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The US marked a sobering start to the new year yesterday as COVID-19 hospitalizations exceeded 100,000 for the 31st day in a row, with more than 2,000 new deaths, while California’s healthcare system continues to grapple with a shortage of hospital beds.

At least 125,057 patients are currently hospitalized with coronavirus across the country as of late Friday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, exceeding 125,000 for the third consecutive day.

It comes after the total number of US virus cases earlier reached another sober milestone, surpassing 20million confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic.

US coronavirus cases now make up nearly a quarter of the global total.

Another 160,606 new infections were confirmed for January 1, bringing the nationwide count to 20,128,693, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

The number of daily deaths, meanwhile, fell to 2,051 – down 1,368 from Thursday.

To date, the US has lost 347,788 lives from COVID-19, amounting to approximately one in every 950 Americans, and ranks 16th in national per capita coronavirus deaths in the world.

Earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned the weeks to come could get worse as it projected a total of 383,000 to 424,000 COVID-19 deaths will be reported by the week ending on January 23, 2021.

On the high end of the model, that could mean that more than 82,000 people could die within the next month.

It comes as California, the most populous state with 40 million residents, has become a leading US flashpoint of the pandemic despite some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on social gatherings and business activities.

The soaring COVID-19 case load has pushed hospitals in and around Los Angeles in particular to their limits, filling emergency rooms, intensive care units, ambulance bays and morgues beyond capacity, and creating staff shortages.

In Santa Clara, near San Jose, hospitals have run out of space in intensive care units and are now treating patients in the emergency room.

‘Often, the only time we can move someone is when a Covid patient dies,’ Dr Marco Randazzo said in a news conference.

Briefing reporters on Thursday, Cathy Chidester, director of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, called the situation a ‘hidden disaster,’ not plainly visible to the public.

Medical experts attribute the worsening pandemic in recent weeks to the arrival of colder weather and the failure of many Americans to abide by public health warnings and requirements to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel over the year-end holiday season.

The crisis faced by healthcare systems has become especially acute in Los Angeles County where one patient is dying every 10 minutes from the respiratory virus, according to county health officials.

Heightened demands of caring for those struggling to breathe has also left many hospitals in the region short on oxygen, both in supplies and the ability of older facilities to maintain adequate pressure flow through ventilators, Chidester said.

She also described ambulances forced to wait several hours at a time to unload patients, causing delays throughout the county’s emergency response system.

To ease ER overcrowding, the county is denying ambulance transport to hospitals of emergency patients who are already under hospice care with do-not-resuscitate directives, according to Adam Blackstone, a spokesman for the Hospital Association of Southern California.

For months, California did many of the right things to avoid a catastrophic surge from the pandemic.

But by the time Governor Gavin Newsom said on December 15 that 5,000 body bags were being distributed, it was clear that the nation’s most populous state had entered a new phase of the COVID-19 crisis.

Now infections have been racing out of control for weeks, and California remains at or near the top of the list of states with the most new cases per capita.

It has routinely set new marks for infections and deaths, and began the new year reporting a record 585 deaths in a single day.

The recent emergence of a more transmissible variant of the coronavirus in the United States could make a swift rollout of immunizations all the more critical.

December was the deadliest month of the pandemic yet in the US, with coronavirus killing more than 77,000 Americans in the span of 31 days – outstripping the previous record fatalities from April by nearly a third.

The US rang in 2021 with a grim new record: coronavirus hospitalizations hit an all-time high for the fourth day in a row on New Years Eve with nearly 125,400 people in inpatient treatment.

Thursday’s daily death toll of 3,419 marked the 10th day this month that deaths have exceeded 3,000, with 346,408 recorded to date.

While the nation pinned its hope for finally bringing the pandemic to its knees on coronavirus vaccines, widespread issues with the rollout saw 2020 come to a close with only about 3.17 million people vaccinated, according to Bloomberg News.

That is just 25 percent of the 12.4 million doses that have been delivered to states.

Confusion over who can get the vaccine abounds across the country, with Americans told to call around to find out when they can get their first doses or facing miles-long lines to get the shots.

Adding to anxieties over the current surge is the emergence of a mutant strain of COVID-19 that has now been confirmed in three states: Colorado, California and Florida.

The strain was first detected in the United Kingdom and is thought to be 70 percent more transmissible than the original.

Florida became the third state to confirm a case of the strain on Thursday evening after it was detected in a man his 20s who lives in Martin County and has no history of travel.

California, which reported its first case of the strain on Wednesday, confirmed three more people have been infected with it in the San Diego area on Thursday night.

Earlier this week, the first case was confirmed in Colorado and officials say they are also investigating a second suspected case in the state.

The fact that the confirmed cases in Colorado and Florida both involved individuals with no recent travel history means that the variant must already be circulating on US soil.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has been sounding the alarm that it’s only a matter of time before other states detect the strain.

‘We predicted it would be, when you have so much of it in the UK, which then spread to other countries in Europe and Canada, it was inevitable that it would be here,’ Fauci told Today on Thursday.

‘You’ll be hearing reports from other states and more cases in the state that is already reported. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of the way these viruses spread’.

But he added: ‘The good news is that it does not appear to be more virulent, namely, making people more sick and leading to more death.’

There are fears the number of infections – followed by hospitalizations and deaths – will only continue to rise in the coming weeks as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) revealed that it screened 1,163,696 people at airport checkpoints on Wednesday, December 30.

It marked the fifth consecutive day that the number of passengers screened exceeded one million and the ninth day this month that the threshold was passed.


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