US COVID deaths top 350,000 as vaccine rollout continues

Over the New Year weekend, the United States reported that 350,000 Americans had died from the novel coronavirus—a grim milestone as state leaders and officials from Operation Warp Speed continue to try to roll out millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Though it's too soon to tell how or if New Year’s celebrations will affect daily case totals, in the last week the US reported an average of 213,437 new daily COVID-19 cases and 2,637 virus-related deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In total, the US has seen 20,748,806 COVID-19 cases and 352,645 deaths. Currently, 125,554 Americans are hospitalized with the virus, and today Florida and New York reported their first cases involving a fast-spreading UK variant strain.

Vaccine rollout slowed by ongoing surges

While the numbers offer little comfort, vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna continue to be administered to health workers and long-term care residents, but many critics complain the rollout has been too slow. In addition, many primary care physicians not affiliated with major health networks or hospitals are also complaining they have not been able to access the vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15,418,500 doses have been distributed in the US, and 4,563,260 people have received the first of two injections. The current vaccines approved for use, by Pfizer and Moderna, both require two doses administered 3 weeks apart.

Originally, Operation Warp Speed, the federal program promoting rapid vaccine development and deployment, said the US would inoculate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020.

Experts say distribution will pick up

Yesterday, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the vaccine rollout has gone slower than anticipated because healthcare facilities are still dealing with an onslaught of new cases and increased demand for testing.

Adams said the 20 million goal could have been met had it not been for a surge of virus activity following Thanksgiving celebrations. "I want everyone to know that over the next week or two is when we should be paying attention closely and making sure we continue to see this ramp up. And I expect that it will," he said.

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said on "Meet The Press" yesterday that he anticipates that as many as 1 million Americans may be vaccinated per day by the end of January. Operation Warp Speed’s chief scientific advisor, Moncef Slaoui, said on “Face the Nation” that an average of 500,000 Americans are being vaccinated per day.

Slaoui also said Moderna and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are discussing giving some people aged 18 to 55 half the dose of the vaccine (in two doses) in order to double the number of people vaccinated. He suggested this as a potential alternative to spacing out time between doses, as the United Kingdom is doing.

Arizona, California see high virus activity

With 93% of inpatient beds in use and 93% of intensive care unit beds occupied, Arizona is once again facing a surge of COVID-19, as the state reported a record high of 17,200 new cases yesterday. The previous record was 12,300 cases on Dec 8.

Arizona Department of Health Services spokesperson Steve Elliott said the cases likely reflect infections that occurred during Christmas celebrations. Arizona has some of the highest virus rates in the nation, along with California, Kansas, and Utah. Arizona has reported more than 5,000 cases daily for 28 of the past 32 days.

According to the Los Angeles Times, California has reported an average of 35,690 new COVID-19 cases a day in the last week. A total of 21,128 people are currently hospitalized in California with a confirmed case, 23% more than 2 weeks ago.

Florida, New York reports first variant cases

The Florida Department of Health announced its first case of variant coronavirus on New Year’s Eve, in a man in his 20s with no travel history. The man lives in Martin County.

The variant strain, known as B117, was first detected in the United States in December in Colorado and has since also been found in California. The strain is roughly 50% more transmissible than the original strain but is not tied to more severe disease outcomes.

The variant strain was first identified in the United Kingdom last month, and rapid transmission in that country has led to a new wave of lockdowns and school closures.

Today, New York state also reported its first case of the variant strain. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a press conference that the patient was a man was in his 60s who lived in Saratoga County. He also had no travel history.

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