COVID surges in Arizona as CDC warns it could get worse

The coronavirus pandemic continues to surge across the United States, with many regions reporting second or third surges in infections.

Arizona has the highest infection rate in the country. Sixty percent of hospitalized people in the state have COVID-19, and COVID patients occupy 65% of intensive care unit beds. The state's COVID-19 test positivity rate is 16%, according to The Wall Street Journal, and health officials in the state say as many as 1 in 10 residents is currently infected with the virus.

The state is averaging around 10,000 COVID-19 cases per day, and the Arizona Department of Health Services is trying to vaccinate an eager elderly population against the virus. Today, the department announced it was pairing up with Arizona State University and the Arizona National Guard beginning Feb 1 to offer vaccines at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

So far, Arizona has administered 200,000 doses of vaccine. The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows that 30,628,175 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed in the United States, and 11,148,991 doses have been administered, with 1,342,086 people receiving two doses. 

With almost 390,000 dead, CDC says things might worsen

The United States reported 229,386 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 3,769 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. There are 128,947 COVID-19 patients in US hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

In total, the United States has 23,362,050 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 389,581 deaths.

"New cases are the highest ever and rising," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today, in a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report warned that new variants, namely the B117 variant, could likely become the dominant strain of the virus within 2 months in the United States.

Though B117 is no more deadly than the current, original strain circulating in most of the United States, it is more contagious, which ultimately results in more cases and more deaths. The CDC cautioned now is the time to renew a commitment to mitigation strategies, including mask-wearing, maintaining 6-feet apart in public, avoiding crowds, and getting vaccinated when able.

"Higher rate of transmission will lead to more cases, increasing the number of persons overall who need clinical care, exacerbating the burden on an already strained health care system, and resulting in more deaths," the CDC said.

The current prevalence of B117 among all circulating viruses is unknown in the United States, but is thought to be less than 0.5% based on the limited number of cases detected, the CDC said.

Based on how the B117 variant has spread in the United Kingdom, the CDC ran models of how the variant will act in the United States with and without vaccinating 1 million Americans against COVID-19 each day.

"The effect of vaccination on reducing transmission in the near term was greatest in the scenario in which transmission was already decreasing," the CDC said. "Early efforts that can limit the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, such as universal and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, will allow more time for ongoing vaccination to achieve higher population-level immunity."

A new survey from the COVID States Project shows that in December and early January, about 80% of Americans reported wearing a mask, and the percentages of people who said they spent time in crowded places, restaurants, and gyms in the last 24 hours declined.

Social distancing behaviors have substantially increased since October, but are lower than the peak reported in April of 2020, the survey showed.

No reserve vaccine doses

Earlier this week Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Operation Warp Speed was releasing reserve doses of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to states in an effort to ramp up vaccination efforts among Americans ages 65 and older.

But today governors are tweeting they have heard that no such reserve supply of vaccines exists.

"Last night, I received disturbing news, confirmed to me directly by General Perna of Operation Warp Speed: States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses," Oregon Governor Kate Brown tweeted. "This is a deception on a national scale."

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