© Callaghan O'Hare/REUTERS
Healthcare workers treat patients infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, U.S., December 28, 2020. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare
As the US ushered in 2021, more than 125,300 Covid-19 patients remained hospitalized -- another record for the fourth day in a row.
The high count is a grim reminder that even with 2020 behind us, the pandemic continues to ravage parts of the country. And some local leaders warn the worst is still ahead.
"We are still going to have our toughest and darkest days," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told CNN.
Los Angeles County, as well as the state of California, have battled brutal surges of infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the past weeks, all driven in part by Thanksgiving gatherings, health officials said. Surging hospitalizations in the county are pushing hospitals to the "brink of catastrophe," said Dr. Christina Ghaly, its health services director.
In Georgia, a convention center will begin accepting patients at the end of this week and will have an additional 60 beds to "help ensure that our hospitals continue to have the capacity they need for Covid and non-Covid patients," Gov. Brian Kemp said.
Arizona health officials say the number of new cases remains high, with hospitalization and death tallies also increasing.
"Even without Covid-19, winter is an especially busy season for hospitals. Amid this pandemic and the surge in cases, more than 90% of intensive care unit beds are in use this week, with more than half of those beds occupied by Covid-19 patients," Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said in a video message posted to Twitter.
And experts have warned the grim numbers could climb further nationwide in the coming weeks -- a swells stemming from the gatherings and travels that took place over the holidays.
You asked, we answered: Your Covid-19 questions
Despite repeated calls from both local and state leaders for people to celebrate with only members of their household, millions of Americans opted to spend time away from home. On Wednesday, the Transportation Security Administration reported its fourth-busiest day of the pandemic, screening more than a million people for the fifth straight day.
How vaccine distributions are going
Vaccinations are ongoing across the country, but experts say it will be months before vaccines are widespread enough to turn the course of the pandemic.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday announced doses of the Covid-19 vaccine will be available to pharmacies in limited supply starting Monday for people who are 70 and older, as well health care workers.
The initial supply, the governor's office said, will be "extremely limited and people must contact a designated pharmacy to make appointments before going in to be vaccinated."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday he hoped the city can administer a million doses by the end of January.
"Like any good New Year's resolution, 1 million doses by the end of January is an ambitious goal to say the least," he said. "We are doing everything we can to vaccinate as many New Yorkers as possible, but to really pick up the pace, we need our federal and state partners on board -- and fast. It will be tough, but I believe that we can do it."
As distribution expands to the general public, the mayor said that the vaccine will be available to hard-hit neighborhoods first.
Here's how the effort to vaccinate the elderly is going in some states
So far, more than 12.4 million vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide and more than 2.7 million have been administered. The rollout has been slower than many officials expected, but if the US is able to catch up in 2021, widespread vaccination could be possible starting in early spring, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
"Let's say in April, it will be what I call 'open season,' namely, anybody who wants to get vaccinated can get vaccinated," Fauci said. "If we then diligently vaccinate people in April, May, June, July, then we will gradually and noticeably get a degree of protection approaching herd immunity."
By the time early fall rolls around, Fauci said, "we will have enough good herd immunity to be able to really get back to some strong semblance of normality."
Florida has evidence of UK variant case
Meanwhile, more states are now beginning to report cases of the Covid-19 variant that was first detected in the UK.
Florida health officials announced the state has evidence of the first case of the variant in a man in his 20s with no history of travel.
"The Department is working with the (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on this investigation. We encourage all to continue practicing Covid-19 mitigation," the state's health department wrote on Twitter.
California health officials said earlier this week the variant was detected in a 30-year-old San Diego man, who is not hospitalized and had very few social interactions during the period he may have been contagious.
The first known case of the variant in the US was identified in Colorado, in a man in his 20s who had no recent, relevant travel history.
Experts have said they expect there are likely many more cases across the country that have not yet been detected.
"An unknown travel history means that this person picked it up the community," Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of the Biden-Harris transition Covid-19 advisory board, previously told CNN.
"If this mutation, this mutated virus, which is more contagious, is not widespread yet and beginning to spread, that means it will be even more important to follow the approaches we know work," he said.