Virus Updates: New Clinics for COVID ‘Long-Haulers'; Mutations Rise Along With Cases

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As the United States struggles with its coronavirus vaccine rollout, President-elect Joe Biden’s top health officials are confident there will be enough coronavirus vaccine doses to meet the incoming administration’s goal of inoculating 100 million people in 100 days.

The country desperately needs the vaccines as the virus continues to spread across much of the country. On Monday, California became the first state to reach 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases, according to a tally by NBC News. Coronavirus deaths are also rising in nearly two-thirds of American states as a winter surge pushes the overall toll passed 400,000 amid warnings that a new, highly contagious variant is taking hold.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from the U.S. and elsewhere:

New Clinics for COVID-19 'Long-Haulers' Crop Up Across US

Dozens of clinics have cropped up around the U.S. to address a puzzling and troubling aspect of COVID-19 — the after-effects that can stubbornly afflict some people weeks or months after the infection itself has subsided.

The programs aim to treat and give credence to so-called long-haulers, the patients who cannot get free of the virus that has infected more than 23 million Americans and killed over 390,000 of them.

Long-term COVID care has been launched in settings ranging from big research hospitals like New York’s Mount Sinai, which has over 1,600 patients, to St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, a network of community clinics in South Los Angeles.

As COVID-19 cases climb, so are the number of "long haul" patients whose physical and mental symptoms persist long after others recover. Research suggests as many as ten percent of coronavirus patients go on to become long haulers, with symptoms that continue for weeks or even months.

Like so much else in the pandemic, the scientific picture of so-called long-haulers is still developing. It’s not clear how prevalent long-term COVID problems are or why some patients keep suffering while others do not.

Current indications are that up to 30% of patients continue to have significant problems that intrude on daily life two to three weeks after testing positive. Perhaps as many as 10% are still afflicted three to six months later, according to Dr. Wesley Self, a Vanderbilt University emergency physician and researcher who co-wrote a July report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctors have known for months that intensive care patients can face extended recoveries. But many COVID-19 long-haulers were never critically ill.

Al Roker Gets the COVID-19 Vaccine Live on 'TODAY'

"TODAY" weatherman Al Roker received the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine live on air Tuesday, after lucking into an appointment through New York's busy online booking system. Roker qualified to get the vaccine in New York because he's over 65 years old.

NYC Mayor Says City Will Run Out of Vaccine Doses By Friday

New York City's mayor says the city will run out of COVID-19 vaccine doses by Friday without fresh supplies, NBC New York reports.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that the city will have to start canceling vaccine appointments unless it gets more doses. After a sluggish start, New York has ramped up the vaccination effort by opening new inoculation sites including 24-hour vaccine hubs around the city.

De Blasio said 220,000 doses were given out last week. De Blasio said the city could administer 300,000 doses this week if it had enough vaccine. But he said the problem is “we don't.”

"This is crazy. This is not the way it should be," the mayor added. "We have the ability to vaccinate a huge number of people. We need the vaccine to go with it."

De Blasio said it's up to the federal and state governments as well as manufacturers to do “everything they can to get us the maximum supply because we are proving literally every passing day we can reach more and more people.”

United States Reaches 400,000 Coronavirus-Related Deaths

The United States has recorded more than 400,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to a tally by NBC News.

The nation reached the grim milestone just after 12 a.m. ET on Tuesday. In the past two weeks, an average of 3,286 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus each day.

Washington State Taps Starbucks for Help With COVID Vaccine Rollout

Aiming to boost the slow pace of administering COVID-19 vaccinations, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday that the state has turned to Starbucks for help streamlining logistics and setting a new goal to dole out 45,000 doses a day, NBC News reports.

Starbucks has assigned 11 employees with expertise in labor and deployment, operations, and research and development to work full time on vaccine distribution in its home state, the company said, adding that the number of employees could change.

Inslee said the state is also arranging for over 2,000 pharmacies to administer vaccinations and setting up drive-by vaccination sites. Microsoft, another Seattle area-based corporation, will also set up a site to perform 5,000 vaccinations a day, he said.

"This is a unique challenge for the United States and in every state to stand up a total mobilization of our resources," Inslee said. "We did that in World War II when we built the Liberty ships here in Washington state. We reached production levels that no one could imagine because we set ambitious goals."

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A New COVID-19 Challenge: Mutations Rise Along With Cases

The race against the virus that causes COVID-19 has taken a new turn: Mutations are rapidly popping up, and the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more likely it is that a variant that can elude current tests, treatments and vaccines could emerge.

The coronavirus is becoming more genetically diverse, and health officials say the high rate of new cases is the main reason. Each new infection gives the virus a chance to mutate as it makes copies of itself, threatening to undo the progress made so far to control the pandemic.

With a new coronavirus strain spreading in England, there are concerns that the COVID-19 vaccines won't be effective against it. Public health physician, professor, and health policy expert Dr. Vin Gupta joined LX News to discuss why confidence is high that the FDA approved vaccines will fight the new variant of the virus.

On Friday, the World Health Organization urged more effort to detect new variants. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a new version first identified in the United Kingdom may become dominant in the U.S. by March. Although it doesn’t cause more severe illness, it will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths just because it spreads much more easily, said the CDC, warning of “a new phase of exponential growth.”

“We’re taking it really very seriously," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert, said Sunday on NBC's “Meet the Press.”

Exhausted Hospital Chaplains Bring Solace to Lonely, Dying

Inside hospital rooms across America, where the sick are alone without family to comfort them, the grim task of offering solace falls to overworked and emotionally drained hospital chaplains who are dealing with more death than they’ve ever seen.

Last week nearly a dozen died on a single day at the 377-bed Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, a gleaming, modern medical facility that is tucked into the northwest corner of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Three more passed — within a span of 45 minutes — the next day.

As he has each day for the past 11 months, Chaplain Kevin Deegan sits with the sick and dying, clad in a face mask, face shield, gloves and full body cover. He prays with them, holds their hands, gently brushes their foreheads and reassures them there is nothing to fear.

Grieving families, unable to enter the hospital because of the deadly virus, watch through the iPad he’s carried into the room with him.

Deegan, who ministered to people undergoing hospice and palliative care before joining Holy Cross two years ago, is no stranger to death. But still, he says, he and his fellow chaplains had seen nothing like this before COVID-19 struck last year and began to kill people by the hundreds of thousands. More than 400,000 people have died in the U.S. alone.

Associated Press/NBC
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