US ends 2020 with record hospitalizations, black Covid forecasts

By Lucia Leal

Washington, Dec 31 (efe-epa).- The United States on Thursday closes out 2020 with a record number of people hospitalized for Covid-19 and with discouraging forecasts for the first months of 2021 after the arrival of the mutated and much more infectious British strain of the coronavirus and the slowness of the vaccination campaign.

Americans are spending a somber New Year’s Eve in the country hardest hit by the pandemic in absolute terms with almost 20 million confirmed cases and more than 343,000 Covid-19 deaths.

December has been the month with the most deaths from the pandemic so far, with new records for fatalities being set on sets of consecutive days, and with 3,744 registered Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, according to the independent tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.

And the outlook for January looks extremely dark with the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) predicting that in the coming three weeks at least 80,000 Americans could die from disease.

The variable that most concerns many experts is the increasing pressure on hospitals nationwide, and on Wednesday a new record for hospitalizations was set with 125,220 patients currently occupying hospital beds and being treated for Covid-19, according to the Covid Tracking Projects Web page.

California, one of the states where hospitalizations have skyrocketed in recent weeks, announced on Wednesday that it had detected the first case in the state of the British viral strain, one day after Colorado reported diagnosing the first infection by that mutated version of the virus in the US.

US health authorities believe that the new strain could be much more widely spread than has been detected so far and because is seems to be 70 percent more contagious than other variants of the virus they are very worried about the impact it could have in the coming weeks on certain hospitals that are already unable to treat all the patients in their areas.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a Thursday interview with NBC News that it was “inevitable” that the British strain would get to the US and very soon cases will be detected in other states.

Given this panorama, many Americans are putting all their hopes on the vaccines, but the immunization campaign – which was launched two weeks ago – has progressed much more slowly than predicted by the Donald Trump administration.

As of Wednesday, less than 2.8 million people had received the first dose of the two-injection vaccine series, just 14 percent of the 20 million Americans that the government said it planned to immunize before the end of December.

Fauci said that he and other health experts would have liked things to move more smoothly and quickly, according to what the administration had forecast, but obviously that has not occurred and that is “disappointing.”

The man who will be President-elect Joe Biden’s main medical advisor for the Covid-19 pandemic said that health authorities are considering not reserving the second doses of the vaccine for those who have already had the first Pfizer and Moderna doses, but rather presumably giving more people at least a first injection, which does provide a certain amount of protection against infection, although two doses are required to get the protection rate up above the 90th percentile, which is the maximum achievable level.

Fauci said that giving just one shot is not an ideal solution and he urged that the local authorities be given additional resources to be able to administer the vaccine in their areas.

Experts highlighted the logistical problems and the lack of appropriate coordination, noting that the US has already distributed more than 12.4 million doses of the vaccine but has only administered 22 percent of them.

Federal authorities have left in the hands of state and local hospital officials the task of administering the vaccine, but in many cases local health clinics have been overwhelmed by the pandemic and have been unable to organize themselves for the final phase of distributing and administering the meds, including training and scheduling health care personnel to do so.

The reduction in personnel at hospitals during the holiday season has set the vaccination campaign back, and many states have been holding back doses to deliver them to elderly care facilities and other installations where there have been delays in administering them to the residents, according to The New York Times.

Many health professionals are frustrated with the slowness of the campaign, including Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, who says that the government should repurpose big facilities like football stadiums into temporary vaccination clinics.

He told CNN that the US needs to vaccinate two million people each day, not the 150,000 that are currently getting the vaccine, adding that he does not see the authorities moving with urgency to ramp up to the ideal level.

Trump, whose presidency will end on Jan. 20, had remained silent about the problems in the vaccination campaign and on Thursday posted a new and hyperbolic message on Twitter touting his alleged accomplishments despite the tough scenario across much of the nation.

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