Amid vaccine hope, new COVID records set at home, abroad

COVID-19 honor quilt United States
COVID-19 honor quilt United States

Victoria Pickering / Flickr cc

With a newly authorized COVID-19 vaccine being distributed in hospitals and nursing homes and a second vaccine on the horizon, the United States has entered a hopeful new phase in the coronavirus pandemic.

But that hope is being tempered by the severity of the pandemic in the country, which reported new single-day highs in COVID-19 cases (247,403), hospitalizations (113,090), and deaths (3,656) yesterday, according to data from Johns Hopkins and the COVID Tracking Project.

Though the virus has been spreading throughout the country and cases have been rising exponentially for months, the spike in new cases in recent weeks may be linked to travel and gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday. And with more holiday travel and gatherings expected in the coming weeks, there are fears about a surge upon a surge that could overwhelm hospitals just as the mass vaccination campaign gets under way.

There have now been 17,149,231 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, and 309,947 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard.

Hospitals under siege in California

While all states are seeing a surge in cases, none right now is being hit harder than California, which reported 53,711 new infections and 293 deaths statewide yesterday, according to the Associated Press. The surge has exhausted the supply of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in Southern California and the Central Valley, forcing hospitals to tap into their surge capacity.

"Hospitals are under siege and our models show no end in sight," Dr. Christina Ghaly, MD, department of health services director for Los Angeles County, told the AP.

Most California residents are under stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom to reduce the spread of the virus and protect ICUs from being overwhelmed. On Wednesday, Newsom announced that the San Francisco Bay Area would join three other regions where ICU capacity is below 15%—greater Sacramento, Southern California, and the San Joaquin Valley—under the order.

In neighboring Arizona, COVID-19 hospitalizations have hit their highest level since the beginning of the pandemic, AZCentral reports. The 3,884 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of yesterday topped the previous single-day high, recorded on Jul 13, of 3,517. Arizona's average rate of new cases over the past week (92.1 per 100,000 people) is fourth highest in the nation, according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker.

On the other side of the country, meanwhile, Pennsylvania is seeing its worst surge of the pandemic, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The state today reported 9,966 new COVID-19 cases and 224 virus-related deaths and set a record for hospitalizations for a fifth straight day. The 6,346 COVID-19 patients currently in Pennsylvania hospitals is more than twice the number treated during the spring surge.

The New York Times reports that the nationwide number of new daily cases in the United States is six times what it was 3 months ago, and three times as many people are dying.

And the death toll is likely to get worse. In its latest ensemble forecast, which is based on work from 37 modeling groups, the CDC predicts that the number of newly reported COVID-19 deaths per week over the next 4 weeks will likely increase in 23 jurisdictions, resulting in a total of 357,000 to 391,000 COVID-19 deaths by Jan 9.

Macron tests positive for COVID-19

In global COVID-19 developments:

  • French President Emmanuel Macron is in quarantine in Elysee Palace after testing positive for COVID-19, according to Reuters. The positive test has prompted a contact-tracing and testing effort involving several European Union leaders who Macron met with last week at a summit in Brussels. French officials believe Macron was infected at the summit.

  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Twitter that COVID-19 vaccination will begin in Europe on Dec 27, 28, and 29, pending authorization by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EMA is meeting on Dec 21 to review safety and efficacy data on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

  • The Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 22 COVID-19 deaths in South Korea today, the highest single-day number of deaths the country has recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Reuters. Many residents of Seoul, the epicenter of the country's recent outbreak, have started stocking up on food and other essential supplies in anticipation of a lockdown."

  • Reuters also reports that Tokyo raised its alert level to the highest of four stages today as new infections in the city hit a new record daily high of 822.

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office is warning that preventive measures must be tightened in African countries ahead of the holidays amid a steady rise in coronavirus infections. The 47 countries in the region have recorded an average of 46,000 new cases a week since mid-October, compared with 29,000 a week between early September and early October. "The rising COVID-19 infections and the holiday season present a worrying mix," Richard Mihigo, MPH, the Immunization and Vaccine Development Programme Coordinator at WHO Regional Office for Africa, said in a press release.

  • The global total of confirmed COVID-19 cases is 74,728,558, with 1,657,834 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data.

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