Coronavirus live updates: Vaccinations far behind projected pace; US death toll approaches 400,000 – USA TODAY

The U.S. on Monday stood on the brink of 400,000 reported coronavirus deaths, almost double the total of the next most severely hit nation and still mourning more than 20,000 deaths per week. The U.S. has added almost 4 million new infections this month. 

The pace of vaccinations is picking up but remains well below the optimistic estimates from public health experts when the first vaccines were authorized last month. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had forecast 20 million first-shot vaccinations in December and another 30 million in January. More than halfway through January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 10.6 million people have received their first shot, less than 2 million the required booster.

Despite the hurdles, grassroots efforts are underway to ensure that at-risk people of color are not left behind.

In the headlines:

►With Los Angeles County approaching 14,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic started, CNN reports that an air quality regulator has suspended for 10 days the limit on the number of cremations than can be authorized.

►More than 31 million vaccine doses have been distributed to states, but less than half of them have been used thus far. USA TODAY’s vaccine panel expects the rate of inoculations to improve under the Joe Biden administration.

►A California man who told police that COVID-19 left him afraid to fly has been arrested after hiding at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for three months. The man told authorities he was too “scared to go home due to COVID,” so he found a badge that gave him access to a restricted area and sustained his months-long stay by relying on other passengers to give him food. 

The totals: There have been more than 95 million infections reported globally and more than 2 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. In the U.S., there have been almost 24 million infections and nearly 400,000 deaths.

A closer look: The feds told Illinois to leave Rochelle Foods alone. Then a second COVID-19 outbreak hit.

Americans gaining trust in vaccines

Acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine continues to soar, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, but pessimism about when things in the United States will return to normal also is on the rise. Both results may be signs that the messages from President-elect Joe Biden are being heard. He has taken the vaccine himself on camera, and he has also cautioned that the pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better. Now 56% of those surveyed say they will take the vaccine as soon it’s available to them, a jump of 10 percentage points since December and 30 points since October. 

“The more people that get a vaccination and they see that it’s safe … then more people are willing to go get it,” said Shellie Belapurkar, 50, a nurse-practitioner from Nashua, New Hampshire, who was among those surveyed. She has gotten the vaccine herself and has been volunteering at a clinic each week to give it to others.

Susan Page and Sarah Elbeshbishi

Trump adding chaotic response to COVID to his legacy

Besides being the first president to get impeached twice, Donald Trump will have a stain on his legacy with arguably longer-lasting consequences: mishandling the coronavirus pandemic. The national death toll could surpass 400,000 Monday. Not since Woodrow Wilson was in office during the 1918 flu pandemic – which killed about 675,000 in this country and 50 million worldwide – had a president overseen the loss of so many American lives. Trump showed disdain for mask-wearing recommended by public health experts – despite being infected himself.

“What’s so troubling about this loss of life is it was preventable,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “This is an infectious disease we knew how to prevent. … . And yet, we did not mount a response to wage war against this virus.”

Jorge L. Ortiz

An American story: Kansas couple infected together, dies together

A Kansas couple who both tested positive for the coronavirus after a Christmas Eve family gathering started out the new year battling the virus. After nearly two weeks of several ups and downs, they died less than two hours apart while holding hands in bed at the Salina Regional Health Center, family members say. Albert “Bert” and Carol Stevenson met after previous marriages at a Kansas restaurant in 2009 in Carol’s homestead near Kanopolis Lake. Carol was 72 at the time, Bert 69. They died a couple hours apart on Jan. 8.

“My mother knew of the risk, but she could not help herself. She had to give presents,” said Carol’s daughter, Pennie Pickering. “Christmas is a big deal for her to see family. They were literally 30 days from being vaccinated and they had made it since early March of quarantining.”

Aaron Anders, Salina Journal

Nursing home residents make a line for the coronavirus vaccine at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation on Jan. 15, 2021, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York.

Contributing: Associated Press. 

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