Jan. 30 (UPI) — New, more contagious variants of COVID-19 were identified in Arizona and Maryland this week as the United States surpassed more than 26 million infections since the start of the pandemic, public health officials said Saturday.

On Friday, the United States reported at least 166,000 new cases and 3,604 new deaths due to the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University’s global tracker. Since the start of the pandemic, the United States 438,239 deaths.

On Saturday, Maryland officials reported a single case of the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa, in the state.

Arizona state health officials confirmed Friday night that a more transmissible variant of the novel coronavirus has been detected in three test samples from the state.

The variants have been found to spread more easily and quickly between people, but have not been found to cause more severe illness or increased risk of death.

Initial evidence suggests the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be effective against the identified variants, although Novavax’s vaccine — which is undergoing clinical trials — appears to be less effective against the South African variant.

A statement from Arizona’s Department of Health Services said it’s not clear how widely the variant has spread in the state. Arizona has reported nearly 750,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 13,000 deaths — and has reported the highest seven-day, new-case average has ranked first in the nation for much of January.

On Friday California recorded 664 coronavirus deaths, passing the grim milestone of 40,000 total deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The only U.S. state that has lost more people to coronavirus is New York, which has recorded 43,278 deaths.

On Thursday night a freezer at a Kaiser Permanente facility in Seattle failed suddenly, prompting an overnight scramble to vaccinate as many people as possible before 5:30 a.m. Friday morning, when a stash of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were set to expire.

According to Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association, no dose went unused and 1,600 total doses were administered at several locations as hospital systems and health departments collaborated to get shots in arms as quickly as possible.

Health officials directed hospitals to vaccinate currently eligible people first, then vaccinate those soon to be eligible, such as teachers and grocery workers — and that no dose go to waste.

One hospital, Swedish Medical Center, posted a notice at 9 p.m. Thursday that vaccines were available, prompting both online signups and people to line up at clinics in the city. All appointments were taken by midnight.

Vaccines were still being administered by 3 a.m. Friday throughout the city.

Danielle Koenig, a spokeswoman for Washington’s Department of Health, told The Seattle Times at least 2,315 vaccine doses have been wasted, including 1,000 lost due to improper storage. Others have been broken, dropped, spilled or left unused and allowed to expire amid a national vaccine rollout that has been slow and sometimes bumpy.





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