The US reported more Covid-19 cases and deaths in the last week than any previous seven days during the pandemic, data showed Friday morning.
And more than 4,080 US coronavirus deaths were reported on Thursday alone -- the most ever reported in a single day during the pandemic and the first time the daily tally rose above 4,000, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) data showed.
In other words, even though the US is working to distribute vital Covid-19 vaccines -- a process criticized as being too slow -- the pandemic generally isn't showing signs of slowing down.
In California alone, more than 1,000 Covid-19 deaths were reported in just the last two days.
In Los Angeles County, where some ambulance crews have been reported to wait for hours with their patients outside hospitals because the facilities are overwhelmed, one person is dying of Covid-19 on an average of every eight minutes, officials said.
"We're seeing heroes in our hospitals, we're seeing angels in our ambulances, stretched thin to just deal with the onslaught right now," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday.
Texas reported record-high Covid-19 hospitalizations statewide for the fifth day in a row Thursday. Hospitals in Dallas County -- the state's second largest county -- had just 13 adult ICU beds available on Wednesday, County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a tweet.
The US has averaged about 228,400 Covid-19 cases a day over the last week as of Thursday -- an all-time high, and more than 3.4 times a summertime peak set in late July, JHU data shows.
And the country has averaged 2,764 deaths a day over the last week -- the highest figure of the pandemic, according to JHU data.
Hospitalizations also are soaring. Some 132,370 Covid-19 patients were in US hospitals on Thursday -- the second-highest figure recorded, the Covid Tracking Project data show.
Biden intends to release nearly all available vaccine doses
While vaccinations have been happening for several weeks, experts have said it will be months before they're widespread enough to make a meaningful impact in the pandemic's course.
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden aims to release nearly every available dose of the coronavirus vaccine when he takes office, a break with the Trump administration's strategy of holding back half of US vaccine production to ensure second doses are available, CNN's Sara Murray reported Friday.
Releasing nearly all vaccine doses on hand could allow more people access to a first dose during a given time.
It could also be a risky strategy, as the vaccines from both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna require two doses, administered 21 days or 28 days apart, respectively, and vaccine manufacturing has not ramped up as rapidly as many experts had hoped.
"The President-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible. He supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans' arms now," said TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden's transition.
A transition official said the Biden team believes that vaccine manufacturers will be able to produce enough second doses in a timely fashion while administering first doses to more Americans.
The Trump administration has said it's necessary to hold back doses, to ensure Americans who receive the first course of the two-dose vaccine will be sure to have access to a second dose.
But that had sparked a debate about whether a better strategy would be releasing all available doses as quickly as possible, particularly amid rising death and hospitalization rates.
A study published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that administering first doses of a Covid-19 vaccine to more people quickly, instead of withholding available supply for use as a second dose, may reduce the number of new cases.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday he agreed with Biden's plan, but wants "assurances the second dose will be there."
"We've got to vaccinate as many people as possible," but "at the same time we have to ensure those second doses come," he told CNN.
At least 5.9M first doses administered so far
More than 21.4 million vaccine doses had been distributed and more than 5.9 million people had been administered their first doses across the US as of Thursday morning, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Federal officials had said 20 million people would have received first doses by the end of December.
Some health leaders said states need more money and more staff in order to be able to administer the vaccines fast enough.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said states, cities and territories had been given just $340 million to build the infrastructure for vaccine rollouts up until the end of the year.
"That is clearly insufficient to accomplishing what we're trying to accomplish," Levine said.
President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion Covid-19 relief package in December that includes funds for vaccine rollout, something health leaders were "absolutely thrilled" about, Levine said.
The money will be "critical for several aspects of our response," Levine added, including contracting with companies to do community vaccine clinics.
FDA: New mutations can cause false negative test results in some cases
The US Food and Drug Administration has alerted health care providers and labs that genetic variants of the novel coronavirus -- including an emerging variant first detected in the United Kingdom -- could lead to false negative Covid-19 test results.
False negative results can occur with any molecular test for the detection of the virus if a mutation has occurred in the part of the virus's genome that the test examines, the FDA said Friday.
But the risk that these mutations will impact overall testing accuracy is low, the FDA said. If Covid-19 is suspected after a negative test, repeat testing should be done with a different test, the agency recommends.
The agency noted three Covid-19 tests authorized in the United States may be impacted by genetic variants -- MesaBiotech Accula, TaqPath Covid-19 Combo Kit and Linea Covid-19 Assay Kit -- "but the impact does not appear to be significant."
Since the TaqPath and Linea Covid-19 tests detect multiple genetic targets, the overall test sensitivity should not be impacted, the FDA noted. However, if certain patterns emerge in individual results from those tests, labs might consider further genetic sequencing of specimens.
That "may help with early identification of new variants in patients to reduce further spread of infection," the FDA said in its letter to labs and health care providers, noting that the UK variant has been associated with an increased risk of transmission.
"The FDA will continue to monitor SARS-CoV-2 genetic viral variants to ensure authorized tests continue to provide accurate results for patients," FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said, referring to the name of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
text by Christina Maxouris and Jason Hanna, CNN