At the same time, hospitals are being flooded with coronavirus patients. On Wednesday, a record 132,476 patients were being treated for the virus, according to the Covid Tracker Project.

Meantime, the CDC predicted Wednesday that January will be a devastating month for pandemic impacts, even as the federal government allocated $22 billion more for testing, contact tracing, surveillance and vaccinations,

The CDC forecast, assembled from 36 coronavirus models, projected there will be 405,000-438,000 deaths by the end of the month. The previous ensemble forecast, published December 30, projected up to 424,000 deaths by January 23.

But director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease Dr. Anthony Fauci hopes that the US can ramp up vaccinations before the month is over.

“We should have done better, but I think we should wait until we get into maybe the second, or the third week in January, to see if we can now catch up with the original pace that was set,” he said.

State see ‘a health crisis of epic proportions’

At the epicenter of the virus is California, a state that has been among several to report record hospitalizations, surging deaths and healthcare systems struggling to meet the demand.

There were 459 new coronavirus deaths Wednesday and a record high of 22,820 patients being treated in hospitals for the virus, California’s Department of Public Health reported.

More than 8,000 of those are hospitalized in Los Angeles County, where the emergency medical system is under a huge strain, the health department said.

“This is a health crisis of epic proportions. I am more troubled than ever before, and in part, my concern is rooted in the reality that it will take so much more for us to slow the spread given the high rate of community spread,” Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.

Elsewhere, Kentucky saw two highs Wednesday: 5,743 new cases reported in one day and a positivity rate of 11.7%, the highest rate in the state since May.

“Today’s numbers show how critically important a centralized effort and response is to defeating this virus,” Governor Andy Beshear said.

In Louisiana, the spike in cases and hospitalizations has led to tighter coronavirus restrictions in New Orleans. As of Friday morning, gatherings and special events are not allowed except for people living together in a single household and outdoor tables at bars and restaurants will be limited to 6 people of the same household, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

“These next few weeks will be a defining moment in the history of our response to this pandemic,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. “These restrictions are for the short term, but they are in place for a reason. “

Older Americans, first responders to be vaccinated

As cases grow, some states are expanding the number of people eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines.

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Wednesday that vaccine administration is “quickly ramping up” and he urged states to move to the next priority groups so supply “can match up with demand.”

Adams said on “Good Morning America” that the US is now approaching 500,000 vaccinations per day and that more funding and locations are becoming available and that the list of priority groups is expanding.

Illinois, for example, has lowered the minimum recommended age of residents to receive the vaccine to 65 years old from 75 years.

These vaccinations will happen in “a few weeks,” Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. said. The state made the decision to lower the bar in the new phase because Black and Brown Americans have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and are more likely to die from the virus at a younger age on average, he said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that Michigan will begin a new phase, by including residents 65 and older, teachers, first responders and correctional facility staff as eligible for vaccinations from Monday .

New Jersey will also expand vaccination to sworn police officers and fire officials as soon as Thursday, Governor Phil Murphy said.

The variant’s ‘very dangerous game’

At least 52 cases of a coronavirus variant first discovered in the UK have been identified in the United States, according to data posted Wednesday by the CDC. And health experts warn it could become a problem if the US doesn’t get control of coronavirus’ spread.

“We’re playing a very dangerous game with this virus right now,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for the coronavirus response, told CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. “What worries us is that the longer this spreads the more opportunities it has to change.”

Van Kerkhove pointed out that many mutations won’t have much of an impact on the virus, but if a virus changes its genetics in just the right way, tests might not be able to detect it as easily, and vaccines might not work as well against it.

The virus has more chances to mutate in countries like the United States, which is seeing unprecedented and uncontrolled spread.

She pointed out that some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, have done a better job controlling the virus.

“It’s completely up to us to be able to bring the virus under control,” she said. “The virus is controllable, including these variants.”

CNN’s Jen Christensen, Virginia Langmaid, Elizabeth Cohen and Maggie Fox Ben Tinker, Sarah Moon, Cheri Mossburg, Rebekah Riess, Jamiel Lynch, Keith Allen, Naomi Thomas, Anna Sturla, Taylor Romine, Melissa Alonso and Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.



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