By Christina Maxouris and Jason Hanna | CNN
Parts of the US are beginning to feel the brunt of last month’s holiday celebrations – at a time when many hospital systems are already at their breaking point.
Experts have said holiday travel and gatherings could help fuel another surge of Covid-19 infections. Yet millions of Americans traveled anyway – with more than 1.3 million people, a one-day pandemic record – screened by the Transportation Security Administration on Sunday alone.
That’s as the number of hospital patients on a given day hit another US record Monday, at more than 128,200, according to the COVID Tracking Project. And some states are warning the worst may be ahead.
In California, officials say ICU units in at least two regions are filled to practical capacity. And because of resource limitations, Los Angeles County ambulance crews have been instructed not to transport any patient in blunt traumatic or nontraumatic cardiac arrest if they can’t first be resuscitated in the field.
Some EMTs have had to wait with patients outside hospitals for hours because the facilities don’t immediately have space to take the patients in.
“This is a humanitarian catastrophe now unfolding in Los Angeles, and I worry it won’t stop in Los Angeles. We’ll be looking at this in other metro areas as well, ”Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN on Tuesday.
“We are heading into what we anticipate as a surge on top of a surge,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on hospitals, and I see it coming out of the holidays.”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said the state had “more patients with Covid in ICU beds at the end of last week than we have had at any other period throughout this pandemic.”
And he expects “some very large numbers with the spread from the holiday gatherings combined with the backlog and testing and reporting that may have occurred during the last 10 days.”
Weeks ago, Los Angeles officials said part of the brutal surge in infections and hospitalized patients they were seeing was due to Thanksgiving gatherings. Now, they asked residents to do their part to avoid even higher numbers.
“If we fail to use the tools currently available, our frontline health care workers, now caring for distressingly large numbers of Covid-19 patients, will face many more weeks of increasing numbers of patients and the heartbreaking loss of many lives,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday.
Nationwide, daily coronavirus cases and deaths are at near-record levels:
The US averaged 215,408 new cases every day over the last week – just short of the pandemic peak average of more than 219,300 set on December 18, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
And the US has averaged 2,663 coronavirus deaths a day over the last week – about one death every 32 seconds – according to JHU data.
That’s just below the peak daily average of 2,715 reached on December 22.
4.5 million vaccine doses administered
Vaccinations, meanwhile, are ongoing, but experts have said it likely will take a couple months before they are widespread enough to make any meaningful impact.
About 15.4 million doses had been distributed and about 4.5 million had been administered as of Monday morning, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only four states have so far administered at least half of the vaccine doses that have been distributed to them, according to the CDC data: Connecticut, North Dakota, South Dakota and Tennessee.
While some states have acknowledged on-the-ground issues that have contributed to delayed vaccinations, many have for months said they needed significantly more federal funding to be able to execute vaccine-rollout plans.
The CDC advised giving the first rounds of vaccinations to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, followed by adults ages 75 and older and “frontline essential workers.” But states are free to make their own decisions on priority.
In Florida, where vaccines are open to anyone 65 and older, each county health department decides how to administer the shots. In some places, county hotlines have been overburdened and vaccination sites have featured hourslong wait times.
In Daytona Beach, seniors lined up early Tuesday in their vehicles for a chance to get one of 1,000 shots at Daytona Stadium. Gates opened at 7 pm Monday, so that people could wait overnight for the 9 am Tuesday start.
Capacity was reached more than two hours before the event’s start, and others were turned away, city officials said.
“We’re going to need to start opening up (more) outdoor arenas and stadiums and having (them) staffed with qualified people,” to get vaccinations rolling properly, Hotez said. “It’s going to take federal support money and logistics.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday he believed the vaccine rollout will pick up momentum ”in the coming weeks.
“The government and the locals, including the governors and the mayors and others, have just started in the last couple of weeks in December, right in the middle of the holiday season,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases , told Newsday’s Randi Marshall during a virtual event.
“I think we should wait until the first and second week in January to see if we can catch up with the pace,” he said.
Fauci says ‘it is very unlikely’ Covid-19 vaccines will be federally mandated
Fauci also said that “it is very unlikely” the US federal government would try to legally require people to receive Covid-19 vaccines.
But “there will be individual institutions – they can be hospitals, they can be workplaces, they can be schools – where the authorities in charge of that institution say that in order to participate in the activities of this institution, you have to get vaccinated, ”Fauci told Newsday’s Marshall.
Hospitals and other health care facilities, for instance, have a long history of requiring workers to get vaccinated against various pathogens, he said.
US public school districts, as well as many camps and day care centers, require students to be vaccinated in order to attend.
Covid-19 likely 3rd leading US cause of death in 2020
Covid-19 was likely the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, according to statisticians at the CDC.
The agency only has early data on the leading causes of death for last year, and researchers are still combing through those numbers. But provisional data suggest that Covid-19 may have caused enough deaths in 2020 to rank third, CDC statisticians told CNN in an email.
“We still only have provisional data through December 26. We should be getting more data in very soon,” statisticians said via email. “To that point we estimate there were between 316,252 and 431,792 excess deaths in 2020. Our provisional death certificate data through that point show over 301,000 deaths involving Covid-19, which would likely place it third among leading causes of death.”
They added that “there is enough distance” between the numbers of death caused by cancer, the second leading cause in 2019, and those caused by accidents or unintentional injuries, the fourth leading cause in 2019, “to be comfortable saying” that Covid- 19 was the third leading cause for 2020.
In 2019, before the coronavirus emerged, the five leading causes of death in the United States were:
• Heart disease (659,041)
• Cancer (599,601)
• Unintentional injuries (173,040)
• Chronic lower respiratory diseases (156,979)
• Stroke (150,005)
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 354,000 people had died of Covid-19 in the United States since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University’s count.