U.S. tops 26 million COVID cases as blizzard conditions hamper vaccinations in Northeast

U.S. tops 26 million COVID cases as blizzard conditions hamper vaccinations in Northeast

The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 103 million on Monday with the U.S. accounting for a quarter of that number, as a snowstorm created blizzard conditions across the Northeast and shuttered vaccination sites.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that he did not want seniors, who are first in line for jabs, to drive to vaccine appointments during the heavy snowfall. At least six other states — Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia — were also halting vaccinations, USA Today reported.

The U.S. added at least 111,478 new cases on Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 1,875 people died. Cases have been steadily declining, however, and have averaged 148,460 a day in the past week, down 32% from the average two weeks ago.

Hospitalizations are also declining, according to the COVID Tracking Project. There were 95,013 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals on Sunday, down from 97,561 a day earlier and the lowest level since Nov. 29.

But those trends may soon reverse, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and a member of President Joe Biden’s pandemic response team.

Osterholm told NBC’s Meet the Press that a Category 5 hurricane is coming in the shape of the more infectious strain that was first detected in the U.K. and is expected to become the dominant strain in the U.S. by spring.

” If we see that happen, which my 45 years in the trenches tell us we will, we are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country,” he said. “That hurricane is coming,” he said.

Osterholm said it might be wise for the U.S. to tweak its vaccine program to adapt to the new variant, as well as others that have emerged in Brazil and South Africa, and strive to get as many first doses into as many arms as possible, with a particular focus on people aged 65 and over.

“We saw our health care system literally on the edge of not being able to provide care,” Osterholm said. “Imagine if we have what has happened in England, twice as many of those cases. That’s what we have to prepare for now.”

The good news for now is that the vaccines that have received emergency use authorization in the U.S. and elsewhere appear to be effective in dealing with the U.K. variant, although they are less effective in dealing with the South Africa strain. That strain was confirmed on Friday in two cases in South Carolina.

Read now: The new South African strain is more infectious, and it’s also making COVID-19 vaccines less effective

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told MSNBC that it is “sort of encouraging” to see case and hospitalization numbers go down.

However, he agreed it could be the eye of the hurricane with new variants arriving, which could create “a huge surge.”

Hotez agreed that the level of protection offered by vaccines against new strains is good enough, but said we need to get to three-quarters of the population vaccinated ahead of the new variants, which implies three million a day, and “we’re just not there.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Sunday, 31.3 million doses had been administered and almost 50 million doses delivered. The U.S. is administering an average of 1.35 million doses a day on a seven-day basis, according to Raymond James analyst Chris Meekins, up 156% from three weeks ago.

“Things are on the right trajectory.,” he wrote in a note to clients. “Yet, we have this looming unknown,” in the new variants, he said.

Hotez said the U.S. could avoid a summer wave, “if the stars align.”

‘It is possible we can achieve that herd immunity even with the more highly transmissible variants, but it’s going to have to be the top priority of this administration to get everybody vaccinated.

In other news:

• Drug company AstraZeneca plc

has agreed to supply 9 million additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine to the European Union during the first quarter, the bloc’s executive arm said Sunday, AP reported. The new target of 40 million doses by the end of March is still only half what the British-Swedish company had originally aimed for, triggering a spat between AstraZeneca and the EU last week. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after a call with seven vaccine makers Sunday that AstraZeneca will also begin deliveries one week sooner than scheduled and expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe. “Step forward on vaccines,” tweeted Von der Leyen, who has come under intense pressure over the European Commission’s handling of the vaccine orders in recent days.

• California on Sunday reported another 481 coronavirus deaths, a day after the statewide death toll topped 40,000 even as the rates of new infections and hospitalizations continue to fall, according to the AP. The state said that the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 slipped below 14,850 — a drop of more than 25% in two weeks. The 18,974 new confirmed cases are about one-third the mid-December peak of 54,000. With hospitalizations and confirmed cases falling, health officials are optimistic that the worst of the latest surge is over. Deaths remain staggeringly high, however, with more than 3,800 in the last week.

• Travelers on airplanes and public transportation like buses and subways in the U.S. will be required to wear face masks starting midnight Monday to curb the spread of COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a mask-wearing rule late Friday that builds on an order announced Jan. 21 by President Joe Biden. The rule “will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic,” said Dr. Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s division of migration and quarantine, who signed the order.

• BioNTech SE
nearly doubled its estimate for the amount of coronavirus vaccine it plans to produce in 2021, MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. In a regulatory filing, the company said it now expects to manufacture 2 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year, up from previous estimates of 1.3 billion. BioNTech partnered with Pfizer Inc. 
on its vaccine, which requires two doses so the new estimates means they may be able to vaccinate 1 billion people in 2021.

Latest tallies

The global tally for confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 climbed above 103 million on Monday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 2.22 million. About 57 million people have recovered from COVID-19, the data shows.

The U.S. has the highest case tally in the world at 26.2 million and the highest death toll at 441,331, or about a fifth of the global total.

Brazil has the second highest death toll at 224,504 and is third by cases at 9.2 million.

India is second worldwide in cases with 10.8 million, and now fourth in deaths at 154,392, after being surpassed by Mexico late last week.

Mexico has the third highest death toll at 158,536 and 13th highest case tally at 1.9 million.

The U.K. has 3.8 million cases and 106,367 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 100,097 confirmed cases and 4,818deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

 U.S. manufacturers grew a bit slower in January as the coronavirus caused more work disruptions, but companies are still expanding rapidly and anticipating a stronger economy in 2021, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index slipped to 58.7% in January from 60.5% in the prior month. December’s reading was the highest in almost two and a half years and was close to a 16-year peak.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast the ISM index to total 60%. Readings over 50% indicate growth, and anything over 55% is considered exceptional.

Manufacturers have expanded steadily since the economy reopened last spring, benefiting from a shift in spending toward goods such as new cars or electronics and away from services like dining out or traveling.

See now: Biden set to meet with 10 Republican senators over COVID-relief deal

Outlays for construction projects rose 1% in December at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.49 trillion, the Commerce Department reported Monday, as MarketWatch’s Greg Robb reported.  Economists polled by Wall Street Journal had expected a 0.8% increase.

Spending in November was revised to a 1.1% gain from the prior estimate of a 0.9% rise.

In keeping with recent trends, residential construction in December was much stronger than the non-residential and public sectors.

Residential construction rose 3.1% in December, the seventh straight monthly gain in the sector. Residential construction is above pre-pandemic levels.

Spending on non-residential housing fell 1.7% in December.

Spending on public construction projects rose 0.5%. With government budgets tight due to the pandemic, economists don’t see much spending on the horizon unless Washington steps in.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
and S&P 500
were higher Monday.

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