US total tops 15 million as COVID-19 surge expands

As the nation's number of cases topped 15 million today, federal officials warned states that the virus is spreading to every corner of the country and is in the most rapid, intense phase of the current surge, now entering its eighth week.

High occupancy in hospitals

More than 200,000 Americans are now testing positive for COVID-19 each day, on average, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins data. Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its most detailed report of hospital capacity yet, the first to show facility-level status, NPR reported. The HHS data show that for 126 US counties, the average hospital is 90% occupied.

Yesterday, the United States reported 192,299 new cases and 1,404 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. And the COVID Tracking Project reported that 102,148 Americans are currently hospitalized for COVID-19.

The weekly White House Coronavirus Task Force report that is sent to states, which isn't publicly shared but was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, said 49 states and Washington, DC, are in the red zone for new cases per 100,000 population, 2 more than the previous week. For deaths, 44 states and DC are in the red zone, and in a new measure, 37 are in the red zone for hospital admissions.

In a copy of the report obtained by CBS News, the task force said despite the surge, many state and local government aren't implementing the same mitigation steps that helped tamp down the summer surge. "That must happen now," it added.

In other US developments:

  • American Airlines said today that it would expand preflight COVID-19 testing for all US destinations that have travel restrictions, Reuters reported. Travelers will be able to purchase the test for travel on or after Dec 12.

  • A dispute over the type of liability protections businesses should get during the pandemic, along with additional funding for state and local governments, seem to be the main sticking points as lawmakers negotiate the next coronavirus relief package, the Wall Street Journal reported. Legislators hope to attach the relief package to the full-year spending bill needed to keep the government running.

  • The US total passed 15 million today and has now reached 15,089,621 cases, with 285,643 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Immunization launches in the UK

At the international level, all eyes were on the United Kingdom today, as people received the first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses outside of clinical trials. The first to receive it was 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, who was immunized at her local hospital in Coventry, Reuters reported. The second was an 81-year-old nursing home resident named William Shakespeare from the same town.

UK regulators approved the vaccine for emergency use on Dec 2, and officials expect to dispense 800,000 doses in the coming weeks, the BBC reported. The first to receive it are those older than age 80 and some health and care staff.

In another UK vaccine development, officials said they hope for a regulatory decision on the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in a few weeks, Reuters reported.

Global cases top 68 million

In other international headlines:

  • Chile ordered a new lockdown for Santiago in the wake of an 18% spike in COVID-19 cases over the past week, Reuters reported. The measures include a full lockdown on weekends and restricted activities during the week.

  • Uganda's COVID-19 levels have increased steeply since the end of October, the World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office said in a weekly update today. Kampala is the main hot spot, and the number of deaths remains low.

  • In Asia, Hong Kong tightened restrictions again to slow a stubborn fourth spike, CNN reported. And in China, the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, reported its first local cases in 9 months, according to CNN. The city has launched mass testing, which has identified five cases so far, all but one linked to the same village where the initial patient lives.

  • The global total today topped 68 million and is now at 68,014,594 cases, with 1,553,169 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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