The United States topped 20 million coronavirus cases Friday as it began the New Year, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The United States continued to surpass other countries in COVID-19 cases and accounts for nearly a quarter of the worldwide total, which now stands at more than 83.8 million. The country also leads the world in coronavirus deaths, totaling more than 347,000.
The increasing numbers come as U.S. health officials struggle to vaccinate the population. The outgoing administration of President Donald Trump predicted in December that 20 million people would be inoculated by year’s end. However, health officials say only 2.8 million Americans have received their first dose of the vaccine.
As of Wednesday, just 12.4 million doses had been distributed nationally, according to the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah on Friday sharply criticized the pace of the vaccinations and said more federal oversight of the process was necessary.
"That comprehensive vaccination plans have not been developed at the federal level and sent to the states as models is as incomprehensible as it is inexcusable," Romney said in a statement.
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee called for the government to assemble a large number of medical workers to administer the vaccine, including retired medical professionals, veterinarians, combat medics, medical students and first responders.
He also recommended using sites that are largely empty because of the pandemic, such as schools, to administer the vaccine and called for a clear order in which Americans would be vaccinated.
Grim record in California
The United States has begun vaccinations of frontline health care workers and high-risk populations, such as those living in nursing homes, using two vaccines given emergency use authorization.
The CDC has recommended the vaccines next be made available to frontline workers and people 75 and older. But some states have set up different criteria for the order in which they will vaccinate residents.
In another development Friday, California reported a record 585 coronavirus deaths in a single day. The state also reported more than 47,189 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing its total to nearly 2.3 million.
Nearly 26,000 people have died from the virus in California, behind only the U.S. states of New York and Texas, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
The surge in cases in California has led some hospitals to scramble to provide oxygen for the critically ill.
The office of California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Friday that the state would begin collaborating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve the oxygen delivery systems at six Los Angeles-area hospitals.
Also Friday, California’s San Diego County said it had confirmed a total of four cases of a coronavirus variant that was first identified in Britain and that appears to be more contagious. The virus variant has also been confirmed in the U.S. states of Colorado and Florida.
In Oregon, officials said Friday a health care worker was hospitalized after having a severe allergic reaction to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Officials say an employee at Wallowa Memorial Hospital experienced anaphylaxis after receiving a first dose of the vaccine this week.
Health officials say in rare cases, people can develop a severe allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccines; however, most people experience mild or moderate side effects.
Health officials in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin expressed their shock at one worker’s actions at a hospital outside the state’s biggest city, Milwaukee. An unnamed pharmacist, officials said, admitted deliberately spoiling more than 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing them from a pharmacy refrigerator. He was arrested Thursday.
Hospital workers administered the spoiled doses before realizing the pharmacist had tampered with them. Hospital officials say the 57 people who received the ruined vaccines have been notified. They say they have consulted with Moderna, the vaccine manufacturer, and have been assured the people who received the corrupted vaccines will not be harmed by shots they received.
Trump has said little about the issue of vaccinations in recent weeks, focusing mainly on unsupported claims that he was defrauded of a second term in the White House. But he did address the slow pace of vaccinations on Twitter, saying, “The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!"
Numerous problems have emerged with the vaccination efforts in the U.S., including a shortage of funding for administering the shots and publicizing their availability in some communities. Each state is deciding on its own who should get vaccinated first, although health care workers and elderly people living in nursing homes have been at the head of the line in most places.