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The US has averaged more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths a day over the past week

coronavirus COVID-19
Posted at 2:55 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 16:55:55-05

The magnitude of loss from COVID-19 is now on par with suffering the 9/11 attacks every day.

The US averaged more than 3,223 COVID-19 deaths a day over the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University. That's a few hundred more deaths daily than the 2001 strikes.

After widespread concerns about delays in vaccinations, the Trump administration will now release reserved second doses immediately, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.

Such a plan had already been announced by President-elect Joe Biden.

But the vaccines can't come soon enough. Over the past week, an average of 248,650 new COVID-19 infections have been reported every day.

The massive surge of COVID-19 nationwide has been fueled by holiday travels and casual at-home gatherings that experts had warned against.

"This is what we were afraid of -- people letting their guard down over Christmas and New Year's," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said.

New strategies for vaccinations

The federal government has been holding back about half the available doses from vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer to make sure everyone who gets a first dose gets their second needed dose on time.

The Pfizer vaccine doses should be spaced 21 days apart, and the Moderna doses should be 28 days apart.

But on Tuesday, Azar said, "We do not need to hold back reserve doses" anymore.

"Every vaccine dose that is sitting in a warehouse without going into an arm could mean one more life lost or another hospital bed occupied," Azar said.

If any glitches happen with vaccine production, any new doses would be designated as second doses.

In addition to releasing reserved doses immediately, HHS announced vaccines will be distributed to states based on which jurisdictions are getting the most doses into arms and where the most older adults live.

That new strategy will begin in two weeks, Azar said Tuesday.

"We will be allocating them based on the pace of administration as reported by states and by the size of the 65 and over population in each state. We're giving states two weeks' notice of this shift to give them the time necessary to plan and to improve their reporting if they think their data is faulty," Azar said.

"This new system gives states a strong incentive to ensure that all vaccinations are being properly reported, which it currently is not, and it gives states a strong incentive to ensure doses are going to work," he said.

"We need doses going to where they'll be administered quickly and to where they'll protect the most vulnerable."

Millions of doses are ready to go

About 9 million people have now received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 25.4 million doses have been distributed across the US, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Amid a rollout that has been far slower than some officials hoped, more states are abandoning guidelines from the CDC and taking their own approach to administering the vaccine, a new analysis found.

Timelines vary across the country and "access to COVID-19 vaccines in these first months of the US vaccine campaign may depend a great deal on where one lives," the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care policy, said in a report issued Monday.

The report found 40 states are still in Phase 1a -- when the CDC recommends vaccinating health care workers and long-term care facility residents -- either fully or partly. Ten states and Washington DC were in Phase 1b. Only Michigan has moved to at least part of Phase 1c, the report said.

For Phase 1b, CDC recommends vaccinating people age 75 and older and frontline essential workers and for Phase 1c, the agency recommends the vaccinations of people 65 and older, younger people with high-risk conditions and other essential workers.

States are "making the decision to just get as many people vaccinated as they can," and bypassing recommendations for vaccine prioritization, said Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA's vaccine advisory committee on Monday.

"I think where people are right now is they have the vaccine and they just want to get it out there," Offit said.

Without the "public health infrastructure for mass vaccination" in place, states are having to learn how to manage mass vaccinations in real time, and some are learning quicker than others, he added.

How states are bolstering vaccine efforts

In at least 10 states, National Guard members are helping administer vaccines. Other states have asked dentists, retirees and students to aid in the process.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott toured a mass COVID-19 vaccination site Monday and said the state plans to open about 28 similar sites across 18 counties.

"These vaccination hubs will expedite vaccine distribution and ensure efficiency in communities across the state," the governor said.

In California, 1 million health care workers, nursing home residents and staff will receive the vaccine by week's end, the governor promised Monday, as part of an "all hands on deck" push to serve the more vulnerable residents.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, meanwhile, sent a letter to Azar requesting permission to buy up to 100,000 doses of vaccines for the state.

"We remain ready to accelerate distribution to get doses into arms," the governor said.

The letter comes after Whitmer and other state leaders urged government officials to distribute the vaccine doses that are currently being held back by the Trump administration.

In some places, students return to school

That all comes as some parts of the country welcomed a wave of students back to in-person instruction this week.

Chicago Public Schools on Monday implemented the first stages of its phased reopening plan, welcoming a little more than 6,000 pre-kindergarten and cluster program students to classrooms.

"There are many students and families, 77,000 in fact, that have chosen an in-person option and I'm excited about the possibility to offer that at this time," CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in a news conference. "It's been 10 months since our students have been in school, and I know everyone signed up to do this work for the same exact reason, and that is to provide our kids with the quality education they deserve."

The district said it has prepared by purchasing air purifiers, face coverings and an abundant amount of cleaning and disinfectant supplies and made significant improvements to ensure all schools have proper ventilation.

"We've gone above and beyond ... to ensure that students and staff are safe," Jackson said. "And we're not done."

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice announced schools can reopen for "in-person learning for eighth grade and below" starting January 19. Grades 9 through 12 will not be in-person.

"Our medical experts believe ... that the exposure for going back to school is extremely minimal. And from the standpoint of our eighth grade on down, it is very, very, very minimal," the governor said. "And so, they believe that it is absolutely safe."

School sports practices won't be allowed to start until mid-February, Justice added, with an aim to return to games in March.

"There's no perfect answer," he said. "But the reality is really simple, our kids are becoming devastated by not being in school."

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