A week of mixed COVID-19 news: 6 takeaways

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It was a week of dually distressing and hopeful COVID-19 news, as the death count from the virus topped 300,000 in the U.S. while the first vaccine doses were administered to healthcare workers. Here are six data points on where the nation and its regions stand. 

The points below are based on data and analysis from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization launched by The Atlantic and dedicated to collecting and publishing data tracking the virus' spread in the United States.

1. The first 49,567 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered in 24 states this week, according to Bloomberg's global vaccine tracker. Early data show the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reaches 95 percent efficacy about a week after the second of two doses, and the second COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna is expected to receive an FDA emergency use authorization as soon as Dec. 18. 

2. Doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will not arrive in many U.S. nursing homes until the week of Dec. 20 or Dec. 27, although a few residents in West Virginia and Florida did receive their first shot this week, per the Tracking Project. Known cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities remain high and rising, with 863 more U.S. facilities reporting outbreaks than in the previous week.

3. The U.S. exceeded 300,000 COVID-19 deaths this week and, for the second week in a row, more COVID-19 deaths were reported in the U.S. than at any other time in the pandemic. On Dec. 17, 3,438 deaths were reported, which is roughly 25 percent more than were reported on the worst day of the spring surge, according to the Tracking Project. 

4. Nationally, COVID-19 cases are up 1.8 percent from the large increase reported the week prior. Regionally, trends are more nuanced. Cases declined in the Midwest more sharply than hospitalizations, which is the expected pattern as hospitalizations follow cases. Case increases may be reaching a plateau in the Northeast, but are unambiguously rising in the South and West. The biggest case increases by percentage this week were in Tennessee, California and Hawaii, the Tracking Project reports. The scale of outbreaks throughout California far exceeds those of every other state.

5. States reported 114,237 people hospitalized with COVID-19 Dec. 17. Hospitalizations in the spring and summer surges peaked at just under 60,000. At a regional level, hospitalizations are declining in the Midwest but rising in all other regions.

6. Hospitalizations will remain the most reliable metric through periods of reporting disruption. Christmas and New Year's Day a week after will result in a doubly disruptive period in COVID-19 data, the Tracking Project notes.

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