US surpasses 15M coronavirus cases, Johns Hopkins reports

The U.S. surpassed 15 million COVID-19 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, in yet another grim milestone as the nation continues to hit record averages in cases and deaths. 

The somber update comes less than one month after the U.S. surpassed 11 million confirmed coronavirus cases. Recently the country added 1 million new cases in the first five days of December.

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Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the frightening peak reached last April, and cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis all but certain to get worse because of the fallout from Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

Virtually every state is reporting surges just as a vaccine appears days away from getting the go-ahead in the U.S.

The virus is blamed for more than 280,000 deaths in the United States.

On Thursday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is widely expected to authorize the emergency use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, and shots could begin almost immediately after that. Britain on Tuesday started dispensing the Pfizer vaccine, becoming the first country in the West to begin mass vaccinations.

Still, any vaccination campaign will take many months, and U.S. health experts are warning of a surge of infections in the coming weeks, in part because of Americans' disregard of warnings not to travel over Thanksgiving. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said the upcoming holiday season could compound the crisis even more than Thanksgiving did.

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US President Donald Trump holds a signed executive order giving priority to Americans to receive American coronavirus vaccines during the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House in W

Health officials last week urged Americans to stay home over the upcoming holiday season and consider getting tested for coronavirus before and after if they do decide to travel.

The CDC says even if few people became infected while traveling over Thanksgiving, that could still result in hundreds of thousands of new infections.

During a news briefing, the CDC said travelers should consider getting COVID-19 tests one to three days before their trips and again three to five days afterward. They also recommended reducing non-essential activities for a full week after travel or for 10 days if not tested afterward.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.