LOS ANGELES — California on Monday became the first state to record more than 3 million known coronavirus infections.

The grim milestone, as tallied by Johns Hopkins University, wasn’t entirely unexpected in a state with 40 million residents but its speed stunning. The state only reached 2 million reported cases on Dec. 24.

The first coronavirus case in California was confirmed last Jan. 25. It took 292 days to get to 1 million infections on Nov. 11 and 44 days to top 2 million.

California’s caseload is also far ahead of other large states. Texas had more than 2 million and Florida topped 1.5 million.

The state has recorded more than 33,600 deaths related to COVID-19. A caseload surge that began last fall has strained hospitals and especially intensive care units as a percentage of the infected — typically estimated to be around 12% by public health officials — become sick enough weeks later to need medical care.

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Fed up, New York Gov. Cuomo is trying to buy vaccine directly from Pfizer

ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, fed up with the federal government’s frustratingly slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, is going straight to the source.

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CVS Pharmacist Gerard Diebner prepares a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine for the nursing home residents at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation on Friday in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. Yuki Iwamura/Associated Press

The governor penned a letter Monday to Pfizer asking if the pharmaceutical giant would cut out the middleman and sell doses directly to New York.

“You no doubt understand the challenges New York and other states face,” Cuomo wrote. “The federal administration essentially opened up a floodgate while cutting our supply — leading to confusion, frustration and dashed hopes.”

In his letter, he argues that there is nothing preventing the company from dealing directly with states and circumventing the feds since Pfizer was not a part of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine rollout.

The governor has repeatedly fumed in recent days over the federal government’s decision to expand the number of people eligible for immunization — without increasing the supply of doses to states.

A letter was also sent to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar demanding an explanation for his “false” claim last week that more doses would be released as the number of people eligible expanded.

Cuomo said there are more than 7 million New Yorkers now eligible to get a shot. It could take more than six months to get through just that portion of the state population with the allotment from the feds dropping from 300,000 doses a week to about 250,000.

The governor’s inoculation gripes don’t end with the government in Washington. He is also planning to make good on threats to utilize only high-performing hospitals for mass vaccination efforts going forward.

Medical centers that have administered most of their allotments will get more doses, while those that have been slow to distribute the vaccine won’t receive more.

“For the lower-performing facilities, we are going to give them less, if any, of the new allocation. They’ll all have enough to do their staff, but we want to make sure that the faster facilities — the higher-performing facilities — get more of the new allocation because we want it out the door,” Cuomo said during a remote briefing in Albany. “We don’t want it sitting on the shelf. So those that can vaccinate faster will get more of the new allocation.”

The complaints come as the Empire State reaches a reassuring milestone with 1 million doses distributed in just over four weeks.

Still, the governor grumbled that distribution remains uneven from region to region, with many upstate areas far outpacing the city when it comes to administering allotted doses.

Coronavirus deaths rising in 30 U.S. states as winter surge takes hold

NEW YORK — Coronavirus deaths are rising in nearly two-thirds of American states as a winter surge pushes the overall toll toward 400,000 amid warnings that a new, highly contagious variant is taking hold.

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National Guard members assist with processing COVID-19 deaths, placing bodies into temporary storage at the medical examiner-coroner’s office in Los Angeles on Jan. 12. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths is rising in 30 states and the District of Columbia. Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner via Associated Press

As Americans observed a national holiday Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pleaded with federal authorities to curtail travel from countries where new variants are spreading.

Referring to new versions detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, Cuomo said: “Stop those people from coming here. … Why are you allowing people to fly into this country and then it’s too late?”

The U.S. government has already curbed travel from some of the places where the new variants are spreading — such as Britain and Brazil — and recently it announced that it would require proof of a negative COVID-19 test for anyone flying into the country.

But the new variant seen in Britain is already spreading in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection has warned that it will probably become the dominant version in the country by March. The CDC said the variant is about 50 percent more contagious than the virus that is causing the bulk of cases in the U.S.

While the variant does not cause more severe illness, it has been blamed for causing more hospitalizations and deaths because it spreads more easily.

As things stands, many states are already under tremendous strain. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths is rising in 30 states and the District of Columbia, and on Monday the U.S. was approaching 398,000 deaths overall, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University — by far the highest recorded death toll of any country in the world.

One of the states hardest it during the recent surge is Arizona, where the rolling average has risen over the past two weeks from about 90 deaths per day to about 160 per day on Jan. 17.

Massachusetts sees its first case of coronavirus variant

Massachusetts health officials have announced the state’s first case of the more infectious coronavirus variant first found in the United Kingdom.

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Nurse Lisa Lopes administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Patricia Marson, the first patient at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center to receive the vaccine, Wednesday, Dec. 30, in Boston. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

A Boston woman who traveled to the United Kingdom felt sick the day after she returned, the state Department of Public Health said Sunday. The health department said it was notified of her test results on Saturday evening.

The woman in her 20s had tested negative for COVID-19 before leaving the U.K., officials said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the variant is about 50% more contagious than the other strain that is currently causing the bulk of cases in this country.

Health officials said by March, the new strain will likely become the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the United States. The CDC says there’s no evidence that it causes more severe illness or is transmitted differently so mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing and other prevention strategies can still work.

Anti-vax groups received more than $800,000 in PPP loans from Trump administration

WASHINGTON – Five prominent anti-vaccine organizations that have been known to spread misleading information about the coronavirus received more than $850,000 in loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, raising questions about why the government is giving money to groups actively opposing its agenda and seeking to undermine public health during a critical period.

The groups that received the loans are The National Vaccine Information Center, Mercola Com Health Resources LLC, Informed Consent Action Network, Children’s Health Defense Co., and the Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a U.K.-based advocacy group that fights misinformation, which conducted the research using public documents. The group relied on data released in early December by the Small Business Administration in response to a lawsuit from The Washington Post and other news organizations.

Several of the Facebook pages of these organizations have by penalized by the social network, including being prohibited from buying advertising, for pushing misinformation about COVID-19.

Vaccines are largely considered safe and effective, and clinical trials for both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines did not raise serious safety concerns. But many Americans hold skeptical attitudes about vaccination, attitudes public health experts have said are attributable in part to misinformation. Nearly 40% of Americans say they definitely or probably would not get the vaccine, according to a December survey by Pew Research Center. Certain groups, including Republicans and Black Americans, are even more skeptical, Pew found.

Public health officials, including WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have called vaccine misinformation “a major threat to global health that could reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases,” and last year the organization partnered with Facebook to help counter misinformation on its platform with content from authoritative sources.

The smallest loan of $72,000 went to the Tenpenny organization, which is run by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician and social media figure who actively uses online forums to promote alternative health and argue against child and other forms of vaccination. A popular page run by Tenpenny was banned from Facebook in December for spreading misinformation, though she still has tens of thousands of followers on Instagram.

The largest loan of $335,000 went to Mercola, an organization affiliated with the well-known anti-vaccine activist and businessman Dr. Joseph Mercola. One of Mercola’s groups on Facebook was deemed by the left-leaning human rights group Avaaz to be one of the leading “superspreaders” of misinformation about the coronavirus. His Facebook pages in English and Spanish together have more than 2.7 million followers.

The Children’s Health Defense Co., founded by Robert Kennedy Jr., says it does not oppose vaccines, but is dedicated to raising questions about their safety. The group has questioned whether the coronavirus vaccines that have received emergency approval from the FDA are safe, along with questioning whether children should be vaccinated.

The group has posted on its social media channels about the “great reset” conspiracy theory, which holds that “global elites” such as Bill Gates will use the pandemic to advance their interests and push forward a globalist or Marxist plot to destroy American sovereignty and prosperity and control the population. In a CNBC interview last October, Gates said it was “unfortunate” that both he and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Dr. Anthony Fauci had been targeted by conspiracy theorists, and worried that falsehoods and misleading information about the virus was undermining the country’s ability to respond to the pandemic.

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Some Polish hospitals suspend vaccination

WARSAW, Poland — WARSAW, Poland – Some hospitals in Poland have suspended vaccination against COVID-19 after they did not get the expected deliveries of their Pfizer vaccine doses.

A government official monitoring the vaccination process, Michal Dworczyk, said Monday that the latest delivery over the weekend was at least 50% smaller than expected, and the government needs to make changes to the national inoculation schedule that began in late December.

Of some 1.5 million doses Poland has received, the government has secured half for the second jab for those who have received the first portion. The second round of inoculation should be starting this week.

Hospitals in Szczecin region, in the northwest, and in Krakow, in the south, on Monday temporarily halted first vaccinations, saying they have not received the requested doses.

COVID patients in Arizona have to be helicoptered to hospitals

PHOENIX — Exhausted nurses in rural Yuma, Arizona, are regularly sending COVID-19 patients on a long helicopter ride to hospitals in Phoenix when they don’t have enough staff.

The so-called winter lettuce capital of the U.S. also has lagged on coronavirus testing in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods and just ran out of vaccines.

But some support is coming from military nurses and a new wave of free tests for farmworkers and the elderly in Yuma County, which is the hardest-hit county in one of the hardest-hit states. The area’s only acute care hospital has no other facility to turn to nearby as it competes for medical workers nationwide.

WHO head says vaccinating younger, healthier adults in rich countries ‘not right’

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says it’s “not right” that younger, healthier adults in rich countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people in poorer countries.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kicked off WHO’s week-long executive board meeting — virtually from its headquarters in Geneva — on Monday by lamenting that only 25 vaccine doses have been provided in a single poor country, while over 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer nations.

“Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country — not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25. I need to be blunt,” Tedros said. He did not specify the country.

Tedros, an Ethiopian who goes by his first name, nonetheless hailed the scientific achievement behind rolling out vaccines less than a year after the pandemic erupted in China, where a WHO-backed team has now been deployed to look into origins of the coronavirus.

“Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need, literally and figuratively,” he said. “But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the worlds of the world’s haves and have-nots.”

In some of his toughest public words yet against vaccine makers, Tedros again criticized “bilateral deals” between drug companies and countries that hurt the ability of the WHO-backed COVAX program that aims to get vaccines to all countries based on need.

France starts vaccinations for people 75+ as death toll soars

PARIS — France on Monday began a campaign to inoculate people over 75 against coronavirus, as its death toll rose past 70,000 over the weekend.

There is increasing concern that delays in delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine might hinder the drive to vaccinate in France and beyond. French authorities have already been criticized for the country’s slow pace in delivering shots, especially compared to Britain, Germany and Italy.

French health authorities have been worried over polls showing that the majority of French people are wary of vaccines against COVID 19, so they may have been surprised by the number of people who have signed for shots, reserved for those 75 and older or with a high health risk.

The health agency reported that more than 500,000 appointments scheduled for the first of two shots until Feb.14 have overwhelmed its system. An internet site set up as one other way to make vaccine appointments was receiving up to 20,000 connections a minute, the agency said.

COVID-19 variant spurs outbreak in Belgium

BRUSSELS — The new variant of COVID-19 first detected in Britain is now starting to gain a foothold in Belgium, officials say, with cases reported several northern schools on top of an outbreak in a nursing home.

“The variant has settled into our country,” pre-eminent virologist Marc Van Ranst told HLN network. “Like in other nations, it is getting traction.”

The town of Houthulst in northwestern Belgium shot up to the top of the country’s infection rate with 1,207 cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days after a spike in cases at a nursing home this year left over 100 people infected. Tests showed the new variant was to blame.

In the Antwerp area, two schools reported cases over the weekend and closed Monday for a week due to the new variant. Authorities said students, teachers and their families should all quarantine for ten days.

Belgium has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, seeing 20,435 confirmed deaths.

Brazil approves emergency use of 2 vaccines

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s health regulator on Sunday approved the urgent use of coronavirus vaccines made by Sinovac and AstraZeneca, enabling Latin America’s largest nation to begin an immunization program that’s been subject to months of delay and political disputes.

Brazil currently has 6 million doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine ready to distribute in the next few days, and is awaiting the arrival of another 2 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and partner Oxford University.

On Saturday night, the health regulator Anvisa rejected an application for use of a Russian vaccine called Sputnik V, submitted by Brazilian company União Química. Anvisa said it didn’t evaluate the application because it didn’t meet minimum requirements to start an analysis.

Vaccination in Brazil is beginning later than neighbors such as Argentina and Chile despite a robust public health system and decades of experience with immunization campaigns. The process to present and approve the COVID-19 vaccines was fraught with conflict, as allies of President Jair Bolsonaro sought to cast doubt on the efficacy of the Sinovac shot backed by his political rival, Sao Paulo state’s Gov. João Doria.


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