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U.S. coronavirus deaths regularly averaging more than 2,000 Americans per day

Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the frightening peak reached last April, and cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis all but certain to get worse because of the fallout from Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

U.S. could approve a vaccine in mere days, but toll is expected to be great in coming weeks

A health-care worker directs vehicles to a COVID-19 test area at a drive-thru testing centre on Tuesday in Phoenix. Arizona set a new daily record Tuesday for coronavirus cases. (Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press)

Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the frightening peak reached last April, and cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis all but certain to get worse because of the fallout from Thanksgiving.

Virtually every state is reporting surges just as a vaccine appears a few days away from getting the go-ahead in the U.S.

"What we do now literally will be a matter of life and death for many of our citizens," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday as he extended restrictions on businesses and social gatherings, including a ban on indoor dining and drinking at restaurants and bars.

While the impending arrival of the vaccine is reason for hope, he said, "at the moment, we have to face reality, and the reality is that we are suffering a very dire situation with the pandemic."

Elsewhere around the country, North Carolina's governor imposed a 10 p.m. curfew, and authorities in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley sent a mass cellphone text alert Tuesday telling millions about the rapid spread of the virus and urging them to abide by the state's stay-at-home orders.

Health-care professionals get temperature checks upon arrival at an urgent care facility in Los Angeles. An overwhelming majority of California's residents went into lockdown this week as a result of the largest state's caseload. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

The virus is blamed for more than 285,000 deaths and 15 million confirmed infections in the United States.

Many Americans disregarded warnings not to travel over Thanksgiving and have ignored other safety precautions, whether out of stubbornness, ignorance or complacency. On Saturday night, police in Southern California arrested nearly 160 people, many of them not wearing masks, at a house party in Palmdale that was held without the homeowner's knowledge.

Security officials screened 501,513 passengers at U.S. airports on Tuesday, the lowest number since July 4, but that figure was nearly double at the peak of the holiday travel schedule. From Nov. 20-Nov. 29, the period encompassing Thanksgiving, the agency said a total 9.5 million passed through American airports.

FDA holds public hearing on Pfizer vaccine

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force co-ordinator, offered what sounded like a subtle rebuke of the way President Donald Trump and others in the administration have downplayed the disease and undercut scientists.

"Messages need to be critically consistent," Birx said Tuesday at a Wall Street Journal conference of CEOs. "I think we need to be much more consistent about addressing the myths that are out there — that COVID doesn't really exist, or that the fatalities somehow are made up, or the hospitalizations are for other diseases, not COVID, that masks actually hurt you."

On Thursday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is widely expected to authorize emergency use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, and shots could begin almost immediately after that. Britain on Tuesday started dispensing the Pfizer vaccine, becoming the first country in the West to begin mass vaccinations.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar did several interviews Wednesday with U.S. morning shows. Azar said up to 20 million will be vaccinated "in the next several weeks" and told CBS This Morning he expected most Americans could be vaccinated by April, although a sizable percentage of the U.S. population has expressed skepticism about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, creating an additional challenge.

Still, any vaccination campaign will take many months, and U.S. health experts are warning of a continuing surge of infections in the coming weeks as people gather for the holidays.

California officials painted a dire picture as more than 22,000 residents test positive for the coronavirus each day, with about 12 per cent inevitably showing up at hospitals in two to three weeks. They fear the spike could soon overwhelm intensive care units. Southern California's Riverside University Health System Medical Center went so far as to open an ICU in a storage room.

For the sixth day in a row and 11 of the last 12 days, North Carolina hit new highs in the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19. The patient count has doubled over the past month to nearly 2,400.

In Georgia, the number of confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections has soared more than 70 per cent in the past week, and hospitals are sounding alarms about their ability to absorb new COVID-19 patients.

The state is averaging more than 5,000 confirmed or suspected cases per day. Even then, Georgia ranks only 44th among the states for the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days because infections are spreading so rapidly everywhere else.

More than 2,500 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Monday statewide. That's below the summer peak of 3,200 but more than double the most recent low point in mid-October.

"We are effectively reversing the gains we made after the summer surge," said Amber Schmidtke, an epidemiologist who does a daily analysis of Georgia's COVID-19 numbers.

Jobless numbers still high, relief bill not in sight

In Arizona, one of 14 states without a mask mandate, health officials on Tuesday reported more than 12,000 new coronavirus cases, eclipsing the previous record of 6,799 on Dec. 5.

The U.S. House of Representatives was set to vote Wednesday on a one-week stopgap funding bill that will buy more time to reach a deal on COVID-19 relief, with separate aid packages of more than $900 billion US on the table.

Part of the congressional debate involves aid to state and local governments. In addition to millions of job losses in the private sector, state and local governments have laid off nearly 700,000 workers this year, according to U.S. government data, equal to 8.4 per cent of the workforce.

People wait to pick up their food at a deli Tuesday in Los Angeles. Congress is being urged to pass another relief bill. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Members of Congress have not been able to agree for months on another round of aid to mitigate the effects of shutdowns to curb the spread of the virus, after quickly approving $3 trillion last spring.

Schools alone are facing a shortfall of up to $246 billion, or 18 per cent of projected spending, over the next two years, according to Michael Griffith, a senior researcher at the Learning Policy Institute.

In the former manufacturing hub of Schenectady, N.Y., the city government raised property taxes and trash-collection fees while the school board laid off 423 teachers, janitors and other workers, even with only 16 per cent of grade-schoolers found to be proficient in math last year.

"These kids are struggling. They were struggling before COVID, and everybody looks past them," social worker Lindsey Esposito said.

Democratic president-elect Joe Biden has called on Congress to act immediately, noting that efforts to ensure early vaccination for COVID-19 by the outgoing Trump administration may stall otherwise.

With files from Reuters

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