US reports staggering 247,000 new COVID-19 cases and 3,600 deaths in single day

Nearly a quarter-million new COVID-19 cases, more than 3,600 deaths and 113,000 hospitalizations were reported in a single day in the U.S. on Wednesday — shattering previous records as the U.S. kicks off its largest vaccination effort in history.

There were 247,403 confirmed new infections on Dec. 16 in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Another 3,656 people died of the coronavirus on the same day.

A total of 113,069 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, also a new record and a number that has tripled since October, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

California, Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Pennsylvania were identified by Johns Hopkins as having some of the highest new case numbers.

In California, 5,000 body bags were distributed mostly to the hard-hit Los Angeles and San Diego areas and 60 refrigerated trailers were standing by as makeshift morgues. The state is averaging 163 virus deaths per day, up from 63 just two weeks ago.

Many California hospitals are running out of space in intensive care units, as the state records an average of about 32,500 new virus cases a day. That is up from about 14,000 a day at the start of December.

"Our hospitals are under siege and our models show no end in sight," said Los Angeles County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly.

The week was defined by both grim milestones and a glimmer of hope, as the first green-lighted vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, started being distributed and a second vaccine by Moderna was in the horizon.

The first 3 million shots are being strictly rationed to front-line health workers and nursing home patients. Government officials project that 20 million Americans will be able to get their first shots by the end of December, and 30 million more in January. But most people will probably have to wait months for shots to become widely available.

More shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine went out Thursday to hospitals and other distribution sites, while a second vaccine developed by drugmaker Moderna and the National Institutes of Health was nearing approval in the U.S. 

An independent panel of physicians and medical researchers convened Thursday for a public review of its safety and effectiveness. The panel was expected to endorse Moderna’s shot, which researchers have found to be more than 94% effective at preventing COVID-19. A thumbs up from the panel could be followed by the Food and Drug Administration's OK within hours or days.

A second vaccine is urgently needed as ill-advised holiday travel and gatherings in the U.S. are expected to further fuel the pandemic.

Thursday’s unemployment report showed the number of Americans applying for jobless aid rose again to 885,000. Before the coronavirus erupted in March, weekly jobless claims had typically numbered only about 225,000.

The far-higher current pace of claims reflects an employment market under stress and diminished job security for many amid the resurgence.

In total, 17 million cases have been confirmed in the U.S. and nearly 310,000 Americans have died from the virus — a death toll higher than any other country in the world. 

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.