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COVID-19 infections spread rapidly as officials race to distribute vaccine

The number of coronavirus infections is spreading at an alarming rate across the nation as the U.S. government  gears up to distribute its first rounds of an approved coronavirus vaccine.

The United States added 1 million coronavirus infections in just four days, bringing the cumulative total of cases to over 16 million on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The country has recorded over 215,000 cases each day since Tuesday, Dec. 8.

In addition, there were 3,309 new deaths on Friday alone, passing the previous record of 3,054 deaths set on Wednesday.

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Areas concentrated in Southern California, Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Rhode Island are just some of the states that have seen a substantial increase in coronavirus cases over a 14-day period and have remained elevated, according to The New York Times coronavirus heat map. 

Experts have long warned that cases would surge in the winter months as the colder weather forces people to spend more time indoors.

The increase in cases comes a little over two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday when, despite warnings from government health officials and local leaders, many Americans traveled before or on the day to attend gatherings. 

But amid surging infections, the federal government is racing to provide inoculation and slow the spread. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday granted emergency use authorization for Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine. The go-ahead was granted after federal panel of outside experts voted to move forward with Pfizer's candidate. 

In an emergency session on Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend the vaccine for people aged 16 and older.

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CDC Director Robert RedfieldRobert RedfieldFauci defends Birx: 'She had to live in the White House' US considering mandatory COVID-19 tests for domestic flyers, CDC official says CDC gets a second opinion: Seven steps to heal our COVID-19 response MORE is expected to approve the recommendation later this weekend, the last step needed before shots can be administered.

Following approval from Redfield, the first doses of the vaccine will be distributed starting early this week. 

Gen. Gustave Perna, the head of President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE's Operation Warp Speed on Saturday  said that the 145 distribution sites will receive doses on Monday, another 425 sites on Tuesday and 66 sites will get the vaccine on Wednesday.

First in line for the vaccine are heath care workers, long-term care staff and residents and other priority groups.

Yet even when the vaccine reaches the broader public, it will take some time for vaccinations to impact the spread of the virus.

The White House coronavirus task force warned governors this week that vaccinations will not help reduce the spread until the 100 million Americans with co-morbidities can be immunized, which could happen by the spring.

Until, then, the task force has advised that “behavioral changes and aggressive mitigation policies are the only widespread prevention tools that we have to address this winter surge.”

Some states seem to be heeding the warning, as several local leaders introduced or extended coronavirus restrictions this week alone.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom WolfTom WolfFracking banned in Delaware River Basin Philly GOP commissioner cites election threats, urges McConnell to vote his 'conscience' Pennsylvania secretary of state resigns over ballot initiative error MORE (D) introduced a new set of restrictions on Thursday as the state saw a record in daily coronavirus deaths, and increases in cases among children ages 5-18. 

New York City, once the epicenter of the pandemic in March this year, has also raised alarms over its positivity rate. In particular, the borough of Staten Island, which accounts for 5 percent of the city's population, has registered 25 percent of the city's deaths overall. The increase in cases and deaths has lead Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoMajority of New York voters say Cuomo should not be reelected: poll Gillibrand: Cuomo allegations 'completely unacceptable' NY lawmakers agree to strip Cuomo of pandemic-related emergency powers MORE to shutter indoor dining in the city starting Monday. 

Alabama Gov. Kay IveyKay IveyShelby's retirement tees off GOP scramble for Alabama Senate seat Space Command to be located in Alabama COVID-19 infections spread rapidly as officials race to distribute vaccine MORE (R) extended her state’s mask mandate into 2021, and Virginia and North Carolina imposed new curfews this week as cases continued to rise in their areas.