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The United States started 2021 the way it ended 2020: Setting new records amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The country passed the 20 million mark for coronavirus cases on Friday, setting the mark sometime around noon, according to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker. The total is nearly twice as many as the next worst country – India, which has 10.28 million cases.
Along with the case count, more than 346,000 Americans have now died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That is 77% more fatalities than Brazil, which ranks second globally with 194,949 deaths.
More than 125,370 coronavirus patients were hospitalized on Thursday, the fourth record-setting day in a row, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Going by official tallies, it took 292 days for the US to reach its first 10 million cases, and just 54 more days to double it, CNN reported.
Meanwhile, 12.41 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed in the U.S. as of Wednesday, according to the CDC. Yet only 2.8 million people have received the first of a two-shot regimen.
The slower-than-hoped for rollout of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines comes as a new variant of the coronavirus has emerged in a third state. Florida officials announced a confirmed case of the new variant – believed to have originated in the United Kingdom -- in Martin County in southeast Florida.
The state health department said on Twitter that the patient is a man in his 20s with no history of travel. The department said it is working with the CDC to investigate.
The variant has also been confirmed in cases in Colorado, California, and New York. It is believed to be more contagious. The BBC reported that the new variant increases the reproduction or "R number" by 0.4 and 0.7. The UK's most recent R number has been estimated at 1.1 to 1.3, meaning anyone who has the coronavirus could be assumed to spread it to up to 1.3 people.
The R number needs to be below 1.0 for the spread of the virus to fall.
"There is a huge difference in how easily the variant virus spreads," Professor Axel Gandy of London's Imperial College told BBC News. "This is the most serious change in the virus since the epidemic began," he added.
BBC.com: “Covid-19: New variant 'raises R number by up to 0.7'”
CNN.com: “US surpasses 20 million Covid-19 cases as experts warn it'll take months for vaccines to turn the tide”
John Hopkins University
The COVID Tracking Project
CDC.gov: “COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.”
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Cite this: US Hits 20 Million Cases as COVID Variant Spreads - Medscape - Jan 04, 2021.