Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the state was seeing a “real and significant increase in cases and our positivity rate from people’s gatherings around the holiday.”
“This surge that we’re in right now is at least twice the rate, the seriousness, of the previous surges that we have seen,” the governor said Friday. “This is our most dangerous time.”
Colorado’s state epidemiologist, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, on Friday warned of “early signs” of a rise in Covid-19 cases. “We are starting to see the impact of the holidays show up in our data,” she said. Health experts believe about one in 105 residents are currently contagious, Herlihy added.
“So I do think this is an event that will probably lead to a significant spreading,” he added.
In the nine days since the start of 2021, the US has recorded more than 2 million new Covid-19 cases and 24,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The nation has averaged about 247,200 Covid-19 cases a day over the last week as of Friday — an all-time high, and more than 3.7 times greater than a summertime peak set in late July, Johns Hopkins data shows.
Biden team announces plan to ratchet up vaccine rollout
At this point, the country’s only choice is to “vaccinate our way through this,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College.
“We are in a race against death right now,” he told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Saturday. “And that’s why we have to accelerate our vaccine program.”
But it could also be risky, since both vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna require two doses administered weeks apart to be about 95% effective, and vaccine manufacturing has not ramped up as rapidly as many experts had hoped.
The plan is a break from the strategy of the Trump administration, which has held back doses of the vaccines to ensure that second doses are available.
Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, told CNN Saturday the new plan aims to “get doses out as quickly as possible” and simplify distribution.
Officials are not recommending patients delay receiving their second doses, she said. People should still plan to receive the second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine 21 days after the first dose, and the Moderna vaccine 28 days after the first dose.
“So long as there are not any manufacturing glitches, we’re confident that the supply of vaccine will be there when people return for their second dose,” Gounder said.
Asked about the plan, Hotez said he was “all for increasing the number of Americans who get vaccinated.” But he stressed that people need to understand the importance of receiving the second dose.
“I’m just worried people may get the wrong message, saying, ‘Hey, it’s okay to walk around with just a single dose,'” he said, “because that’s not the case.”
California is struggling
The county’s hospitals are “putting ICU patients in unusual places in the hospital just to find room for them,” Dr. Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, told CNN Saturday.
Mahajan said with hospitals already this stretched, he is terrified to think about the kind of surges Christmas gatherings may bring.
“It takes two to three weeks for patients to get sick enough to need the hospital after they’ve gotten the virus, and Christmas was only two weeks ago, and we’re already full,” Mahajan said.
Overwhelmed funeral homes are sharing hearses
In Montebello, just outside Los Angeles, the headquarters of two large funeral home chains paint a picture of weariness and despair.
At Guerra & Gutierrez Mortuaries, owner Richard Gutierrez says his six mortuaries usually would handle about 28 services a day before the pandemic. They now are running about 56 daily — about 70% of them for victims of coronavirus.
At the Continental Funeral Home just a few blocks down Beverly Boulevard, owner Magda Maldonado stood Friday in front of a freezer trailer that she’d recently bought to store dozens of bodies.
She said she feels stress grating her insides. Beyond all the people they’re serving, both she and Gutierrez are having to turn dozens of grieving families away.
“I am overwhelmed. I am with anxiety disorder now, because of this,” Maldonado said. “My employees are overwhelmed and tired.”
On Friday, clusters of mourners, most of them Latino and dressed in black, were gathered outside both overburdened funeral centers.
Gutierrez said he was grateful to Continental, which is lending him hearses when he runs out.
Pressure to serve so many families well, and sorrow over seeing so many people having been killed prematurely by Covid-19, is leaving him with anxiety, too, he said.
He recalled situations where he’d realize he’d have to arrange funerals for two members of a family, both of whom had died of the virus, such as a husband and wife.
“We’ll say, ‘Well, wait — we have the same last names together. Oh my God,'” he said. “It was just unbearable — and both of them Covid.”
Officials fighting vaccine hesitancy see ‘overwhelming’ demand
Meanwhile, officials across the country continue to administer vaccines and work towards overcoming vaccine hesitancy.
Among them is Dekalb County Health Director Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford in Georgia, where officials on Saturday were vaccinating first responders in addition to health care workers.
Vaccines will also be available starting Monday for adults ages 65 and older, Ford told CNN, and demand is “overwhelming.”
“We opened up our site yesterday for the seniors, the 65 and older, and in two hours we had almost 6,000 requests,” Ford said.
Ford recognized some people remain hesitant of receiving a Covid-19 vaccine. But she believed that as more people get it and share their stories, the more people will be willing to get vaccinated.
“What I’m concerned about is that there’s still a population of folks that are super anxious about this vaccine, and most likely that’s the population that needs it the most,” she said, pointing to the African American community, seniors citizens and non-English speakers.
A similar effort was taking place nearby at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, which is hosting vaccination drives each Saturday in January.
“We were doing this so that people have confidence,” Rice told CNN. “I think we have shown that there may have been some hesitancy, but we are clearly, based on the lines you’re seeing, moving to vaccine acceptance.”
CNN’s Natasha Chen, Kevin Conlon, John Bonifield, Stella Chan, Lauren Mascarenhas, Naomi Thomas, Betsy Klein, Sara Murray, Jim Acosta, Maggie Fox, and Michael Nedelman contributed to this report.