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COVID-19 Cases Surge In U.S. As Vaccinations Fall Below Government Predictions

Norman Einspruch, 88, a cardiology patient at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Fla., receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 30.
Eva Marie Uzcategui
AFP via Getty Images
Norman Einspruch, 88, a cardiology patient at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Fla., receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 30.

The grim milestones are piling up as the United States experiences another surge in coronavirus cases. Nearly 300,000 new cases were reported on Saturday. The cumulative death toll crossed more than 350,000 the same day, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard.

Saturday's total of 299,087 new cases marks a new single-day high for the U.S. Though COVID-19 deaths on Saturday totaled 2,398, down from the record high of 3,750 on Dec. 30.

President Trump tweeted Sunday morning that the count of cases and deaths in the U.S. is "far exaggerated" and criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's method.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, countered Trump's tweet in an interview on Meet the Press Sunday.

"The numbers are real," Fauci said. "We have well over 300,000 deaths. We're averaging 2-3,000 deaths per day. ... Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths."

Fauci also spoke about a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus that has been detected in dozens of countries, including the U.S.

"It does not appear to be more virulent, namely making people sicker or greater incidence of dying," Fauci told NBC's Chuck Todd. "Nor does it seem to elude the protection that's offered by the antibodies that are induced by the vaccine."

Many people are holding out hope that the COVID-19 vaccines will help quell the pandemic. But so far government predictions for how many people should be been vaccinated so far are falling short.

More than 4.2 million people have received the initial vaccination dose as of Saturday, according to the CDC. That number is far below the government's goal of having 20 million people in the U.S. vaccinated by the end of December.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, released a statement calling for action to address the problems happening with vaccine rollout, saying "that comprehensive vaccination plans have not been developed at the federal level and sent to the states as models is as incomprehensible as it is inexcusable."

While appearing on CNN's State of the Union, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams defended the federal government's actions over the discrepancy and responded to Romney.

"I want people to understand that the projections we were putting out were based on what we could control at the federal level. And we did deliver on 20 million doses delivered, but you're always going to have more doses allocated versus delivered. Delivered versus shots in arms," Adams said.

As states create their own approach to roll out the vaccines, some are having more success than others. In Florida, WLRN's Verónica Zaragovia visited a vaccination site in Broward County where members of the public were relieved and excited to be receiving their vaccines. Zaragovia said the line was moving fast, but that hasn't been the case in other parts of the state.

"The rollout has been chaotic and disjointed and frustrating," Zaragovia told Weekend Edition. "State officials left it to hospitals and counties to choose their plans."

That approach has led to jammed phone lines, websites crashing and in some cases, people camping out in counties that took a first-come, first-served approach. In terms of what happens next with the booster shot, Zaragovia says Florida residents will have to wait for more information.

Florida is not the only state having issues with getting the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to people.

Elisabeth Rosenthal, editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News, said the lack of central direction has led to the rollout being equitable in some areas, but not in others.

"It's more than a nightmare," she told NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro. "It's a very disorganized kind of slow walk and it really depends where you live and in some places who you know, and that is not how a national vaccine campaign should be carried out."

Rosenthal says that some of the delays, including a shortage of small glass vials, might be solved by invoking the Defense Production Act to increase the nation's supply.

While vaccinations continue, public health officials say it's still important to continue social distancing practices, including wearing masks, washing hands and watching how close people get to others.

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Wynne Davis is a digital reporter and producer for NPR's All Things Considered.