Dec. 20 (UPI) — The United States added more than 190,000 new COVID-19 cases as health officials on Sunday sought to allay concerns over a new strain reported in Europe.
The United States reported 196,295 new COVID-19 cases and 2,571 additional deaths on Saturday for a total of 17,722,193 cases and 316,932 fatalities, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University. The records are 3,668 deaths Wednesday and 249,709 cases Friday.
Despite cases in the United States remaining high, the Transportation Security Administration said that 1,073,563 people passed through security checkpoints on Saturday after 1,066,747 flew on Friday, the first time since the start of the pandemic that more than a million people were screened on consecutive days amid the holiday season.
California added 46,474 new cases on Sunday, bringing its total to 1,854,456, the highest in the nation. The state also added 161 deaths, raising its death toll to 22,593.
Texas ranks second in the nation in cases and deaths, adding 6,224 new cases and 122 new deaths on Saturday for a total of 1,404,675 cases and a death toll of 25,348.
No. 3 Florida added 8,401 new cases for a total of 1,201,566 cases, while adding 95 resident deaths to bring the death toll among Florida residents to 20,568 since the start of the pandemic.
Illinois became the fourth state to surpass 900,000 COVID-19 cases adding 6,003 infections for a total of 900,370. The state also added 79 deaths to bring its death toll to 15,202.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state added 9,957 positive cases for the nation’s fifth-highest total at 848,042. The state also added 123 fatalities to its nation-leading death toll of 28,597. Counting probable deaths, which are only counted in New York City, the toll is 36,431.
Cuomo on Sunday called for the federal government to require testing for British travelers or ban them from entering the country after a new strain of COVID-19 was discovered in the nation.
“Today that variant is getting on a plane and landing at JFK,” he said. “How many times in life do you have to make the same mistake before you learn?”
World Health Organization COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said Sunday that a new strain of the virus was first reported in southeast England and has since been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and as far as Australia.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday that there were “no indications” that the new strain would hinder the ability to vaccinate Americans or that it would be more deadly or dangerous than known strands.
“[It’s] very important for people to know that viruses mutate all the time and that does not mean that this virus is any more dangerous,” Adams said. “We don’t even know if it’s really more contagious yet or not or if it just happened to be a strain that was involved in a super spreader event.”
Appearing on NBC News’ Meet the Press Vivek Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to serve as surgeon general, echoed Adams comments, saying that “while it seems to be more easily transmissible, we do not have evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus to an individual who acquires it.”
“The bottom line is if you are at home and you are hearing this news, it does not change what we do in terms of precautions as individuals that can reduce the spread of the virus,” Murthy said. “It turns out that masking, keeping physical distance and washing our hands … these are still the pillars of preventing COVID transmission.”
As Moderna joined Pfizer in distributing its COVID-19 vaccine Sunday, Operation Warp Speed Lead Moncef Slaoui on Sunday said it is “very unlikely” that the currently available vaccines would not be effective against the new strain.