Virus Deaths Rising in 30 States 01/19 06:08

Virus Deaths Rising in 30 States       01/19 06:08


   NEW YORK (AP) -- Coronavirus deaths are rising in nearly two-thirds of 
American states as a winter surge pushes the overall toll toward 400,000 amid 
warnings that a new, highly contagious variant is taking hold.

   As Americans observed a national holiday Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo 
pleaded with federal authorities to curtail travel from countries where new 
variants are spreading.

   Referring to new versions detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, 
Cuomo said: "Stop those people from coming here.... Why are you allowing people 
to fly into this country and then it's too late?"

   The U.S. government has already curbed travel from some of the places where 
the new variants are spreading --- such as Britain and Brazil --- and recently 
it announced that it would require proof of a negative COVID-19 test for anyone 
flying into the country.

   But the new variant seen in Britain is already spreading in the U.S., and 
the Centers for Disease Control and Protection has warned that it will probably 
become the dominant version in the country by March. The CDC said the variant 
is about 50% more contagious than the virus that is causing the bulk of cases 
in the U.S.

   While the variant does not cause more severe illness, it can cause more 
hospitalizations and deaths simply because it spreads more easily. In Britain, 
it has aggravated a severe outbreak that has swamped hospitals, and it has been 
blamed for sharp leaps in cases in some other European countries.

   As things stand, many U.S. states are already under tremendous strain. The 
seven-day rolling average of daily deaths is rising in 30 states and the 
District of Columbia, and on Monday the U.S. death toll surpassed 398,000, 
according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University --- by far the highest 
recorded death toll of any country in the world.

   Ellie Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston 
University School of Public Health, said cases have proliferated in part 
because of gatherings for Christmas and New Year --- and compounded previous 
surges from Thanksgiving and the return of students to schools and universities 
in the fall.

   The pace of any further spread will depend on whether those who did gather 
with family and friends quarantined afterward or went back to school or work in 
person, she said.

   One of the states hardest hit during the recent surge is Arizona, where the 
rolling average has risen over the past two weeks from about 90 deaths per day 
to about 160 per day on Jan. 17.

   "It's kind of hard to imagine it getting a lot faster than it is right now, 
because it is transmitting really fast right now," said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, 
director of the Biodesign Institute research center at Arizona State 
University. "But there is some evidence that Thanksgiving didn't help things."

   Rural Yuma County --- known as the winter lettuce capital of the U.S. --- is 
now one of the state's hot spots. Exhausted nurses there are now regularly 
sending COVID-19 patients on a long helicopter ride to hospitals in Phoenix 
when they don't have enough staff. The county has lagged on coronavirus testing 
in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods and just ran out of vaccines.

   But some support is coming from military nurses and a new wave of free tests 
for farmworkers and the elderly in Yuma County.

   Amid the rise in cases, a vast effort is underway to get Americans 
vaccinated --- what Cuomo called "a footrace" between the vaccination rate and 
the infection rate. But the campaign is off to an uneven start. According to 
the latest federal data, about 31.2 million doses of vaccine have been 
distributed, but only about 10.6 million people have received at least one dose.

   In some cases, vaccine supplies thus far do not meet demand. More than 
172,000 people in Missouri's St. Louis County have registered for the vaccine, 
but the local health department so far has only received 975 doses, said County 
Executive Sam Page.

   In California, the most populous state, counties are pleading for more 
vaccine as the state tries to reduce a high rate of infection that has led to 
record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.

   Although the state last week said anyone age 65 and older can start 
receiving the vaccine, Los Angeles County and some others have said they don't 
have enough to immunize so many people. They are concentrating on protecting 
health care workers and the most vulnerable elderly in care homes first.

   On Monday, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District 
sent a letter asking for state and county authorization to provide vaccinations 
at schools for staff, local community members --- and for students once a 
vaccine for children has been approved.

   The death rate from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County --- an epicenter of the 
U.S. pandemic --- works out to about one person every six minutes. On Sunday, 
the South Coast Air Quality Management District suspended some 
pollution-control limits on the number of cremations for at least 10 days in 
order to deal with a backlog of bodies at hospitals and funeral homes.

   In other areas of the country, officials are working to ensure that people 
take the vaccine once they're offered it amid concerns that many people are 
hesitant. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, in a livestreamed event on Martin Luther 
King Jr. Day, received a shot, and urged other Marylanders to do likewise.

   "We're all looking forward to the day we can take off and throw away our 
masks," Hogan said. "The only way we are going to return to a sense of normalcy 
is by these COVID-19 vaccines."

   But challenges to the vaccine campaign are surfacing worldwide.

   The World Health Organization chief on Monday lambasted drugmakers' profits 
and vaccine inequalities, saying it's "not right" that younger, healthier 
adults in some wealthy countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older 
people or health care workers in poorer countries.

   Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lamented that one country 
received a mere 25 doses while over 39 million doses have been administered in 
nearly 50 richer nations.

   "Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country --- not 25 
million, not 25,000 --- just 25. I need to be blunt: The world is on the brink 
of a catastrophic moral failure," Tedros said. He did not specify the country, 
but a WHO spokeswoman identified it as Guinea.

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