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Dec. 9, 2020, 2:27 p.m. EST

U.S. coronavirus case tally climbs to 15 million from 14 million in just five days

U.S. sets fresh record for COVID-19 hospitalizations; Angela Merkel pleads with Germans to limit gatherings during holidays

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch


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• U.S. case tally climbs to 15 million from 14 million in five days

• Birx and Fauci say Americans must stop gathering in large numbers

• President-elect Joe Biden pledges to deliver 100 million vaccine shots in first 100 days in office

• German Chancellor Angela Merkel pleads with Germans to limit gatherings in emotional speech

The global case tally for the coronavirus illness COVID-19 climbed above 68 million on Wednesday and the U.S. tally rose above 15 million as the virus continued to race across the nation, filling hospitals with record numbers of patients.

The U.S. took just five days to get from 14 million confirmed cases of the virus to 15 million. It took six days to get to 14 million from 13 million. At the start of the outbreak, it took 98 days to go from an initial case on Jan. 21 to 1 million on April 28.

There were 104,600 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals on Tuesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, beating the record set a day earlier. Hospitalizations have topped 100,000 and set fresh records for seven straight days. At the height of the pandemic in spring, hospitalizations remained below 60,000 at peak levels.

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House Task Force created to manage the U.S. response to the pandemic, said transmission has moved from public spaces to private ones as Americans mingle indoors more, including for the recent Thanksgiving celebration, when millions of people traveled to see family. That has meant that as improvements are seen in states that were overwhelmed in the spring or summer, the virus is spreading fast in other areas, including rural areas with fewer hospitals.

See now: Politics around masks, social distancing and vaccines is making America sicker, says former HHS secretary Louis Sullivan

“If we don’t change how we gather, we will continue to have this surge across the country,” Birx told a Wall Street Journal event.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, agreed. The U.S. has not yet seen the full brunt of travel and congregation for Thanksgiving, which should show up in the next week or week and a half in the form of new cases, he said.

“Then we enter Christmas with more gathering, so we’re in for a very challenging period,” Fauci said at the same event. “The only way to counter that is by consistent adherence to public health measures,” he said, meaning frequent hand washing, social distancing and wearing a face mask in public. With a vaccine now appearing close, it’s more important than ever to comply with those measures, he said. If a vaccine is authorized and a distribution program is properly managed, the U.S. could get closer to normalcy by the back end of 2021, he said.

Don’t miss: The CDC is now urging Americans to get tested if they must travel for Christmas or Hanukkah — here’s how

The U.S. added 219,944 new cases on Tuesday and at least 2,597 people died, according to a New York Times tracker. The U.S. has averaged 207,024 cases a day for the last week, up 18% from the average just two weeks ago.

The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases at 15.17 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and fatalities at 286,338.

President-elect Joe Biden pledged on Tuesday to distribute 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office, in one part of a three-pronged strategy to fight the pandemic.

That would mean 50 million Americans would be vaccinated. The vaccines closest to getting emergency-use authorization from the government, the one developed by Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +1.00%  and German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +9.35%  and one from Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +1.65%  , require two doses. The Food and Drug Administration will convene a meeting of its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Thursday, which is made up of a group of independent medical experts, who will discuss the risks and benefits of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine before voting on whether the FDA should authorize the vaccine. A similar meeting to review Modern’s vaccine is scheduled for Dec. 17.

See also: When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine? Will the shots be free? Your vaccine questions, answered.

Click to Play

100 Million Shots in 100 Days: Biden’s Plan to Fight Covid-19

As he introduced his coronavirus team, President-elect Joe Biden outlined a plan for the first 100 days of his administration, saying he would push for mask wearing, mass vaccination and school reopenings. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Speaking in Wilmington, Del., Biden also said he would look to have as many schools open during his first 100 days as possible, and he repeated a promise for requiring masks where he can, such as in federal buildings.

“My first 100 days won’t end the COVID-19 virus,” Biden said. “I can’t promise that.” But he said he was “absolutely convinced we can change course.” Biden called on Congress to “fully fund” distribution of vaccines “to all corners of the country.”

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