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US surpasses 15 million confirmed coronavirus cases

New cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time in the U.S., with more surges likely from gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

WASHINGTON — More than 15 million cases of the coronavirus have now been reported in the United States, with the most recent million coming in a span of five days.

Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker reached 15 million on Tuesday. It had topped 14 million cases on Thursday, Dec. 3.

Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. have also soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the peak reached last April.

Cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis likely to get worse because of the fallout from gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Many Americans disregarded warnings not to travel over Thanksgiving and have ignored other safety precautions, whether out of stubbornness, ignorance or complacency. On Saturday night, police in Southern California arrested nearly 160 people at an illegal party in Palmdale.

Nearly every state is reporting case surges. While a vaccine appears days away from getting approval in the U.S., it will take some time before there's enough vaccines for everyone in the country.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s chief of emergencies, said that the “epidemic in the U.S. is punishing. It’s widespread." 

"It’s quite frankly shocking to see one to two persons a minute die in the U.S. -- a country with a wonderful, strong health system, amazing technological capacities,” Ryan said. 

The coronavirus has caused more than 285,000 confirmed deaths. 

Worldwide there have been nearly 68 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

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On Thursday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is widely expected to authorize 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 continuing surge of infections in the coming weeks as people gather for the holidays.