The COVID-19 death toll in the United States has surpassed 350,000 as experts anticipate another surge in coronavirus cases and deaths stemming from holiday gatherings over Christmas and New Year’s.
Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. passed the threshold early Sunday morning. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected. The U.S. has begun using two coronavirus vaccines to protect health care workers and nursing home residents and staff but the rollout of the inoculation program has been criticized as being slow and chaotic.
Multiple states have reported a record number of cases over the past few days, including North Carolina and Arizona. Mortuary owners in hard-hit Southern California say they’re being inundated with bodies.
The U.S. by far has reported the most deaths from COVID-19 in the world, followed by Brazil, which has reported more than 195,000 deaths.
California's grim record
California started the new year by reporting a record 585 coronavirus deaths in a single day after a health official said the pandemic was pushing state hospitals to the “brink of catastrophe” as some medical centers scramble to provide oxygen for the critically ill.
The California Department of Public Health on Friday reported more than than 47,189 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to nearly 2.3 million. Nearly 26,000 people have died from the virus in the state.
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The previous single-day record of 432 deaths was set on Tuesday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced California would begin collaborating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate and upgrade outdated oxygen delivery systems at six Los Angeles area hospitals.
Assessments at hospitals could begin as early as Saturday, according to a statement from the governor’s office. The collaboration comes as older medical centers are having difficulty maintaining oxygen pressure in aging infrastructure and some were scrambling to locate additional oxygen tanks for discharged patients to take home.
“By working to upgrade challenged oxygen delivery systems at these older hospitals we can improve the ability to deliver life sustaining medical care to those who need it,” Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said in a statement Friday.
California on Thursday became the third state to exceed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, behind New York with nearly 38,000 deaths and Texas with more than 27,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
In addition, San Diego County said it had confirmed a total of four cases involving a mutant variant of the coronavirus that appears to be much more contagious. Other cases have been confirmed in Florida and Colorado.
None of the men diagnosed with the strain in San Diego County had any known interaction with each other and at least three hadn’t traveled outside the country, leading public health officials to believe the new variant is “widespread in the community,” a county announcement said.
The county also ended 2020 by announcing a grim new death toll of 62, the single highest one-day figure since the pandemic began.
Hospitals, particularly in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley in the middle of the state, have been overrun with virus patients and don’t have any more intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients.
“We’re exhausted and it’s the calm before the storm,” said Jahmaal Willis, a nurse and emergency room leader at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley. “It’s like we’re fighting a war, a never-ending war, and we’re running out of ammo. We have to get it together before the next fight.”
More than 7,600 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, which has a fourth of the state’s population of 40 million but has seen 40% of its virus deaths. LA County on Friday reported 20,414 new confirmed virus cases and 207 additional deaths.
The virus is pushing hospitals “to the brink of catastrophe,” the county’s health services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, said Thursday. “This is simply not sustainable. Not just for our hospitals, for our entire health system.”