COVID-19 deaths in US surpass 250,000 as states add new restrictions

More than 250,000 deaths in the United States are now blamed on the novel coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University — another grim milestone reached as the country continues to face soaring new daily case figures and hospitalization rates.

Cases have been surging from coast-to-coast in recent weeks, with more than 11.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the world in both infections and deaths, followed by India and Brazil.

Health experts have forecasted a particularly morbid winter due to a disregard for mask-wearing and other precautions. With the onset of cold weather and crowded holiday gatherings quickly approaching, health officials say that small household gatherings have become an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

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The spike prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release updated guidelines for Thanksgiving celebrations.

Workers at the Judiciary Square COVID-19 testing site get information from people waiting in a line in Washington, D.C, on Nov. 18, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

State and local officials have been tightening restrictions aimed at helping to curb the spread of the virus, with even some Republican governors adopting mask mandates and schools scrapping plans to reopen classrooms.

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds had pushed back against a mask mandate for months but imposed a limited one Tuesday, becoming the latest GOP holdout to change course on face coverings.

Governors in Ohio, Maryland and Illinois imposed restrictions on business hours and crowd sizes Tuesday, and their counterparts in Wisconsin and Colorado proposed economic relief packages.

Los Angeles County, with a population of 10 million, ordered similar business restrictions.

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The steps to limit the virus also faced blowback from those who question the science behind mask-wearing and social distancing and fear the new restrictions will kill off more jobs and trample on their civil liberties.

More than 76,000 people — an all-time high — were hospitalized with the virus in the U.S. as of Tuesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Hospitals are running out of space, and nurses and doctors in Kansas are converting waiting areas to patient rooms and spending upwards of eight hours on the phone trying to secure beds at other hospitals.

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Meanwhile, one of the leading virus vaccine candidates, Pfizer, Inc. said Wednesday that interim results from its ongoing study suggest the shots are 95% effective. The company said it plans to formally ask U.S. regulators to allow emergency use of the vaccine within days.

Pfizer has not yet released detailed data on its study, and results have not been analyzed by independent experts.

Earlier this week, Moderna, Inc. announced that its experimental vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective after an interim analysis of its late-stage study.

Real-time map: Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States

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