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Jan. 5, 2021, 2:20 p.m. EST

January will be worst month for U.S. pandemic so far with post-holiday travel cases seen surging

U.S. sets fresh record for hospitalizations and Los Angeles County says a COVID-19 patient is dying every 15 minutes

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch

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The number of global cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 edged toward 86 million on Tuesday and the U.S. set yet another record for hospitalizations, as experts warned that January will likely be the worst month of the pandemic so far due to a surge in new infections after holiday travel.

U.S. airports screened the most passengers on Sunday since March, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration, which counted 1.3 million travelers, or more than half the year-earlier’s total of 2.4 million, as many Americans defied the advice of health officials to visit family and friends and mingle with other households.

The U.S. added at least 196,386 new cases on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 2,047 people died, numbers experts feared would materialize if people did not socially distance. In the last week, the U.S. has averaged 214,014 cases a day, numbers that experts had predicted as worst-case scenarios early in the crisis.

There were a record 128,210 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals on Monday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, breaking the record of 125,562 set a day earlier. With just 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. continues to account for about a fifth of all cases, at 20.8 million, and a fifth of all deaths, at 354,778, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The situation is especially dire in Los Angeles County in California, where hospitals are so overwhelmed and intensive-care units so full that the LA County Emergency Medical Services Agency has directed ambulance crews not to transport any patients with low chances of survival and to conserve the use of oxygen for the most critical. Those patients who are taken to hospitals by ambulance face long hours of waiting for a bed to become available.

LA County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said a patient is dying of COVID-19 every 15 minutes and that things will get worse.

“This is likely to be the worst month of the pandemic in LA County,” the agency said in a tweet. “The surge from holiday gatherings is here and cases will increase due to parties and travelers returning to LA County. We must use the tools we have to prevent more suffering & death and protect frontline workers.”

In the meantime, experts continued to express dismay at the continued chaos being recorded across the country with the vaccine program, which to date has fallen far short of targets.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker, which has not been updating on a daily basis, shows that as of 9.00 a.m. Monday, just 4.6 million Americans had been vaccinated, well below the most recently revised number of 20 million promised by end-December. Just 15.4 million doses have been distributed to states. The administration of President Donald Trump had originally promised 100 million doses would be delivered by year-end.

See also: Here’s what Fauci has to say about President Trump’s claim that the number of COVID-19 deaths is ‘exaggerated’ and ‘fake news’

Trump has left it to states to administer the vaccine program — tweeting that it was “up to the states to administer” and then calling some states “very slow” — meaning that stressed state health departments, which have already had to deal with testing, contact tracing, public information campaigns and deciding when or whether schools or businesses should be open or closed, are now tasked with handling the biggest public health effort in decades.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, said the poor vaccine deployment is as if the U.S. government had shipped 40 million boxes of IKEA furniture to states, who then found that some assembly was required.

The challenge is to inoculate 240 million Americans by Sept. 1, he told CNN.

“We need to call “an audible” open up outdoor arenas, hire staff, authorize/appropriate funds from Congress. This is not the time to come up small...again,” he said.

There was bad news from New York where Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed a case of the new variant of COVID that has been racing across the U.K. in a patient based in upstate Saratoga County, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The new variant, which is known to spread 70% faster than earlier versions of the virus, was first detected in the U.S. in a man in Colorado, and later in a case in California.

Don’t miss: There is only a slim chance that the vaccine will stop the COVID pandemic this year

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