Individuals have a good time Christmas Eve amid a spiraling COVID pandemic
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Moderna COVID-19 vaccination at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda
By Dan Whitcomb and Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) – Americans celebrated a gloomy Christmas Eve on Thursday as coronavirus infections exploded across the country. Political leaders warned them not to travel or gather in large groups, and a highly contagious variant of the virus continued to spread across Europe.
More than a million people have received the first of two doses of vaccine since Dec. 14, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, vaccinations have so far had little impact on the recent surge in cases that are clustering across the country.
To achieve herd immunity to the virus, up to 90% of Americans could be vaccinated, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the best-known US expert on infectious diseases, in an interview with the New York Times.
"We really don't know what the real number is. I think the real reach is between 70 and 90 percent. But I'm not going to say 90 percent," said Fauci.
Fauci, who advises both Republican President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, on the pandemic, admitted he had revised his estimates up from earlier this year when he said the nation had the herd immunity by vaccination would reach 60% to 70% of the population.
Fauci was vaccinated on live television earlier this week.
The United States recorded more than 3,000 deaths for the second year in a row, according to a Reuters tally. The death toll in the US since the March pandemic broke out has exceeded 326,000.
The states of Tennessee and California have become the epicentres of the recent surge
"Our state is ground zero for a surge in COVID-19 and we need Tennesseeeans," Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said in a tweet on Wednesday. Lee asked residents of the southern state to wear masks and avoid large gatherings during the holidays.
MUTANT VARIANT SPREADS IN EUROPE
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Tennessee has registered 119 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. California, the most populous state in the country, ranked second with 105 cases per 100,000 people. Rhode Island and Arizona have also seen spikes lately.
State and local political leaders across the country have urged Americans not to go on vacation, saying Thanksgiving celebrations have spread the virus further.
Many Americans tired after more than nine months of lockdown have defied these warnings. According to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, more passengers flew on commercial flights on Wednesday than any other day of the pandemic. 1,191,123 passengers passed airport checkpoints.
This number is a decrease from 2019 when 1,937,235 flew on December 23rd.
Healthcare workers, elderly nursing home residents, elected officials and firefighters are given the vaccines first. Most Americans have been told it could take six months or more to qualify for the shots.
Political leaders have been criticized on both sides of the ideological spectrum for putting themselves at the top.
While vaccination programs give Americans hope that a fight against the pandemic is in sight, an even more transmissible variant has spread rapidly in the UK.
The mutated variant was first found in Germany, the state of Baden-Württemberg announced on Thursday.
The United States, unlike many other nations around the world, has not banned travelers from the UK, but the governors of New York and Washington have ordered travelers from the UK to quarantine upon arrival.
New York, an early epicenter of the pandemic, has recorded more than 36,000 COVID deaths, far more than any other state.