The United States closed out 2020 with the deadliest and most infectious month since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, while also surpassing 20 million confirmed Covid-19 cases.
More than 77,000 people lost their lives in December to Covid-19, while 6.4 million contracted the virus amid the emergence of a new virus variant and delayed efforts to get people vaccinated. The second-deadliest month was April 2020, with more than 58,000 deaths.
At least 227,651 new cases were reported on Thursday and 3,451 people died, marking the second-highest daily death toll, according to on NBC News’ tally.
The virus has killed more than 346,000 people in the U.S.
At least four cases of a new Covid-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom have been reported in Colorado, California and Florida. However, Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, said experts are “fairly confident this variant is now everywhere.”
This variant also “appears to affect more adults under age 20,” Carnethon told MSNBC. “And I think the reason why that’s particularly critical is that this younger adult population is circulating more. They are performing some of the essential roles such as delivery work, factory work and they’re just generally out there in the population, and that population isn’t in line to be vaccinated soon.”
Only about 2.8 million people have received vaccines since the start of vaccinations in mid-December, even though the Trump administration aimed to vaccinate at least 20 million people by the start of the new year. Officials in states grappling with a rise in cases have said that a lack of trained staff ready to administer the vaccines has contributed to delays.
Even with vaccines becoming available, cases are almost certain to continue growing, and yet another surge is expected in the weeks after Christmas and New Year’s.
Thursday became the second consecutive day New York surpassed its record for daily new cases with 15,700. As the state prepares to potentially report its millionth case this Saturday, officials have said they hope to get at least a million people vaccinated this month.
The state of Virginia also hit a single-day record on Thursday with 5,239 new cases.
In California, hospitalizations have gone up more than eightfold in two months and nearly tenfold in Los Angeles County. As hospitals are swamped with patients, and intensive care units have no more beds for Covid-19 patients, makeshift wards are being set up in tents, arenas, and classrooms to make up for the lack of space in overwhelmed hospitals.
On Thursday, the total number of California deaths surpassed 25,000, making it the third state to cross that milestone along with New York and Texas.
“Most heartbreaking is that if we had done a better job of reducing transmission of the virus, many of these deaths would not have happened,” said Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles county’s public health director, who has pleaded with people not to get together and worsen the spread.
The states of Nevada, North Carolina and Wyoming also set new single-day records Thursday for coronavirus deaths — reporting 59, 123, and 33 dead, respectively.
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