The Covid-19 death toll in the US passed 350,000 early on Sunday, as experts anticipated another surge in cases and deaths stemming from holiday gatherings over Christmas and the new year.
Data from Johns Hopkins University showed the US passed 350,000 deaths early on Sunday morning. More than 20 million have been infected. According to the Covid Tracking Project, 123,614 people were hospitalized on Saturday.
The US federal government has begun distributing and using two coronavirus vaccines to protect healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff. But the program has been criticized as slow and chaotic.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it had administered 4,225,756 first doses of vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech as of Saturday morning – out of 13,071,925 distributed.
On Sunday morning, Donald Trump claimed without offering any evidence vaccines were “being delivered to the states by the federal government far faster than they can be administered”. The president also claimed, without evidence and using a racist term for the coronavirus, that US case and death tallies were “far exaggerated” because the CDC used a “ridiculous method of determination”, following the mantra “When in doubt, call it Covid.”
Trump remained bunkered at the White House, 18 days before he is succeeded in office by Joe Biden, whose conclusive victory in the presidential election Trump refuses the recognise. The president also said other countries report Covid statistics “purposely, very inaccurately and low”.
The US by far has reported the most deaths from Covid-19 in the world, Brazil, which has reported more than 195,000 deaths, is second.
Top public health officials including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases chief Anthony Fauci, surgeon general Jerome Adams and vaccine development head Moncef Slaoui were due on the morning political talk shows. They seemed sure to face sharp questions.
Multiple states reported record numbers of cases in the new year period, including North Carolina and Arizona. Mortuary owners in hard-hit southern California said they were being inundated with bodies.
In Louisiana on Saturday, the Republican congressman-elect Luke Letlow, 41, who died from Covid-19, was remembered. Governor John Bel Edwards ordered flags flown at half-staff.
Arizona governor Doug Ducey, meanwhile, rejected a top education official’s call for him to order public schools to use only online instruction for the next two weeks unless they have waivers from health officials.
Amid a coronavirus surge, superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman said schools needed a two-week “quarantine period” while educators and local officials review health data and decide what type of instruction is appropriate for their communities. A spokesman for the governor said Ducey wouldn’t issue the order because how schools open was a local decision.
On Saturday, Arizona reported nearly 8,900 additional Covid-19 cases and 46 deaths. Many schools are set to resume classes in the coming week, after the winter holidays.
North Carolina reported its highest daily number of cases yet, with 9,527 confirmed on New Year’s Day, passing the previous high by more than 1,000. It reported 9,356 cases on Saturday.
“We begin 2021 in our most dangerous position in this pandemic,” said Dr Mandy Cohen, the state health secretary.
North Carolina has reported a total of more than 558,000 cases. On Saturday, 15.5% of tests were positive, the highest rate since the start of the pandemic. In addition, a record 3,479 people were hospitalized and 783 were in intensive care. With 144 deaths reported, the state total came to nearly 6,900.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo said his state had recorded more than 1 million confirmed cases, reaching that figure as it reported about 15,000 positive tests on Friday. Experts said the official number of cases represents a significant undercount, since many people in the New York City area were infected last spring when testing was largely unavailable.
New York is the fourth state to report more than 1 million positives, after California, Texas and Florida. New York reported 128 deaths on Friday.
In Los Angeles, hospitals struggling to provide enough oxygen for the sickest patients received some relief on Saturday when US Army Corps of Engineers crews arrived. Governor Gavin Newsom’s office said crews helped some hospitals update oxygen delivery systems. Hospitals are also having difficulty keeping up with demand for oxygen tanks for patients to take home.
The southern half of the state has seen the worst effects, its hospitals swamped. Makeshift wards are set up in tents, arenas, classrooms and conference rooms.
California started the new year with a record 585 coronavirus deaths in one day. On Saturday the state health department reported more than 53,341 new cases, bringing the total to 2.3m. There have been 26,357 confirmed deaths.
Southern California funeral homes are turning away bereaved families because they are running out of space for the bodies. The head of the California Funeral Directors Association said mortuaries were being “inundated”.
One home is averaging 30 body removals a day, about five times more than usual. Mortuary owners are calling each other to see if anyone can handle overflow. The answer is always the same: they’re full.