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Biden adviser warns of 'worst' January ever from post-Christmas Covid surge

In other coronavirus news: Trump goes golfing after finally signing $2.3 trillion relief package, and millions of Americans go hungry because of the pandemic.
Image: San Bernardino Area Hospital Continues To Deal With Increase In Covid Cases
A clinician cares for a patient with Covid-19 in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, Calif., on Dec. 23, 2020.Mario Tama / Getty Images

Despite the rollout of two new vaccines, the pandemic is accelerating and the United States should brace itself for “one of the worst months in this nation’s history in January,” one of President-elect Joe Biden’s top Covid-19 advisers warned Monday.

“There is no doubt about that,” the expert, Dr. Celine Gounder, said on CNBC. “That cake is in the oven already, with the travel that has happened over the holidays.”

That dire warning came as the number of Covid-19 infections rose past 19.2 million after Christmas and the number of deaths from coronavirus neared 334,000, the latest NBC News data showed.

Gounder, a member of the Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, described a nightmarish scenario in which local health officials are forced to erect field hospitals because hallways and even some parking lots are already packed with sick patients.

And an even bigger crisis, Gounder said, will be finding enough doctors and nurses to treat everybody.

“You can't stand up new doctors and nurses the way you can field hospitals,” Gounder said. “You can't just create them out of thin air.”

In other coronavirus developments:

  • Lawmakers said they are relieved that President Donald Trump finally signed the $2.3 trillion Covid-19 relief and government funding package on Sunday that his administration had helped negotiate -- and which Trump nearly torpedoed with some last-minute objections. Meanwhile Trump, who has been spending the holidays at his Florida estate, went golfing again.
  • Dr. James Phillips, who publicly criticized Trump's drive-by to supporters in October while he was being treated for Covid-19, tweeted that he has worked his last day at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. "I stand by my words, and I regret nothing," he wrote.
  • More than 50 million people in America, including 17 million children, are likely to experience hunger at some point before 2020 is done because of the pandemic, NBC News reported, citing grim statistics from Feeding America, the country's largest anti-hunger organization.
  • Covid-19 has been especially deadly for younger Latinos, NBC News reported.
  • Efrain “Stone” Reyes, the last man to share a cell with accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, died last month of Covid-19, the New York Daily News reported. Reyes was moved to a different detention facility a day before Epstein hanged himself in his cell.
  • Zhang Zhan, a Chinese citizen journalist who whose firsthand accounts of the pandemic from Wuhan angered her country's government, was convicted on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble" and ordered jailed for four years, her lawyer said.

While more than a million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have already been administered in the last week and a third vaccine from Novavax is in the late stages of development, Gounder said the pace needs to be ramped-up to a million shots a day to stop the pandemic.

“It's not just about the vaccines,” Gounder said. “You have to also get the vaccines distributed and you need staff to administer the vaccines. And when staff are all tied up in ICUs that are overflowing with sick patients, it's very difficult to siphon off those staff away to do vaccination.”

That’s already the sad reality in Southern California, said Dr. Brad Spellberg, the chief medical officer at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center, on MSNBC on Monday.

Spellberg said his hospital’s intensive care unit has been full “for going on three weeks,” and it struggles every day to find enough nurses to take care of all of its patients.

“You can't snap your fingers and will those people into existence,” Spellberg said. “As patients flood the hospital, there’s only so many of those people to go around.”

The incoming Biden administration intends to invoke the Defense Production Act to make sure there are enough “raw materials for the vaccines” and personal protective equipment, to increase testing and to employ genetic surveillance to detect new strains of Covid-19, Gounder said.

“I think it is going to be a massive operational challenge, probably the biggest this country has ever had to undertake to vaccinate all of its citizens in a timely fashion,” Gounder said. “In the last two weeks, we basically averaged about a million doses of vaccine administered per week. We need to be getting to a million doses per day.”

In the meantime, Gounder said, because so many Americans traveled and gathered for Christmas despite the numerous warnings from health experts that this was a sure-fire way of spreading the coronavirus, “we’re going to see another surge just like we did after Thanksgiving.”

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The federal Transportation Security Administration screened 1,284,599 travelers at U.S. airports on Sunday, the most since the pandemic was declared in March.

“We’re going to see another surge in January, and hospitals are going to be facing that when they’re already full,” Gounder said. “We already have patients being treated in hallways, in parking lots.”

Gounder said the Biden administration also intends to increase surveillance of the new Covid-19 mutations that have already sickened people in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

“We did not do that routinely,” Gounder said. “We have the technology. We just chose not to spend the money on that kind of public health surveillance.”