California tops 2 million coronavirus cases as officials fear holiday surge

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California reached an alarming milestone Wednesday, surpassing more than 2 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 — the most of any state in the U.S., according to NBC News data.

The virus has devastated the state in recent weeks, claiming scores of lives — sometimes hundreds per day — and overwhelming hospital systems. In total, more than 23,000 people have died from the virus there.

Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the U.S., has been hit particularly hard. The county has seen more than 660,000 confirmed cases of the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The crisis in California comes as public health experts fear that Christmas travel and New Year’s Eve celebrations could cause another surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Top public health officials have warned that the winter months will be especially dire and dangerous. Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said he believes “they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”


In other coronavirus news:

  • The U.S. logged 222,866 new cases and 3,135 deaths Wednesday. The country has averaged 217,479 new cases and 2,732 new deaths per day in the last week, according to NBC News data. (Four weeks ago, the daily averages were 175,993 cases and 1,651 deaths.)
  • The day before Christmas Eve, more than 1.1 million people boarded airplanes — the greatest number of air travelers since March, according to data compiled by the Transportation Security Administration.
  • The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it would buy an additional 100 million doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, NBC News’ Rebecca Shabad reported. The purchase comes on top of the 100 million doses already acquired by the U.S. government.
  • Mexico began its vaccine rollout Thursday. The first person to get the vaccine in the country: Maria Irene Ramirez, head nurse at the intensive care unit of Mexico City’s Ruben Leñero hospital. “This is the best gift that I could have received in 2020,” she said during a nationally televised event, according to Reuters.
  • A new variant of the coronavirus appears to have shown up in Nigeria, Africa’s top public health official announced Thursday, according to The Associated Press. John Nkengasong, the chief of Africa’s CDC, said more investigation was needed. He added that the new variant was of a “separate lineage” from those recently discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
  • Israel is considering instituting a third national lockdown to combat spiking Covid-19 infections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday. The lockdown would take effect Sunday night and last for two weeks, pending final cabinet approval, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron, who tested positive Dec. 17, is no longer showing virus symptoms, the Élysée office announced Thursday. Macron has been in self-isolation, but that can end after seven days, Macron’s office said.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the key public faces of the federal government’s Covid-19 response, turns 80 on Thursday. “I’m going to spend it in a quiet dinner with my wife in my home, and Zoom in my daughters,” Fauci told Politico.

Image: Daniel ArkinDaniel Arkin

Daniel Arkin is a reporter for NBC News.

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