The Holidays Are Over... But COVID-19 Is Gaining Strength
Heading into December, America's monthly record for most COVID-19 deaths was seven months old.
At least we could point to that as "good news." And that was despite dramatic increases in coronavirus cases during that time.
But no longer. December proved to be the deadliest month since the pandemic reached our shores. With more than 77,000 deaths. The previous record was 58,000 in April.
And there is speculation January could be even worse. Due to travel and family gatherings over the holidays. And possibly because of a new virus variant.
Cases, Hospitalizations, Deaths Increasing
The U.S. shattered its daily record for new cases on January 8 with a staggering 300,594. The previous record was 291,384 on January 2.
We have now surpassed 22.2 million cases and 373,000 deaths as of this writing. Just about every second, a new case is confirmed. And every minute, a new death occurs.
States with the most cases are California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois. Plus Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and North Carolina.
In addition to cases and deaths, hospitalizations are soaring. In the past two months, they have increased by more than eight times due to coronavirus. Including nearly 10 times in Los Angeles County.
Hospitals are running out of space. Makeshift wards are being set up in tents, parking lots, arenas and unused classrooms.
Will Holiday Travel Boost Infections?
Healthcare officials pleaded with people to forego holiday gatherings in late 2020. But on Christmas Eve, the TSA screened nearly 1 million people.
Barbara Ferrer is the Los Angeles County public health director. Here's what she said about the situation.
"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."
On New Year's Eve, more than 227,000 new cases and over 3,400 deaths were reported. Several states set records for new cases or deaths. They included Virginia, Nevada, North Carolina, Arizona and Wyoming.
New Variant Targeting Younger Adults
Adding to the grave concern is the discovery of a new coronavirus variant. It was first detected in the United Kingdom.
It's been reported in several states including Colorado, California and Florida. And probably in many more states by the time you read this.
Mercedes Carnethon is vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University. It's based in Evanston, Illinois.
She said so far the new variant appears to be affecting mostly adults under age 20. Because they are circulating more.
"They are performing some of the essential roles such as delivery work," Carnethon said. "And that population isn't in line to be vaccinated soon."
Vaccinations Lagging Behind Projections
Two vaccinations have been approved for emergency use. They are produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
The plan was to have 20 million people vaccinated by now. But as of recently, fewer than 5 million people had been vaccinated.
Utah Senator Mitt Romney has criticized the federal government for not developing vaccination plans and sending them to the states.
He added that relying on already overburdened hospitals and pharmacies was "unrealistic."
Strain Even More Contagious
Most medical experts say the new strain is even more contagious than the virus that's been infecting people around the globe for more than a year.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo contacted three airlines that carry people from England to New York. He asked them to ensure that travelers have a negative coronavirus test before departing.
It is normal for a virus to mutate. So the fact that there is a new strain is not surprising. Whether the new strain becomes the dominant one is still unknown.
Healthcare officials claim the vaccines should still be effective against the new strain. But no one knows for sure.
Variant Originated in England
Researchers say the new variant probably originated in September. In the southeast region of England.
The World Health Organization states that the new strain is spreading rapidly. It's responsible for more than one-half of new infections in the United Kingdom.
In most cases where Americans were diagnosed with the new strain, none had traveled overseas.
Although the new strain is more contagious, it is not necessarily more deadly. And there is no evidence yet that vaccines will not be effective against it.
Children Now in Spotlight
Yet another concern is a so-far rare coronavirus-related syndrome affecting children. It's called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.
Los Angeles County has seen more than 50 cases. All the children were hospitalized and one died.
Hilda Solis is a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors chair. Here's what she says.
"There is a misconception that coronavirus only impacts those who are older or those with underlying health conditions. Coronavirus causes severe consequences in people of all ages, including children."
Biden Predicts Troubles Ahead
December's grim statistics have led president-elect Joe Biden to make a sober prediction.
"We need to be honest," he said. "The next few weeks and months are going to be very tough. A very tough period for our nation.
"Maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic. I know it's hard to hear, but it's the truth."
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the same precautions. They include frequent hand washing, wearing a mask and social distancing.