By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The U.S. set yet another record for the number of fatalities from the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 and recorded the highest number of new cases since the start of the outbreak, with the latest numbers exceeding even the worst case scenario forecasts of health experts.
More than 4,000 Americans died of COVID-19 on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 280,292 new cases were recorded. In the past week, the country has averaged 237,635 cases a day.
Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had warned in December that the U.S. would suffer more deaths every day for the following two to three months than the almost 3,000 who died in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, or the 2,400 who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at 21.7 million, or more than double the next worst tally, India with 10.4 million, and by deaths, at 366,664, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. With 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for about 20% of reported fatalities.
Experts continued to fret that Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. by a mob of Trump supporters has created a superspreader event, as the televised footage showed that many were not wearing face masks.
Lawmakers are equally concerned that their confinement in tight conference rooms during the siege has created yet another superspreader event. Rep. Susan Wild, a Pennsylvania Democrat, told CBS that some members of Congress — mostly Republicans, including freshman Republican congressmen — refused to don masks while sheltering in place.
The news is especially alarming given the new variant of the virus that appeared to originate in the U.K. that is 40% to 70% more infectious than the original virus.
“In the first week of 2021, US states and territories reported more cases of COVID-19 than at any point in the pandemic so far, and the second-highest number of deaths,” the COVID Tracking Project wrote in its weekly update on the pandemic.
“Holiday data reporting slowdowns from Christmas and New Year’s are likely still affecting most metrics — most notably reported tests, which remain well below pre-holiday levels. Hospitalizations, our most stable metric through the holidays, continue to march upward.”
There are more than 132,000 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, straining systems in California and the South. In Alabama, December’s case surge has translated into a higher per capita hospitalization rate than any state saw during the summer’s surge, said the update.
“Alabama now has the third-highest per capita hospitalizations in the country, trailing only Arizona and Nevada. Staffing shortages in Alabama hospitals, coupled with very low availability of ICU beds, have public health officials in the state bracing for a coming crisis as holiday exposures send more COVID-19 patients to the hospital,” said the update.
Los Angeles County is recording a COVID-19 death every 10 minutes and is rationing oxygen and care.
The U.S. vaccination program continued to stumble also. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker shows that as of 9.00 a.m. ET on Thursday, just 5.9 million Americans had been vaccinated, way below the 20 million that was the most recent revision to targets promised by the federal government. Just 21.4 million doses had been distributed. In December, when the first emergency use authorizations were granted to the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.43% and German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -1.06% and later by Moderna Inc., the government initially promised 100 million doses would be delivered by year-end.
President Donald 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.
In other news:
• Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech said an in vitro study found that their COVID-19 vaccine neutralizes the two new highly infectious variants that have emerged in the U.K. and South Africa. The results were published on the preprint service bioRxiv and have not yet been peer-reviewed. “Though these two rapidly spreading viruses are different, they share the N501Y mutation, which is located in the receptor binding site of the spike protein and results in the virus’s spike protein binding more tightly to its receptor.,” the companies said in a joint statement. “It has been shown to infect mice more efficiently.” The trial found the sera of 20 participants in the Phase 3 trials neutralized the virus with the mutation as well as they neutralized the virus without the mutation, said the statement. “Pfizer, BioNTech, and UTMB are encouraged by these early, in vitro study findings,” said the statement, although further research is needed.