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US hits 350,000 COVID-19 deaths amid fear of surge after holiday gatherings

US hits 350,000 COVID-19 deaths amid fear of surge after holiday gatherings
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More than 350,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the U.S., with another surge of cases and deaths expected in the coming weeks as a result of smaller holiday gatherings.

The country reached the grim milestone early Sunday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 20 million people have been infected since the pandemic began nearly one year ago, according to the tally.

Public health experts attributed a nationwide spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in early December to a large number of Americans traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday, and pleaded with citizens to stay home for Christmas and New Year's celebrations. 

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Multiple states have reported a record number of cases, including North Carolina and Arizona, according to the Associated Press. New York hit 1 millions cases total as of Saturday, becoming the fourth state to do so along with Texas, Florida and California.

Last month, federal officials approved two vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna for emergency use. The first round of doses have been administered to doctors, nurses and other front line healthcare workers as well as nursing home residents.

The elderly and other patients deemed "high risk" are the next group of Americans slated to receive vaccines with public health officials estimating younger and healthy citizens can expect to be eligible for vaccination toward the middle to end of spring. 

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention last week reported more than 2 million people in America have been vaccinated, far short of the 20 million figure the federal government initially said it hoped to top by this time. That number has since grown to 4.2 million as of Sunday. 

"We would have liked to have seen it run smoothly and have 20 million doses into people today by the end of the 2020, which was the projection," said Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci was concerned people would do 'dangerous and foolish' things after Trump suggested injecting disinfectant GOP lawmaker wants to ban feds from funding collection of COVID-19 vaccine info Overnight Health Care: Biden says anyone who wants vaccine may be able to get it by spring | Moderna says vaccine effective on variants, but tests booster shot | California lifts regional stay-at-home order MORE, the nation's leading infectious disease doctor. "Obviously, it didn't happen, and that's disappointing."

Fauci said a targeted approach in assisting local governments in vaccine rollout programs is the best way for the federal government to make up for lost time. 

"There really has to be a lot more effort in the sense of resources for the locals, namely, the states, the cities, the counties, the places where the vaccine is actually going into the arms of individuals," Fauci said.