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Jan. 19, 2021, 2:51 p.m. EST

U.S. climbs above 400,000 COVID-19 fatalities as California becomes first state with 3 million confirmed cases

L.A. County air quality regulator lifts limit on how many cremations can be performed to help clear backlog of bodies

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch


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California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds up a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

The number of global cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 rose above 95.9 million on Tuesday, and the U.S. surpassed 400,000 deaths, with California becoming the first state with more than three million confirmed cases.

Things are so dire in the Golden State that air quality regulators in hard-hit Los Angeles County have lifted limits on how many cremations can be performed to help clear a backlog of bodies.

“The current rate of death is more than double that of pre-pandemic years, leading to hospitals, funeral homes, and crematoriums exceeding capacity without the ability to process the backlog of cases,” the South Coast Air Quality Management District said in a statement.

The U.S. added at least 142,588 new cases on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, and counted at least 1,440 deaths, although the numbers are likely under-reported as staffing at hospitals and health care centers is reduced at weekends and on holidays.

The U.S. is currently averaging 3,300 deaths a day, the tracker shows, meaning there will certainly be more than 400,000 fatalities by Wednesday, when President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. The U.S. continues to lead the world with 24.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and deaths, at 400,022, or about a fifth of the global total.

Biden will attend a virus memorial event on Tuesday evening with plans for 400 lights to be lit along the perimeter of the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial, with each light representing 1,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19.

Read also: Just one day before Joe Biden’s inauguration, poll finds that virus, economy far outpace other priorities

Biden aides said Monday that an order by incumbent President Donald Trump to overturn a ban on travelers from Europe and Brazil would be immediately rescinded by the new president. The ban was introduced to avoid more infectious variants of the virus that have been detected in the U.K. and Brazil from spreading across the U.S.

Biden has made tackling the pandemic the center of his administration and has gathered a group of leading health experts to manage the vaccine program, which he described last week as “dismal.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker shows that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Friday, just 12.3 million doses had been administered, well below the 20 million that were promised by end-December. Just 31.2 million doses had been distributed, or enough to treat about 15 million people, as the vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization — one developed by Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.56% and German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +1.10% , and another developed by Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -0.08% —require two doses.

Trump’s administration has been widely criticized for failing to create a national plan for managing the crisis at any stage, leaving it to states to handle every aspect of the illness from testing to public information campaigns and making decisions on whether to close schools or businesses. Now states are also on the hook for managing the vaccine program, the biggest public health effort in decades.

Frustrated by the flow of coronavirus vaccine from the federal government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday floated the idea of buying shots for New Yorkers directly from Pfizer, the Associated Press reported.

The idea seemed far from a sure bet, with the pharmaceutical giant saying it would need federal approval to sell to state governments. If that were to happen, the cost and amount have yet to be be discussed.

Don’t miss: Restaurants lose 372,000 jobs in another crushing blow from the coronavirus across U.S.

Related: Indoor dining still off-limits for NYC as restrictions loosen statewide after court case

Regardless, Cuomo said he felt compelled to broach the idea as his state, like many others, faces tough vaccine math. At the current pace of federal vaccine shipments to New York, it could take six months or more to get shots to the 7 million residents already eligible under federal guidelines, let alone the roughly 12 million other New Yorkers. Residents have been scrambling to try to get the shots, with many getting shut out and upset.

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