translate into a conviction and a separate vote to bar Trump from holding office again. 

But instead, GOP passions appear to have cooled since the insurrection. Now that Trump's presidency is over, Republican senators who will serve as jurors in the trial are rallying to his legal defense, as they did during his first impeachment trial last year. 

"I think the trial is stupid, I think it's counterproductive," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.. He said that "the first chance I get to vote to end this trial, I'll do it" because he believes it would be bad for the country and further inflame partisan divisions.

Trump is the first former president to face impeachment trial, and it will test his grip on the Republican Party as well as the legacy of his tenure, which came to a close as a mob of loyal supporters heeded his rally cry by storming the Capitol and trying to overturn Joe Biden's election. The proceedings will also force Democrats, who have a full sweep of party control of the White House and Congress, to balance their promise to hold the former president accountable while also rushing to deliver on Biden's priorities. 

Lawmakers threatened ahead of impeachment trial

WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second trial of former President Donald Trump nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. 

The threats, and concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew, have prompted the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump's trial, the official said Sunday. 

The shocking insurrection at the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob prompted federal officials to rethink security in and around its landmarks, resulting in an unprecedented lockdown for Biden's inauguration. Though the event went off without any problems and armed protests around the country did not materialize, the threats to lawmakers ahead of Trump's trial exemplified the continued potential for danger. 

Similar to those intercepted by investigators ahead of Biden's inauguration, the threats that law enforcement agents are tracking vary in specificity and credibility, said the official, who had been briefed on the matter. Mainly posted online and in chat groups, the messages have included plots to attack members of Congress during travel to and from the Capitol complex during the trial, according to the official.

The official was not authorized to not discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

China pushes fringe theories on pandemic origins, virus

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Chinese state media have played up questions about Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine and whether it could be lethal to the very old. A government spokesperson suggests the coronavirus could have emerged from a U.S. military lab.

As the ruling Communist Party faces growing questioning about China's vaccines and renewed criticism of its early COVID response, it is hitting back by encouraging fringe theories that some experts say could cause harm.

State media and officials are sowing doubts about Western vaccines and the origin of the coronavirus in an apparent bid to deflect the attacks. Both issues are in the spotlight because of the ongoing rollout of vaccines globally and the recent arrival of a WHO team in Wuhan, China, to investigate the origins of the virus. 

While fringe theories may raise eyebrows overseas, the efforts also target a more receptive domestic audience. The social media hashtag "American's Ft. Detrick," started by the Communist Youth League, was viewed at least 1.4 billion times last week after a Foreign Ministry spokesperson called for a WHO investigation of the biological weapons lab in Maryland.

"It's purpose is to shift the blame from mishandling by (the) Chinese government in the pandemic's early days to conspiracy by the U.S.," said Fang Shimin, a now-U.S.-based writer known for exposing faked degrees and other fraud in Chinese science. "The tactic is quite successful because of widespread anti-American sentiment in China."

Mexican president tests positive for COVID-19, symptoms mild

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he has tested positive for COVID-19, an announcement that comes as his country registers the highest levels of infections and deaths to date.

López Obrador, who has been criticized for his handling of Mexico's pandemic and for not setting an example of prevention in public, said Sunday on his official Twitter account that his symptoms are mild and he is under medical treatment.

"I regret to inform you that I am infected with COVID-19," he tweeted. "The symptoms are mild but I am already under medical treatment. As always, I am optimistic. We will all move forward."

José Luis Alomía Zegarra, Mexico's director of epidemiology, said the 67-year-old López Obrador had a "light" case of COVID-19 and was "isolating at home." 

Mexico's president wrote that while he recovered Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero would be taking over for him in his daily news conferences, at which he usually speaks for two hours without breaks each weekday. 

In ambulances, an unwelcome passenger: COVID-19

LOS ANGELES — It's crowded in the back of the ambulance.

Two emergency medical technicians, the patient, the gurney — and an unseen and unwelcome passenger lurking in the air.

For EMTs Thomas Hoang and Joshua Hammond, the coronavirus is constantly close. COVID-19 has become their biggest fear during 24-hour shifts in California's Orange County, riding with them from 911 call to 911 call, from patient to patient.

They and other EMTs, paramedics and 911 dispatchers in Southern California have been thrust into the front lines of the national epicenter of the pandemic. They are scrambling to help those in need as hospitals burst with a surge of patients after the holidays, ambulances are stuck waiting outside hospitals for hours until beds become available, oxygen tanks are in alarmingly short supply and the vaccine rollout has been slow.

EMTs and paramedics have always dealt with life and death — they make split-second decisions about patient care, which hospital to race to, the best and fastest way to save someone — and now they're just a breath away from becoming the patient themselves.

Biden plans to sign order for govt to buy more US goods

BALTIMORE — President Joe Biden plans to sign on Monday an executive order that aims to boost government purchases from U.S. manufacturers, according to administration officials.

The United States has shed roughly 540,000 factory jobs since last February as the coronavirus pandemic hurled the world's largest economy into recession. The goal of the order would be to use the $600 billion the federal government spends on procurement to boost domestic factories and hiring, said officials who insisted on anonymity to discuss the forthcoming announcement.

Biden's order would modify the rules for the Buy American program, making it harder for contractors to qualify for a waiver and sell foreign-made goods to federal agencies. It also changes rules so that more of a manufactured good's components must originate from U.S. factories. American-made goods would also be protected by an increase in the government's threshold and price preferences, the difference in price over which the government can buy a foreign product.

The order also has elements that apply to the separate Buy America program, which applies separately to highways and bridges. It seeks to open up government procurement contracts to new companies by scouting potential contractors. The order would create a public website for companies that received waivers to sell foreign goods to the government, so that U.S. manufacturers can have more information and be in a more competitive position.

To help enforce these goals, the order establishes a job at the White House Office of Management and Budget to monitor the initiative and focus on ensuring the government buys more domestically made goods. It also requires federal agencies to report on their progress in purchasing American goods, as well as emphasizing Biden's support for the Jones Act, which mandates that only U.S.-flag vessels carry cargo between U.S.

Old (Brady), young (Mahomes), different Super Bowl 55 awaits

For Tom Brady, another trip to the Super Bowl — but this time, in a Tampa Bay uniform. 

And for his new team, the Buccaneers, a first-of-its-kind home game, but without the usual home-field advantage. 

To put a bow on this make-it-up-as-we-go NFL season — a campaign upended but never fully undone by the coronavirus pandemic — it comes as no surprise that there is no such thing as a straightforward storyline. 

Because of restrictions in place due to COVID-19, Tampa Bay's home stadium will only be about a quarter full when the Buccaneers host the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7 in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs opened as a 3.5-point favorite. 

The 43-year-old Brady will expand on his record by playing in his 10th Super Bowl, hoping to expand on another record by winning a seventh title, but the first one in his new home of Tampa Bay.