Covid updates: UK strain confirmed in more states; U.S. hospitalizations top 132,000

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Daily new Covid cases in the U.S., as a seven-day average, are back at record levels as of Wednesday after a holiday season marked by higher travel demand, lower hospital capacity and interruptions in the data reporting. The country recorded 253,145 new infections on Wednesday for a seven-day average of 222,653 daily new cases. Health experts continue to warn about heightened transmission of the virus, particularly in light of two new strains out of the U.K. and South Africa that have proven to spread more easily. Experts consistently warn higher transmission will further drain health networks and lead to more deaths.

Here are some of the biggest developments Thursday:

The U.S. is recording at least 222,600 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,680 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 87.65 million
  • Global deaths: At least 1.89 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 21.41 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 362,983

New York Gov. Cuomo warns Covid variant discovered in UK could force shutdown

The more-contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, known as B.1.1.7, could be a problem for New York and might eventually lead to an economic shutdown if it stresses the state's hospitals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

New York has reported only one Covid-19 case with the new variant so far, but there's likely more cases that just haven't been detected, Cuomo said. A more transmissible strain is worrisome because it will infect more people and drive more hospitalizations, Cuomo said during a call with reporters.

"In the U.K., it overtook everything in three weeks," Cuomo said. "If the U.K. spread catches on in New York, hospitalization rate goes up, the hospital staff is sick, then we have a real problem and we're at shutdown again."

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Los Angeles County hospitals forced to make ‘tough decisions’ amid wave of Covid patients

After administering him with oxygen, County of Los Angeles paramedics load a potential Covid-19 patient in the ambulance before transporting him to a hospital in Hawthorne, California on December 29, 2020 as a family walks by.
Apu Gomes | AFP | Getty Images

Los Angeles is facing an unprecedented surge in coronavirus patients that is pushing area hospitals to the brink. The virus is circulating so widely in the area, a top county health official told residents to assume they'll be exposed to the disease whenever they leave their house.

Ambulances have to wait hours to drop patients at emergency rooms. Hospital beds are being crammed into gift shops, cafeterias and conference rooms as hospitals struggle to find any available space for patients.

Some patients are forced to wait more than a day before an intensive care unit bed opens up for them, Dr. Brad Spellberg, the chief medical officer at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center, told CNBC in an email.

The hospital has had to redeploy some of its health-care workers to treat the influx of ICU patients, which means there's no time to conduct elective surgeries or other lifesaving procedures, such as colonoscopies, Spellberg said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

CDC says more than 21 million Covid vaccine doses have been distributed

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention updated its overall vaccination numbers which shows a big bump in doses distributed and less in those administered. The CDC has distributed more than 21.4 million doses and administered nearly 6 million doses so far.

Riya Bhattacharjee

Illinois becomes the fifth state with more than 1 million cases

Registered nurse Trina Owens tends to Andre Johnson, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) positive patient, in his isolation room on the acute care unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, December 8, 2020.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Illinois is now the fifth U.S. state with more than 1 million Covid-19 cases, according to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University.

The state is seeing something of a surge in new infections, with an average of 6,200 new cases recorded each day. That infection rate is 17% higher than where it was a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of JHU data.

California, Texas, Florida and New York have all surpassed 1 million total cases as well.

—Sara Salinas

Connecticut confirms UK strain

Connecticut has confirmed its first two cases of the new Covid strain, first identified in the U.K., Gov. Ned Lamont said in a series of tweets. The state joins a growing list of U.S. jurisdictions confirming the presence of the highly transmissible variant.

—Sara Salinas

Texas confirms first known case of new Covid strain initially found in the UK

A healthcare worker walks with Juana Negrete, who is waiting to be picked up after being discharged from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) unit, at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, U.S., December 29, 2020.
Callaghan O'Hare | Reuters

Texas is the latest state to confirm a case of the Covid strain first found in the United Kingdom.

The patient is a Houston-area man in his 30s who has no recent travel history, Harris County health officials said in a release, indicating the variant is likely already circulating in Texas. Thought its confirmed arrival is not a surprise, Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in a statement. 

The new strain, identified as the B.1.1.7 variant, is believed to transmit faster than other strains of Covid-19, Harris County Public Health said, citing studies conducted in the UK. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county's top elected official, said in a tweet that the discovery of the variant in the area is "disturbing" given the virus' already rapid spread there.

Chris Eudaily, Noah Higgins-Dunn

Pennsylvania announces state's first case of Covid variant found in the UK

Pennsylvania health officials have identified the state's first case with the new, more contagious variant of Covid first identified in the United Kingdom, known as B.1.1.7.

The person, who tested positive after a "known international exposure," developed mild symptoms that have since resolved after isolating at home, the state's department of health said in a statement. Contact tracing was conducted to find and monitor other people who were in close contact with the person.

"Pennsylvania has been preparing for this variant by working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has been sending 10-35 random samples biweekly to the CDC since November to study sequencing and detect any potential cases for this new COVID-19 variant," the state's Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

U.S. stocks open higher as Congress confirms Biden election

U.S. stocks opened higher as Congress confirmed Joe Biden's election to the presidency after a Trump-fueled mob invaded the Capitol, reports CNBC's Fred Imbert and Maggie Fitzgerald.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded 145 points higher, or 0.5%. The S&P 500 climbed 0.8% and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 1.3%.

—Melodie Warner 

U.S. reports record daily death toll

A record number of people died in the U.S. from Covid-19 on Tuesday and again on Wednesday.

A record 3,733 people died from the virus on Tuesday, followed by 3,865 deaths Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Over the past seven days, the U.S. reported an average of 2,686 fatalities every day — a figure second only to the record high set a little over two weeks ago.

Holiday festivities have led to a predicted explosion in Covid cases that have overwhelmed hospitals across the nation as the Covid vaccine rollout got off to a rocky start. 

—Will Feuer

U.S. weekly jobless claims total 787,000, little changed from prior week

First-time unemployment insurance claims totaled 787,000 last week, a slight decrease from the upwardly revised total of 790,000 for the previous week, CNBC's Jeff Cox reports.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones were expecting weekly claims of 815,000 for the week ended Jan. 2. Claims are still well above pre-pandemic levels as a resurgence of Covid-19 cases has caused economic restrictions in states and municipalities to return.

—Melodie Warner 

WHO warns of pandemic 'tipping point' as cases surge

View of an almost deserted city center on December 15, 2020 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Niels Wenstedt | BSR Agency | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The World Health Organization has warned of a "tipping point" in the coronavirus pandemic, with Europe likely seeing its most acute phase of virus spread.

"We were prepared for a challenging start to 2021 and it has been just that," Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said during an online press briefing.

"This moment represents a tipping point in the course of the pandemic where science, politics, technology and values must form a united front in order to push back this persistent and elusive virus."

The warning comes as countries scramble to contain two variants found in the U.K. and South Africa that are significantly more transmissible, with public health experts anxious about the potential impact on inoculation efforts.

— Sam Meredith

More than 132,000 people currently hospitalized across the U.S.

More than 132,000 people are hospitalized across the U.S. as of Wednesday, according to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project. That's the highest level of any point during the pandemic.

The country's hospitalizations have more than doubled since mid-November.

—Sara Salinas

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