U.S. heads toward 21 million COVID-19 cases and 352,000 deaths as vaccine program continues to lag all targets

U.S. heads toward 21 million COVID-19 cases and 352,000 deaths as vaccine program continues to lag all targets

The global case tally for the coronavirus-borne illness COIVID-19 climbed above 85 million on Monday, as the U.S. headed toward 21 million cases and 352,000 deaths, and its vaccine program continued to advance with fits and starts and to lag all early targets.

“The “last mile” (a term used for getting a vaccine delivery in a state into the arms of those needing it) is moving far slower than required for the nation to turn the corner with millions of doses still sitting on the shelves,” said Raymond James analyst Chris Meekins. “December 2020 was the deadliest month of the pandemic, and many predict that heightened spread following holiday gatherings could have grave implications for January 2021.”

To put the U.S. death toll in perspective, Meekins noted it is greater than the population of Pittsburgh, St. Louis or St. Petersburg, Florida. “For many, the transition from 2020 to 2021 brings relief and hope that the chaos and the tragedy of the past year could turn a corner,” he wrote in a note to clients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker has not updated since Jan. 2. At 9.00 a.m. that morning, just 4.2 million Americans had been vaccinated, far below the 20 million that was promised by end-December. Just 13 million doses had been distributed, as health experts continued to lament the lack of a national plan.

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

The U.S. counted another 201,980 cases on Sunday, and at least 1,353 patients died, according to a New York Times tracker. The U.S. has averaged 212,965 cases a day for the past week, numbers that experts had dreaded might materialize after many people traveled during the holiday period.

Those numbers are likely undercounted as health centers are typically not fully staffed on weekends. Nonetheless, there was a record 125,544 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals on Sunday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, breaking the record set on Dec. 31.

Read: A cruel winter: New York City restaurants struggle for survival amid second indoor dining ban

The U.S. continues to lead the world by case numbers, at 20.6 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and deaths, at 351,590, or about a fifth of the global toll.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that the number of cases and deaths from COVID is “far exaggerated in the United States” because of the CDC’s “ridiculous method of determination, drawing a swift rebuke from the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the deaths are real ones.

‘”All you need to do is go out into the trenches,” Fauci told ABC News. “Go to the hospitals and see what the health-care workers are dealing with. They are under very stressful situations in many areas of the country. The hospital beds are stretched, people are running out of beds, running out of trained personnel, who are exhausted.”

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams also contradicted Trump’s tweet, telling CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that he has “no reason to doubt those numbers”

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In other news:

• The U.S. is not the only country struggling to roll out vaccines, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. The European Union, which launched its program on Dec. 27 using the shot granted an emergency use authorization that was developed by Pfizer Inc.
 and German partner BioNTech SE
 , has come under criticism for the slow pace of vaccination. BioNTech Chief Executive Uğur Şahin told German newspaper Der Spiegel that the process in Europe “certainly wasn’t as fast and straightforward” as in other countries, partly because the EU isn’t directly authorized and member states have a say. The French government has pledged to accelerate the pace of vaccinations after only inoculating just over 350 people with the Pfizer–BioNtech shot in the first six days, compared with Germany’s 238,000. From Monday, medical staff aged 50 and older in France will receive the shots. Vaccines in the Netherlands won’t be administered until Jan. 8, when the IT system required for planning and registering the shots will be ready.

See also:Why France’s blundering COVID vaccination campaign is seen as a Macron fiasco and failure of ‘ruling elite’

• The U.K. inoculated the first patient with the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford since it was authorized for use in the U.K., which is battling a rapid rise in the number of coronavirus cases. An 82-year old dialysis patient was first to receive a dose. The U.K. government has secured access to 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca–Oxford
 vaccine, which was authorized for emergency use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA, on Dec. 30.

• U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that more onerous lockdown restrictions in England are likely in the coming weeks as the country reels from a new coronavirus variant that has pushed infection rates to their highest recorded levels, the AP reported. Johnson, though, insisted he has “no doubt” that schools are safe and urged parents to send their children back into the classroom in areas of England where they can. Unions representing teachers have called for schools to turn to remote learning for at least a couple of weeks more due to the new variant, which scientists have said is up to 70% more contagious. The U.K. has had 2.7 million confirmed cases of the virus, the Johns Hopkins data shows, the sixth highest in the world. It has suffered 75,137 fatalities, also sixth-highest in the world and second highest in Europe after Italy.

• Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday vaccine approval was being speeded up and border controls beefed up to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and he promised to consider declaring a state of emergency, the AP reported. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and the governors of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa had asked the national government Saturday to declare the emergency after the capital saw a daily record of 1,337 cases on New Year’s Eve. Japan has had 246,614 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 3,433 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins.

• Moderna Inc. plans to produce 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in the first quarter for the U.S. market. That is the equivalent of 50 million vaccinations as the Moderna vaccine requires two doses. Moderna
 aid it has supplied 18 million doses of the vaccine in the U.S. so far, which is enough to vaccinate nine million people, in the weeks since the vaccine received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 18. The U.S. government has agreed to purchase 200 million doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine is one of two to receive an EUA in the U.S. so far during the pandemic. Operation Warp Speed head Moncef Slaoui told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that health officials are exploring using just half of Moderna’s dose as a way to speed up administration. Fauci said that strategy “goes against the science.’

Latest tallies

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 85 million on Monday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll rose to 1.8 million. At least 48 million people have recovered from COVID-19.

Brazil has the second highest death toll after the U.S. at 196,018 and is third by cases at 7.7 million.

India is second worldwide in cases with 10.3 million, and third in deaths at 149,649.

Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 127,213 and 13th highest case tally at 1.4 million.

Italy has 75,332 fatalities, the highest in Europe, and 2.2 million cases.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 96,213 confirmed cases and 4,785 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

Construction spending rose 0.9% in November as builders raced to erect more new homes, reflecting a surge in demand from buyers taking advantage of ultra-low interest rates or leave cities for more space during a pandemic, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a 1.1% increase.

Outlays on new homes climbed 2.6% in November as builders sought to bring more units to the market to meet a surge in sales.

Spending on new homes has shot up 16.2% in the past year, a surprisingly development that points to rapidly shifting attitudes toward home ownership during a pandemic.

See also: Scotland to impose new lockdown starting at midnight

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