VIRUS TODAY: Vaccinations off to slower than expected start

The race to vaccinate millions of Americans is off to a slower, messier start than public health officials and leaders of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed had expected

Here’s what’s happening Thursday with the pandemic in the U.S.:

THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

— The race to vaccinate millions of Americans is off to a slower, messier start than public health officials and leaders of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed had expected. Overworked, underfunded state public health departments are scrambling to patch together plans for administering vaccines. Differences in how counties and hospitals administer the vaccine are leading to long lines, confusion and jammed phone lines. Experts say the federal government hasn’t done enough to help states meet their goals for getting doses injected into arms.

— New York City police have deployed bomb-sniffing dogs and sand-filled sanitation trucks ahead of Thursday’s iconic ball drop. But the department has also worked to prevent crowds from gathering in Times Square. Police began closing the area to vehicles and pedestrians 24 hours of time and said they would disperse onlookers venturing into the area closest to the ball. Revelers won’t be permitted past police lines, and even guests at five hotels in the area have been told to stay inside.

— The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 19,000 but remains elevated at 787,000 as a resurgent coronavirus grips the U.S. economy. The weekly figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show claims at the lowest level in four weeks, but still nearly four times higher than a year ago, before the coronavirus struck. The total number of people receiving traditional unemployment benefits fell by 103,000 to 5.2 million for the week ending Dec. 19. That’s still far greater than the 1.7 million a year ago, when the unemployment rate was hovering around a half-century low of 3.9%.

THE NUMBERS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased in the last two weeks from 2,585.1 on December 16 to 2,312.6 on December 30, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

DEATH TOLL: The number of COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. stands at more than 342,000.

QUOTABLE: “The development of the vaccine was called Operation Warp Speed, and the distribution of the vaccine should follow that same sense of urgency,” Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said of the vaccination rollout in Arizona.

ICYMI: California announced on Wednesday that it had documented the country’s second confirmed case of a seemingly more contagious variant of the coronavirus. A 30-year-old San Diego County man was found to have the variant. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County hit a grim milestone as the state’s most populous county recorded more than 10,000 deaths on Wednesday. Authorities say another surge in hospitalizations and deaths could come if people ignore guidelines.

ON THE HORIZON: President-elect Joe Biden is planning a lighting ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor those killed by the coronavirus the day before he is sworn into office on Jan. 20. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris plan to take their oaths of office outside the U.S. Capitol building, part of inauguration events that aim to capture the traditional grandeur of the historic ceremony while complying with COVID-19 protocols.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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