COVID-19 has killed 350,000 Americans; South African variant alarms officials — 5 updates

The nation's COVID-19 death toll hit another grim milestone Jan. 4, surpassing 350,000 deaths, according to data from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University. 

The nation also reported a record 277,897 new cases Jan. 2, per The COVID Tracking Project, though this data is inflated due to holiday reporting delays. Holiday reporting slowdowns will cause reporting gaps and backlogs for COVID-19 data on cases, deaths and testing figures that are unlikely to stabilize until the second week of January at the earliest, the Tracking Project said.

Four more updates:

1. The fast-spreading COVID-19 variant has been detected in three states and in 33 other countries, reports The New York Times. The U.K. strain has been discovered in Colorado, California and Florida, all in patients that did not report any travel history. Meanwhile, South Africa has reported a new, potentially more concerning variant. Read more here.

2. Britain is delaying second doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to give more people their first doses and thus partial protection from the virus, reports The New York Times. The country is also permitting people to receive interchangeable vaccine doses if a second shot from the same vaccine manufacturer is unavailable or unknown. 

3. The U.S. is considering halving the doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine to increase the nation's vaccine supply, Moncef Slaoui, PhD, chief scientific advisor to Operation Warp Speed, told CBS' "Face the Nation" Jan. 3. Dr. Slaoui cited clinical trial data showing that adults who received two half doses of the vaccine had an "identical immune response" to those who received standard doses. Dr. Slaoui said the decision to adopt the proposed plan lies with the FDA.

4. U.S. air travel hit a pandemic high Jan. 2, according to TSA data cited by CNBC. Despite warnings from health officials to limit holiday travel and gatherings, 1.19 million Americans were screened for air travel, the highest figure since mid-March.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 20,640,214

Deaths: 351,590

Counts reflect data available as of 8:55 a.m. CST Jan. 4.


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