(FOX 2) - More than 400,000 people in the U.S. have died from the novel coronavirus, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University - the highest recorded death toll of any country in the world.
As of Jan. 18, more than 95.5 million global cases of COVID-19 have been reported, with more than 24 million of those confirmed cases in the United States alone. More than 2 million deaths have been reported globally.
The grim milestone comes as nearly two-thirds of U.S. states report rising COVID-19 deaths amid a winter surge and warnings that a new, highly contagious variant of the disease has made its way into the country.
The new variant, first identified in the U.K., is already spreading in the U.S. and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection has warned it will probably become the dominant version in the country by March. The CDC said the variant is about 50% more contagious than the virus that is currently causing the bulk of cases in the U.S.
While the variant does not cause more severe illness, it can cause more hospitalizations and deaths simply because it spreads more easily. In Britain, it has aggravated a severe outbreak that has swamped hospitals, and it has been blamed for sharp leaps in cases in other European countries.
As things stand, many U.S. states are already under tremendous strain. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths is rising in 30 states and the District of Columbia.
One of the states hardest hit during the recent surge is Arizona, where the rolling average has risen over the past two weeks from about 90 deaths per day to about 160 per day on Jan. 17.
Despite efforts by the U.S. to curb travel from places where the new variant is spreading, including Brazil and Britain, President Donald Trump, in his final days in office, issued a new proclamation on Monday lifting coronavirus-related bans on countries grappling with the highly transmissible new coronavirus strain.
The elimination of the travel bans includes 26 nations within the Schengen area of Europe, Brazil, the U.K. and Ireland.
Shortly after the release of Trump’s new order, president-elect Joe Biden’s incoming White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki contradicted Trump, saying Biden’s administration "does not intend to lift these restrictions."
"With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," Psaki tweeted.
Meanwhile, officials across the country are scrambling to enact plans to vaccinate residents as no end appears to be in sight for the ongoing pandemic.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a plan on Monday to set up coronavirus vaccination sites statewide with help from the National Guard and others as part of an overall goal to vaccinate 45,000 people a day.
More than 100,000 people in Mississippi have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and officials are taking further steps to administer the state’s supply of shots more efficiently, Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz also announced the state will open nine community sites this week to vaccinate adults over 65, pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade educators, school staff and child care workers.
More than 172,000 people in St. Louis County have registered for the COVID-19 vaccine, but the the local health department so far has only received 975 doses, county Executive Sam Page said.
In contrast, California’s state epidemiologist is urging a halt to more than 300,000 coronavirus vaccine doses by Moderna because some people who received it needed medical treatment for possible severe allergic reactions. Dr. Erica S. Pan is recommending that vaccine providers stop using one lot of the Moderna vaccine pending completion of an investigation.
She says less than 10 people who were inoculated at a single vaccination site needed medical attention. But she also said serious reactions to vaccinations are extremely rare.
The virus has claimed more than 33,000 lives in California.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.