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Jan. 12, 2021, 2:16 p.m. EST

U.S. heads toward 23 million COVID-19 cases as three lawmakers test positive after Capitol lockdown

News adds to fears that last week’s attack on the U.S. seat of government created two superspreader events

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch

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The number of confirmed global cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 91 million on Tuesday, and the U.S. case tally headed toward 23 million, as three Democratic lawmakers who were forced to shelter in place during last week’s attack on the Capitol tested positive for the virus.

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Brad Schneider of Illinois said they believe their diagnoses are a direct result of being crowded into small rooms during the siege with colleagues who did not wear face masks, the Associated Press reported. Experts have worried that the lockdown at the Capitol would become a superspreader event.

Schneider tweeted that that he was worried he may be risking his wife’s health, and blasted the Republican lawmakers who “adamantly refused to wear a mask, even when politely asked to do so by their colleagues.”

The rioting mob are expected to have created a separate superspreader event as most of the people who were televised roaming around the corridors were not wearing face masks, as Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told McClatchy.

“I do think you have to anticipate that this is another surge event,” Redfield said in an interview with the newspaper group. “You had largely unmasked individuals in a non-distanced fashion, who were all through the Capitol.”

The U.S. added at least 222,902 new cases on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 2,048 people died. The U.S. has averaged 250,721 cases a day for the past week.

There are currently 129,748 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project , just below the record of 132,464 set on Jan. 6. The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at 22.6 million, and deaths, at 377,616, or about a fifth of the global toll, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

On the vaccine front, the CDC’s tracker shows that as of 9.00 a.m. ET Monday, almost 9 million Americans had received a jab, and 25.5 million doses had been distributed, lagging early targets.

President Donald Trump has left it to states to administer the vaccine program, 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.

Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced two major changes to the program on Tuesday, the AP reported. First, the government will no longer hold back required second doses of the Pfizer -BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.70% /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -2.80%  and Moderna vaccines, practically doubling supply.

Second, states should immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale, including people age 65 and older, and younger people with certain health problems. The news comes days after President-elect Joe Biden said he would distribute vaccines immediately.

A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of the program published by the nonprofit health-care think tank on Monday found that while all 50 states are vaccinating health care workers and long-term care residents first, as recommended by the CDC’s independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), at least 16 are allowing other groups to be vaccinated simultaneously.

States are not obliged to follow the ACIP’s recommendations, but are being encouraged to do so as it gives them a science-based framework to follow that can ultimately help end the pandemic more swiftly.

“Overall, we find states are increasingly diverging from CDC guidance and from each other, suggesting that access to COVID-19 vaccines in these first months of the U.S. vaccine campaign may depend a great deal on where one lives,” the analysis found. “In addition, timelines vary significantly across states, regardless of priority group, resulting in a vaccine rollout labyrinth across the country.”

Read now: The majority of states aren’t following the CDC’s coronavirus vaccination distribution recommendations

Meanwhile, a World Health Organization official said that she doesn’t expect to see herd immunity to the coronavirus in 2021 even as mass vaccinations in some countries are already rolling out.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, also urged continued use of public-health mitigation practices, which include mask wearing and social distancing.

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