The Latest: US virus death toll hits 350,000; surge feared
BALTIMORE, M.D. — The COVID-19 death toll in the United States has surpassed 350,000 as experts anticipate another surge in coronavirus cases and deaths stemming from holiday gatherings over Christmas and New Year's.
Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. passed the threshold early Sunday morning. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected. The U.S. has begun using two coronavirus vaccines to protect health care workers and those over 80 but the rollout of the inoculation program has been criticized as being slow and chaotic.
Multiple states have reported a record number of cases over the past few days, including North Carolina and Arizona. Mortuary owners in hard-hit Southern California say they’re being inundated with bodies.
The U.S. by far has reported the most deaths from COVID-19 in the world, followed by Brazil, which has reported more than 195,000 deaths.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— India has approved two COVID-19 vaccines, paving the way for a massive inoculation program. The vaccines are from Oxford University and AstraZeneca and local firm Bharat Biotech.
— Britain faces mounting pressure from the teachers to keep schools closed in England as it hit a record of more than 57,000 daily coronavirus cases. On Monday, it plans to ramp up vaccinations using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
— Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, 41, who died from COVID-19 complications, was remembered as a man who loved people and felt called to serve others.
— Tokyo's Gov. Yuriko Koike is asking the national government to declare a “state of emergency” to curtail surging coronavirus infections. Concerns are growing ahead of hosting the Olympics in July.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BERLIN — A prominent German state governor is calling for the country’s lockdown to be extended until the end of January and says there should be no rushed reopening of schools.
Germany’s current lockdown took effect on Dec. 16 after a partial shutdown that started at the beginning of November failed to reduce new coronavirus infections. It was initially set to expire Jan. 10.
It’s clear that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors will agree to extend it when they review the situation on Tuesday. The question is by how long, and to what extent schools will open.
Bavarian governor Markus Soeder told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper that “the lockdown must be extended until the end of January.” He said a “hasty easing would set us back a long way” and that Austria has shown “the open-closed-open-closed model doesn’t work.”
Some officials advocate opening primary schools early. But Soeder, whose state has above-average virus infections, said it would be “irresponsible” to send all students and teachers straight back to school.
NEW DELHI — India authorized two COVID-19 vaccines on Sunday, paving the way for a huge inoculation program to stem the coronavirus pandemic in the world’s second-most populous country.
India’s drugs regulator gave an emergency authorization for the vaccines developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca and another developed by the Indian company Bharat Biotech.
Drugs Controller General Dr. Venugopal G Somani said both would require two doses and the decision was made after “careful examination” by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, India’s pharmaceutical regulator. Both vaccines are cheaper and easier to use than ones by Pfizer and Moderna since they do not require ultra-cold storage facilities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the vaccine approval a “decisive turning point to strengthen a spirited fight.” “Congratulations India,” Modi tweeted.
India’s initial immunization plan aims to vaccinate 300 million people — health care workers, front-line staff including police and those considered vulnerable due to their age or other diseases — by August.
SYDNEY — More Australian states and territories are reimposing travel restrictions to prevent coronavirus spreading from new outbreaks in New South Wales and Victoria states.
The Australian Capital Territory has shut out non-residents who have been in the northern beaches of Sydney, where the outbreaks are most concentrated, Greater Sydney and other smaller centers, unless they have an exemption.
The island state of Tasmania has barred anyone directly linked to the latest Victorian cases, listing exposure sites where confirmed cases are known to have been. The move followed Tasmania’s declaration of Greater Sydney and the Wollongong area south of Sydney as medium-risk zones, requiring travelers to quarantine for 14 days on arrival, while those from Sydney’s northern beaches are barred from entering.
Victoria reported three new cases Sunday. In total, there have been 21 locally acquired Victorian cases over recent days, all linked to the New South Wales outbreak. Victoria’s border is now closed to all travelers from New South Wales.
On Sunday, New South Wales recorded eight new local cases. There are 161 active cases in the state, most of them in the northern beaches of Sydney, and 13 emanating from a liquor store.
BEIJING — Chinese officials have tested more than 4.4 million residents in the northeastern city of Shenyang after the discovery of a new coronavirus cluster there but confirmed only four cases.
Another case was reported Sunday in a different city in Liaoning province. China reported 11 new domestically transmitted cases on Sunday — five in Liaoning, four in in northeastern Heilongjiang province, one in Beijing and one in Hebei province, just outside of Beijing.
Authorities across China are on high alert as new cases continue to emerge. The city of Heihe in Heilongjiang province suspended bus and taxi services after it reported four new cases. It has also temporarily shut down all business venues in the city except for markets and sealed off residential communities.
PHOENIX — Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey has rejected the state’s top education official’s call for Ducey to order public schools to use only online instruction for the next two weeks unless they have waivers from health officials.
Amid a coronavirus surge in the state, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Saturday that schools need a two-week “quarantine period” while educators and local officials review health data and decide what type of instruction is appropriate for their communities.
A spokesman for the governor said Ducey wouldn’t issue the order because how schools open is a local decision.
Arizona on Saturday reported nearly 8,900 additional known COVID-19 cases and 46 deaths.
Ducey, a Republican, and Hoffman, a Democrat, were aligned last spring when he ordered schools closed because of the coronavirus, but she voiced reservations later as he urged schools to provide in-person learning. Many schools in Arizona are set to resume classes in the coming week after the winter holidays.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina has reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases yet.
The state reported 9,527 confirmed cases on New Year’s Day. That went over the state’s previous high by more than 1,000 cases. It reported nearly as many on Saturday: 9,356 cases. Cases for both days were released by the state health department on Saturday.
“We begin 2021 in our most dangerous position in this pandemic,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary.
North Carolina has reported a total of more than 558,000 cases.
On Saturday, 15.5% of tests were positive, the highest rate since the start of the pandemic. In addition, a record 3,479 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 783 people were in the intensive care unit. With another 144 deaths reported, the state total came to nearly 6,900.
NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state has recorded more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.
New York reached that figure as it reported about 15,000 new positive tests on Friday. Experts say the official number of coronavirus cases represents a significant undercount, since many people in the New York City area were infected with the coronavirus last spring when testing was largely unavailable.
New York is the fourth state to report more than 1 million positive COVID-19 tests after California, Texas and Florida.
New York reported 128 COVID-19 deaths on Friday.
LOS ANGELES — Hospitals struggling to provide enough oxygen for the sickest coronavirus patients in the Los Angeles area received some relief Saturday when U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews arrived.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office says crews helped some aging hospitals update their oxygen delivery systems. Besides the shortage of oxygen, they’re also having difficulty keeping with demand for oxygen tanks for discharged patients to take home.
The southern half of the state has seen the worst effects, with hospitals swamped with patients and full intensive care units. Makeshift wards are set up in tents, arenas, classrooms and conference rooms.
California started the new year with a record 585 coronavirus deaths Friday in a single day. The state Department of Public Health on Saturday reported more than 53,341 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 2.3 million.
There’s been 26,357 total confirmed COVID-19 deaths in California.
LONDON — The U.K. has registered a record 57,725 daily coronavirus cases.
Government figures show the U.K. has recorded five straight daily highs — all above 50,000 and nearly double the levels of two weeks ago.
Also, hospitals in Britain have started receiving batches of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, approved by British regulators this week.
Some 530,000 doses of the vaccine will be available for rollout across the country that begins Monday. Nursing home residents and their caretakers, those over 80 and hospital staff are set to receive the first doses.
The Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, part of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in southern England, was among the first to get the vaccine. Dr. George Findlay, the trust’s chief medical officer, says the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is “much easier” to administer than the Pfizer-BioNTech, which needs storage at extremely cold temperatures.
Second doses of both vaccines will occur within 12 weeks rather than the 21 days initially planned, to increase the number of people who get the first vaccine. More than a million people in the U.K. have received their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine.
Britain has seen 74,682 virus-related deaths in the pandemic, the second-highest total in Europe after Italy.
PHOENIX — Arizona reported nearly 8,900 coronavirus cases, giving the state a two-day pandemic high.
There were 10,060 cases reported Friday for a two-day confirmed total of 18,943. The state’s previous two-day high was 17,649 on Dec. 13-14.
Arizona reported 46 deaths on Saturday, increasing the total death toll to 9,061.
Arizona had the second-worst diagnosing rate in the past week, behind only California.
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation has reported 266 confirmed coronavirus cases and seven more deaths.
The figures reported late Friday increased the tribe’s totals since the pandemic began to 23,429 cases and 813 confirmed deaths.
The number of infections is considered far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
The tribe’s reservation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The reservation was under a weekend lockdown that began Friday evening and ends Monday at 5 a.m.
LOS ANGELES — Southern California funeral homes are turning away bereaved families because they’re running out of space for the bodies.
The head of the California Funeral Directors Association says mortuaries are being “inundated.”
One funeral home is averaging 30 body removals a day, about five times more than usual. Mortuary owners are calling each other to see if anyone can handle overflow, and the answer is always the same - they’re full.
Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the crisis in California, has surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths. On Friday, California reported a record 585 coronavirus deaths.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece has tightened its lockdown for the next week, closing retail shops, hairdressers and bookshops.
The restrictions come as the government plans to open all schools, from kindergarten to universities, on Jan. 11.
Churches will remain closed and won’t celebrate the annual Epiphany holiday on Jan. 6, nor will priests conduct the traditional blessing of the waters. Also, the nightly curfew will start at 9 p.m. The new rules take effect Sunday and run until Jan. 11.
Greece announced 40 deaths and 262 new coronavirus infections on Saturday.
There have been 139,709 confirmed infections and 4,921 deaths since the start of the pandemic.