The U.S. registered more COVID-19 deaths in a single day than ever before — nearly 3,900 — on the very day the mob attack on the Capitol laid bare some of the same, deep political divisions that have hampered the battle against the pandemic.

The virus is surging in several states, with California hit particularly hard, reporting on Thursday a record two-day total of 1,042 coronavirus deaths. Skyrocketing caseloads there are threatening to force hospitals to ration care and essentially decide who lives and who dies.

Virus_Outbreak_California_12353

Medical workers prepare to manually move a prone a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles last month. Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

“Folks are gasping for breath. Folks look like they’re drowning when they are in bed right in front of us,” said Dr. Jeffrey Chien, an emergency room physician at Santa Clara Valley Regional Medical Center, urging people to do their part to help slow the spread. “I’m begging everyone to help us out because we aren’t the front line. We’re the last line.”

Meanwhile, the number of Americans who have gotten their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine climbed to at least 5.9 million Thursday, a one-day gain of about 600,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hundreds of millions will need to be vaccinated to stop the coronavirus.

About 1.9 million people around the world have died of the virus, more than 360,000 in the U.S. alone. December was by far the nation’s deadliest month yet, and health experts are warning that January could be more terrible still because of family gatherings and travel over the holidays.

A new, more contagious variant is spreading around the globe and in the U.S. Also, it remains to be seen what effect the thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump who converged this week in Washington, many of them without masks, will have on the spread of the scourge.

Trump has long downplayed the virus and scorned masks, and many of his ardent supporters have followed his example. He has also raged against lockdowns and egged on protesters objecting to restrictions in states such as Michigan, where armed supporters invaded the statehouse last spring.

On Wednesday, the day a horde of protesters breached the U.S. Capitol, disrupting efforts to certify the election of Joe Biden, the U.S. recorded 3,865 virus deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The numbers can fluctuate dramatically after holidays and weekends, and the figure is subject to revision.

Read the full story here.

As Arizona becomes world hot spot, focus turns to governor

PHOENIX — As Arizona experienced periodic spikes in COVID-19 cases since last spring, Gov. Doug Ducey frequently resisted calls to take strong measures. He has declined to institute a statewide mask mandate, allowed school districts to mostly make their own choices and allowed businesses to stay open.

Virus_Outbreak_Arizona_Governor_83056

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question about the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine in Arizona, while Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ listens in Phoenix last month. As Arizona experienced periodic spikes in COVID-19 cases since last spring, Ducey frequently resisted calls to take strong measures. Ross D. Franklin, Pool/Associated Press

All of those choices by the Republican governor are now getting renewed scrutiny as the Grand Canyon state becomes what health officials call the latest “hot spot of the world” because of soaring case loads.

“We have a governor and health director who don’t care. Their goal in my opinion is to vaccinate their way out of this,” said Will Humble, head of the Arizona Public Health Association “Eventually it will work. There’s just going to be a lot of dead people in the meantime.”

C.J. Karamargin, the governor’s spokesman, said the current number of cases and deaths are “heartbreaking” but it’s a phenomenon happening in other states even with strict stay-at-home orders.

“Faced with strict mitigation measures in place and states that have few or minimal mitigation measures in place all are experiencing the same thing,” Karamargin said. “The mitigation measures the state of Arizona put into place early on — they remain in place. We urge every Arizonan to follow them.”

At the same time, the state is working to ramp up vaccination distribution efforts, Karamargin added. More than 119,000 people in Arizona have received the vaccine, state health officials said Wednesday. That is is less than 2 percent of the state’s population. Nationally, as of Wednesday, more than three weeks into the U.S. vaccination campaign, 5.3 million people had gotten their first dose.

Liz Curren, 34, of Phoenix, has been watching over her husband, Russell, 37, since he became infected with the virus more than a week ago. His symptoms have included severe body aches, chills and pain in his lungs and kidneys. The couple and four other relatives gathered at Christmas but took every precaution like wearing masks. Yet, Russell Curren and three others ended up later testing positive. Liz Curren has tested negative three times.

“I absolutely think there’s more or there should be more done,” Liz Curren said, reflecting on the jump in cases. “Whatever’s being done is not working. I don’t feel like clubs and bars and gyms should be open.”

Meanwhile, the death toll in Arizona from the pandemic is now nearing 10,000. State health officials on Thursday reported 297 new virus-related deaths. Most of them were attributed to recent reviews of past death certificates.

The state also tallied 9,913 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the overall total so far to 584,593.

Arizona has the worst coronavirus diagnosis rate in the country, with 1 out of every 119 people in the state testing positive in the past week, health officials said.

Just five months ago, President Trump hailed Arizona as a model for how it dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. After a stay-at-home order early in the pandemic was gradually lifted, the Republican governor declined to reimpose restrictions like neighboring California, which also is seeing a surge in infections and overwhelmed hospitals. In Arizona, indoor dining is allowed and gyms are open at limited capacity, businesses that have been more restricted in many other states.

U.S. registering highest death toll yet from COVID-19

People without symptoms spread virus in more than half of cases, CDC model finds

People with no symptoms transmit more than half of all cases of the novel coronavirus, according to a new model developed by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Their findings reinforce the importance of following the agency’s guidelines: Regardless of whether people feel ill, they should wear a mask, wash their hands, stay socially distant and get a coronavirus test. That advice has been a constant refrain in a pandemic responsible for more than 350,000 deaths in the United States.

Last-minute shoppers at a mall in Lone Tree, Colo. on Christmas Eve. Associated Press

Fifty-nine percent of transmission came from people without symptoms in the model’s baseline scenario. That includes 35% of new cases from people who infect others before they show symptoms and 24% that come from people who never developed symptoms.

“The bottom line is controlling the COVID-19 pandemic really is going to require controlling the silent pandemic of transmission from persons without symptoms,” said Jay Butler, the CDC deputy director for infectious diseases and a co-author of the study. “The community mitigation tools that we have need to be utilized broadly to be able to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 from all infected persons, at least until we have those vaccines widely available.”

The emergence of a more contagious variant, first detected in the United Kingdom and since found in several U.S. states, throws the significance of those guidelines into even starker relief. “Those findings are now in bold, italics and underlined,” Butler said. “We’ve gone from 11-point font to 16-point font.”

The model, published Thursday in the journal JAMA Network Open, comports with earlier estimates of the contribution of asymptomatic spread.

Months of work before vaccine rollout squandered because of a lack of coordination

As the U.S. grapples with record hospitalizations and deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, a crucial vaccination rollout campaign is being impeded by inconsistent messaging and myriad state strategies as a new variant of the virus drives up infection rates, according to public health experts.

A hazardous waste trash can with used Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines in Manning, South Carolina. Bloomberg

The missteps have put the number of vaccinations well behind targets set by the Trump administration’s U.S. Operation Warp Speed effort. About 5.46 million doses have been administered in the U.S. since mid-December, or 32% of those that have been distributed across the country and well below the Trump administration’s goal of 20 million by the end of 2020, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. Vaccination rates have ranged significantly across states, with South Dakota using 69% of the doses sent to it and Georgia just 22%, according to Bloomberg’s data.

“The next couple of weeks are going to be really critical to see how we can get this distribution system up and going more smoothly,” National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said Wednesday in an interview with the Washington Post. “It certainly has had a rocky beginning. But I’m not entirely surprised by that, when you consider that it’s only been three weeks” since the shots were cleared for emergency use.

Months of work anticipating the vaccine rollout have been squandered because of a lack of coordination and gaps in planning. Bloomberg’s reporting shows missed opportunities at every level of government, from a laissez-faire approach in Washington to local hospitals where harried health-care workers were left trying to make last-minute decisions without guidance.

Read the full story here.

Puerto Rico to reopen beaches, relax coronavirus curfew

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico  — Puerto Rico’s new governor announced Tuesday that he will reopen beaches, marinas and pools, eliminate a Sunday lockdown and shorten a curfew that has been in place since the pandemic began to control the number of COVID-19 cases.

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi stressed alcohol will be banned at beaches and other places, and that social distancing is required between people who are not family members, with no large groups allowed to gather. Meanwhile, the new curfew will run from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and face masks remain mandatory.

He said the new measures go into effect Jan. 8 and will be in place for 30 days but can be amended any time if there’s a spike in cases.

A Puerto Rican flag flies on an empty beach at Ocean Park, in San Juan, Puerto Rico in May. Associated Press/Carlos Giusti

The announcement was cheered by many across Puerto Rico who have long sought to visit the U.S. territory’s beaches that had remained off limits to all except those doing exercise.

“It’s quality of life,” Pierluisi said.

He also ordered Puerto Rico’s Treasury Department to use federal funds and create economic incentives to help tens of thousands of small and medium businesses hard hit by strict closures that have been in place since March.

The U.S. territory of 3.2 million people has reported more than 127,000 confirmed and probable cases and more than 1,200 confirmed deaths.

Pierluisi kept in place other measures implemented by former Gov. Wanda Vázquez, including the closure of bars and a limited capacity at gyms, restaurants and other places.

“Our goal has to be to be able to return to a new normal,” Pierluisi said. “We have to keep taking preventive measures in the meantime.”

The announcement comes the same day that health experts began receiving the second COVID-19 vaccine dose, with some 60,000 people vaccinated so far and an expected 90,000 by the end of the week. Those scheduled to be vaccinated soon include teachers, with Pierluisi saying in-person classes could resume by March on a gradual scale.

Carlos Mellado, Puerto Rico’s designated health secretary, said he expects 40,000 vaccine doses to arrive on the island every week.

Quebec imposes ‘shock treatment’ curfew for 4 weeks

MONTREAL  — Quebec’s premier announced Wednesday that he is imposing a provincewide 8 p.m. curfew beginning Saturday as a way to curb surging coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

The province will become the first in Canada to impose a curfew for addressing the pandemic. More than 8.4 million people live in the French-speaking province.

Premier Francois Legault said despite the fact that schools, stores and many other businesses have been closed since December, infections and related hospitalizations continue to rise. Too many seniors are ending up in hospital after becoming infected in private homes, he said.

“We are obliged to provide a type of shock treatment so that people reduce their visits,” he told reporters.

Beginning Saturday and until at least Feb. 8, Quebecers will be under a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., Legault said. He said anyone caught breaking the rules is liable to a fine between $1,000 Canadian (US$868) and $6,000 Canadian (US$4732). The government is considering creating a document for people who have to be out after the curfew that could be shown to police.

“When we say we are giving an electroshock it’s really for four weeks, a period that should make a difference,” Legault said.

Legault said officials have been struggling to understand why the province’s caseload has continued to spike despite existing restrictions, including the closure of schools. He said they concluded the virus was being spread through gatherings in residences, and the curfew is meant to prevent that.

Sisters Stephanie Frizzell of Quebec province, left, and Sherie Frizzell of Vermont chat as they sit in lawn chairs for a visit, divided by the U.S./Canada border in December. Associated Press/Elise Amendola

The premier said all non-essential businesses that he ordered closed in December will remain closed until at least Feb. 8, when the curfew is scheduled to be lifted.

Legault, however, said primary schools will reopen as scheduled, on Jan. 11, and high school students will return to in-person learning the week after, on Jan. 18. “Our children have to be able to continue to learn,” he said.

Speaking before Legault’s news conference, Dr. Donald Sheppard, chair of the microbiology and immunology department at McGill University, said the government needed to explain the logic behind a curfew because the majority of outbreaks documented by public health have been in workplaces and schools.

Quebec reported 47 more deaths related to COVID-19, with 2,641 new cases of coronavirus infections and a rise in both hospitalizations and people in intensive care. It has recorded a total of 217,999 cases and 8,488 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Much of Quebec, including the province’s largest cities, has been under partial lockdown since October, when bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms and entertainment venues were closed. In December, Legault closed all “non-essential” retail stores and extended the winter break for elementary and high school students.

Canada has recorded close to 625,000 coronavirus cases, with about 16,300 of them fatal. The bulk of cases have been in the country’s two most populous provinces — Ontario and Quebec, where conditions have been deteriorating rapidly in recent weeks.

Drugstore chains will complete first-round vaccinations on schedule

The drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens both said Wednesday that they expect to finish delivering the first round of COVID-19 vaccine doses at nursing homes on schedule by January 25.

CVS said it was roughly halfway done as of Tuesday. It is working with 7,822 nursing homes nationwide and had completed nearly 4,000 first-dose clinics.

All told, CVS said it has administered 351,231 vaccines in nursing homes as of Tuesday, including nearly 30,000 in big states like California and Florida.

There are more than 15,000 nursing homes nationally, and the drugstore chains focused first on vaccinating at those locations in part because residents there are more vulnerable and require more care than people staying at other long-term care locations.

CVS and Walgreens also are expanding their vaccine delivery into those other locations, which include assisted living facilities. CVS said it has completed nearly 700 first-dose clinics at those locations and administered more than 26,000 shots.

But the drugstore chain said it was still waiting on eight states — Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin — to set start dates before it can begin working in those locations.

Japan declares state of emergency in Tokyo area

TOKYO — Japan has declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby areas as coronavirus cases continue to surge, hitting a daily record of 2,447 in the capital.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga issued the declaration at the government task force for the coronavirus. It kicks in Friday until Feb. 7, and centers around asking restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and people to stay home and not mingle in crowds.

The declaration carries no penalties. But it works as a strong request while Japan juggles to keep the economy going.

Shopping malls and schools will remain open. Movie theaters, museums and other events will be asked to reduce attendance. Places that defy the request will get publicized on a list, while those that comply will be eligible for aid, according to officials.

Coronavirus cases have been surging in Japan after the year-end and New Year’s holidays.

Australia moves up start of vaccination program

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is advancing the start of its coronavirus vaccination program to mid-February, with plans to inoculate 15% of the population by late March.

The government had argued there was no reason for an emergency rollout that cut short usual regulatory processes as has occurred in the United States and elsewhere because local transmission rates in Australia are much lower. It had planned to start vaccinating in March.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday he expects the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered two weeks after the Australian regulator approves it in late January. He said that “it is moving considerably faster than normal.”

Morrison says the goal is to give 80,000 shots a week and have 4 million of Australia’s 26 million people vaccinated by the end of March.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: