On Tuesday, it recorded more than 3,700 new deaths linked to the virus, a chilling new high. The US also reported the most COVID-19 hospitalizations, with more than 124,600 patients nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
On a state level, Texas officials reported record-high hospitalizations Tuesday, with more than 11,700 COVID-19 patients across the state while Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said a temporary hospital with an additional 60 beds could open within the next few days.
In Los Angeles County, hospitalizations are at an all-time high and nearing 7,200, almost 1,000% up from just two months ago. With the surge in patients, some hospitals are running out of oxygen tanks.
"I actually think we're now beyond waves or surges and this is a viral tsunami that we are now experiencing," epidemiologist Dr. Robert Kim-Farley said.
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And experts have warned the US could see even worse COVID-19 numbers in January fueled by this month's holiday gatherings and travel.
On Monday alone, more than 1.1 million people passed through airport security checkpoints across the country, the Transportation Security Administration said.
"The next couple of months are going to be awful," said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University. "We're going to lose 3,000, maybe more people a day, probably until we're well into February. And then, we should start to see some light."
And while the ongoing vaccinations continue to offer hope, the process is taking longer than many health officials hoped, and it likely be months before the country will begin to see a meaningful impact, experts said.
Vaccinations slower than officials hoped
Government officials had initially promised at least 20 million vaccine doses would be administered by the end of December, but just days away from the end of the year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows about 11.4 million doses have been distributed, and only 2.1 million have been administered.
But Trump administration officials told CNN that vaccine distribution is on track and blamed the gap on a lag in reporting data.
However, Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the Biden-Harris transition COVID-19 advisory board, said vaccinations are moving at "clearly not an acceptable pace."
"We've basically vaccinated two million people in two weeks, so that's a million people a week," Gounder said. "At that pace it would take us over a decade to vaccinate all Americans with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine"
The country's current vaccination numbers are certainly not where "we wanted to be at the end of December," Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN.
"Even if you undercount... how much undercount could it be? So we are below where we want to be," said Fauci, the long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "I believe that as we get into January, we are going to see an increase in the momentum which... I hope allows us to catch up to the projected pace that we had spoken about."
The quicker that happens, the quicker the country can begin to approach an "open season" of vaccinations, where vaccines can become widely available to the American public, Fauci said.
"When you get to the point, where you can essentially say anybody and everybody who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated, that's when you really turn around the dynamics of the outbreak," he added.
UK variant discovered in Colorado
In Colorado, officials on Tuesday announced the nation's first-known case of the COVID-19 variant that was originally discovered in the UK.
The case was confirmed in a man in his 20s who is currently in isolation and has no travel history, officials said.
"There is a lot we don't know about this new COVID-19 variant, but scientists in the United Kingdom are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement.
And the variant is "almost certainly" in multiple states, according to one expert.
"I think we will be seeing evidence of that in the days to come," said Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of the Biden-Harris transition COVID-19 advisory board.
The Colorado man's unknown travel history means that "this person picked it up in the community," Gawande said.
"Exactly how prevalent it is, is the real question," he added. "If it's been spreading, how, how dominant is it?"
"We know it is a more contagious variant and that's a serious concern if it is only just now beginning to spread, given that our hospitals and ICUs, in particular, are already being filled."
At least 26 countries have so far reported cases of the variant, per CNN reporting.
More than 2 million children have had COVID-19
Meantime, COVID-19 cases in children continue to climb across the US.
A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association said there were more than 178,000 new cases of COVID-19 among children in the week that ended on December 24.
That brings the total number of child cases to more than two million. Children now represent about 12.4% of all COVID-19 cases in the US.
Between December 10 and December 24, the report said there was a 22% increase in cases among children.
"At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is rare among children. However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects," the report said.
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