US sees most single-day deaths in pandemic: 4,000+

Yesterday 4,085 Americans died of COVID-19, a bleak record in the year-long pandemic. In total, the US reported 274,403 new cases, an uptick from the 200,000 daily average seen through the beginning of the month, and one that likely represents a holiday-related increase.

According to the dashboard maintained by Johns Hopkins University, the country has 21,776,072 cases and 367,635 deaths, by far the most in the world.

Several states are setting daily records in both cases and deaths. New York state reported a single-day record of 17,609 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and has set case records 5 of the past 9 days, according to NBC News.

Yesterday California set a new record with 604 deaths yesterday, and soaring hospitalization rates in Los Angeles have made oxygen a limited resource, according to a new report from Kaiser Health News.

Possible super-spreading?

The grim news comes as the United States closes one of its darkest weeks in modern history, marked by a mob of pro–President Trump supporters storming the Capitol on Wednesday because they falsely believe widespread election fraud caused Trump to lose a second term in office.

Many public health experts expressed concern that the events at the Capitol could be a super-spreading event of the virus, as most in the crowd were not wearing masks. The same concerns were expressed after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020 led to hundreds of protests across US cities. 

Those events did not, in fact, turn out to be super-spreader events, but were held exclusively outdoors with mostly masked participants.

Biden team proposes new vaccine distribution plan

In an effort to get more doses in the arms of American citizens, representatives of President-elect Joe Biden said his administration will embark on a new vaccination strategy when he assumes office on Jan 20, and release all available doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to states. The strategy would allow for more people to get the first dose of the vaccine while the drug companies manufacture a second dose, administered 3 to 4 weeks later.

According to a source who spoke to CNN, Biden's team plans to use the Defense Production Act to produce vaccine materials.

The news comes 1 day after the governors of Michigan, California, Kansas, Minnesota, New York, California, Illinois, and Washington delivered a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Alex Azar and General Gustave Perna, HHS chief operating officer, requesting the release of more vaccines to the states.

"Our states and residents need more vaccines now. This need is all the more urgent with the onset of the new variant of the virus," the letter read. "According to publicly reported information, the federal government currently has upwards of 50% of currently produced vaccines held back by the administration for reasons unknown."

Vaccine protection against variant strain

Today Pfizer/BioNTech released non-peer-reviewed data showing their vaccine was protective against a new strain of the virus, known as B117, which first appeared in the United Kingdom and is spreading in the United States.

Pfizer's study was based on blood taken from participants in its vaccine trial. The antibodies elicited by the vaccine were protective against 16 virus mutations. The study did not test if the vaccine was protective against a South African variant, called the E484K mutation.

The B117 variant is thought to be 50% more contagious than the original virus strain, but not more deadly.

The early phase of US vaccine rollout has focused on inoculating healthcare workers and those who live and work in nursing homes. A study today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report confirms that trends in nursing homes follow surrounding community trends, and nursing home outbreaks picked up in November 2020 after slowing some in the summer months.

The study found nursing home cases were likely tied to high-risk exposures among healthcare staff members that involved non-patient contacts, including social contacts.

"Addressing health care safety gaps calls for educating staff members about the risk for community exposure, encouraging consistent use of [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance in all settings, as well as ensuring adequate access and availability of personal protective equipment," the authors wrote.

Rural Americans more hesitant on vaccines

In other research news, Americans living in rural regions are less likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine than those living in suburban or urban regions, according to a new poll by Kaiser Family Foundation.

Just 31% of rural participants said they would definitely get a free and safe vaccine, compared with 43% of suburban and 42% of urban participants. Twenty percent of rural residents said they would definitely not get it, compared with 15% in urban and suburban areas.

In general, rural residents are not as worried as their urban and suburban peers about the severity of the pandemic, and 62% of rural residents say getting a vaccine is a personal choice.

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