WASHINGTON • More than 3,900 people died of Covid-19 in the United States on Wednesday, according to a count released by Johns Hopkins University, marking a new daily record for fatalities from the coronavirus.
The Baltimore-based university said that 3,927 people had died of the coronavirus in the 24 hours before 8.30pm on Wednesday in the US, which is the worst-hit country in the world, while 189,671 new cases had been recorded.
That brings the US total to around 19.7 million infections and 341,845 deaths since the pande-mic began.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country's leading infectious diseases expert, had warned on Sunday that the worst of the pandemic was likely yet to come, with the death toll rising at an alarming rate in the winter months and after major holiday gatherings.
Dr Fauci said on Wednesday that he foresees the US achieving enough collective Covid-19 immunity through vaccinations to regain "some semblance of normality" by autumn of this year, despite early setbacks in the vaccine roll-out.
The US has begun a mass campaign of vaccinations and 2.8 million people have already received jabs, but that is well behind the 20 million inoculations that President Donald Trump's administration has promised by the end of last year.
Meanwhile, a second US case of the highly transmissible Covid-19 variant that had emerged in Britain has been detected in California, a day after Colorado reported the nation's first known infection. California Governor Gavin Newsom revealed the case during a virtual conversation with Dr Fauci.
Colorado officials said on Wednesday that they are investigating another possible infection involving the new strain in their state, and that tests were being conducted on samples from other people who may have been exposed to the mutation.
"I am not surprised that you have a case," Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Mr Newsom during their conversation.
"We likely will be seeing reports from other states too."
In Colorado, both patients were members of a National Guard unit that was sent on Dec 23 to the Good Samaritan Society Nursing Home in Simla, Colorado, as the facility was struggling with staff shortages caused by a coronavirus outbreak.
Routine testing conducted the day after they arrived showed telltale signs of the recently emerged variant that has been spreading widely in Britain.
The first case, found in a man in his 20s, was confirmed on Tuesday.
The second Colorado case is "highly suspicious" but still under evaluation, with results likely within a week, according to state scientific director Emily Travanty.
Genetic sequencing of 22 additional samples by Colorado health officials has not turned up any other signs of the variant, known as B.1.1.7.
Scientists do not know how widely the new strain may have spread in the US.
But the answer to that question will colour virtually every aspect of the nation's pandemic response: hospital treatment, community lockdowns, school closures and more.
The arrival of the variant also makes it all the more imperative that Americans receive vaccinations in great numbers, and more quickly, scientists said.
Meanwhile, Dr Fauci said that assuming the broad vaccination campaign progresses as it should through May, June and July, "by the time we get to the early fall, we will have enough good herd immunity to be able to really get back to some strong semblance of normality - schools, theatres, sports events, restaurants".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS