But it took just 10 days to hit 2.2 million cases in 2021, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
And new infections, hospitalizations and deaths keep soaring.
“We’re in a dire situation,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
“We know how to slow the spread of the virus. We need mask mandates. We need people to really stay at home and avoid any indoor gatherings.”
But officials say many Americans did the opposite over the holidays, gathering with friends or extended family. Now the consequences are becoming more evident in packed hospitals across the country.
A deadlier pace than 2020
More than 27,000 new Covid-19 deaths have been reported in just the first 10 days of 2021, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
At this rate, more people could die from Covid-19 in January than any other month of this pandemic. December had a record high of 77,431 deaths due to Covid-19.
Saturday, the United States suffered 3,655 new Covid-19 deaths, along with 269,623 new infections, according to Johns Hopkins.
In hard-hit Arizona, the crisis will get worse, said Joe K. Gerald, associate professor at the University of Arizona’s Zuckerman College of Public Health.
“We should expect to set new records for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths over the coming weeks. Policy action is urgently needed to mitigate the worst possible outcome,” Gerald wrote.
“If it gathers a foothold, it will accelerate, lengthen, and deepen Arizona’s outbreak,” Gerald said.
The toll could get worse as more hospitals fill up.
There were 129,229 Covid-19 patients in US hospitals on Sunday, according to the COVID Tracking Project — the sixth highest figure recorded. It was the 40th consecutive day that US Covid-19 hospitalizations remained above 100,000.
“Then these individuals all are going in cars and trains and planes going home all across the country right now.”
CNN medical analyst and emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen echoed that statement, telling CNN’s Ana Cabrera Sunday, “The individuals who did not use masks or social distancing at the Capitol probably are also not following these guidelines when they go back to their home communities.”
“And it’s very likely they’re engaging in other risky behaviors there and potentially seeding coronavirus all around the country, wherever they came from,” she said. “I hope that everyone who participated in those events will go back and quarantine and get tested.”
‘Our most dangerous time’
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said his state was seeing a “real and significant increase in cases and our positivity rate from people’s gatherings around the holiday.”
“This surge that we’re in right now is at least twice the rate, the seriousness, of the previous surges that we have seen,” the governor said Friday. “This is our most dangerous time.”
Hospitalizations are climbing in Texas, where a record number of Covid-19 patients were reported for the seventh day in a row Saturday. At least 13,935 patients were hospitalized in the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
There were 7,497 Covid-19 patients in Florida hospitals on Sunday, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. That’s about 3,000 patients more than were hospitalized in the state about a month ago, on December 12, when the AHCA reported 4,343 hospitalizations.
And California set two new records Saturday — the most deaths reported in one day, 695, and the most Covid-19 patients in intensive care units — 4,939. On Sunday, the state reported nearly 50,000 new cases and 468 deaths.
“The speed with which we are reaching grim milestones of COVID-19 deaths and cases is a devastating reflection of the immense spread that is occurring across the county,” Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said.
“The best way to protect ourselves, slow the spread, and stop overwhelming our hospitals, is to pause participating in any activities that aren’t absolutely essential,” she said.
“This is just not the time to go to the shopping mall or to a friend’s house to watch a basketball or football game.”
Biden team announces plan to ratchet up vaccine rollout
Meanwhile, the nation’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout “is absolutely not working as intended,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, a CNN medical analyst and an emergency physician.
“We have three times as many doses that have been distributed to states as have actually gotten in arms,” she said. “We have to do something different, and we have to do something different now.”
But it could also be risky, because the vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna require two doses administered weeks apart to be about 95% effective, and vaccine manufacturing has not ramped up as rapidly as many experts had hoped.
The plan is a break from the strategy of the Trump administration, which has held back doses of the vaccines to ensure that second doses are available.
Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, told CNN Saturday the new plan aims to “get doses out as quickly as possible” and simplify distribution.
Officials aren’t recommending patients delay receiving their second doses, she said. People should still plan to receive the second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine 21 days after the first dose, and the Moderna vaccine 28 days after the first dose.
“So long as there are not any manufacturing glitches, we’re confident that the supply of vaccine will be there when people return for their second dose,” Gounder said.
Ranney said she believed the plan “makes sense,” saying the US needed to “rethink how we take the doses we have and get them out into peoples’ arms.”
“Time is absolutely of the essence,” she said. But she also stressed that people need to stick to the two-dose regimen approved by the FDA.
Asked about the plan, Wen said she supported any effort to speed up vaccination, “but we should also look at where the bottleneck is.”
“Right now, the issue is not so much supply, but it’s actually that last mile of getting (vaccines) from the distribution sites to, actually, people’s arms,” she said. “If we have more supply, that’s not actually solving for the right problem.”
Wen also said each individual who received the first dose would be guaranteed a timely second dose, since that’s how clinical trials were conducted.
If there isn’t enough vaccine in reserve for people to received second doses, she said, “I think that could really fuel vaccine hesitancy and further erode public trust in these vaccines.”
CNN’s Miguel Marquez, Hollie Silverman, Christina Maxouris, Chuck Johnston, Kay Jones, Cheri Mossburg, Lauren Mascarenhas, Jason Hanna and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.