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US reports single-day record for coronavirus deaths

There were more than 3,000 reported deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 Wednesday as an advisory panel prepared for one final look at a potential vaccine.

The U.S. set new single-day highs Wednesday for COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations, ICU patients and ventilator usage as the country may be hitting a spike health experts warned could come after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Johns Hopkins reported 3,124 deaths from the coronavirus Wednesday. Several other independent trackers also reported more than 3,000 deaths for the first time. The seven-day average of deaths is 2,275 -- an increase of 37% from two weeks ago.

The number of people currently hospitalized reached a record 106,688 Wednesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That includes 20,922 in intensive care and 7,624 on ventilators -- also records.

There were more than 221,000 new cases Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins. The seven-day average is 209,233 -- up 19% from two weeks prior.

Those daily numbers could potentially go up in the next few days as the impact of Thanksgiving is felt after millions traveled to visit family despite warnings to the contrary. Symptoms of COVID-19 may not appear for up to 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thursday marks two weeks since the holiday.

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Health care systems are being pushed to the breaking point in communities nationwide. Hospitals are bringing in mobile morgues. And funerals are being livestreamed or performed as drive-by affairs. 

The grim figures led the usually stoic health director of the nation's most populated county to become emotional. Barbara Ferrer described “a devastating increase in deaths” in Los Angeles County, with the total hitting 8,075 on Wednesday.

“Over 8,000 people who were beloved members of their families are not coming back,” Ferrer said, fighting back tears.

In a sign of hope for an eventual end to the pandemic, Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine faces one final hurdle as it races to become the first shot greenlighted in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory panel meets Thursday -- likely the last step before a U.S. decision to begin shipping millions of doses of the shot, which has shown strong protection against the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, arguments over mask requirements and other restrictions have turned ugly in recent days as the surge engulfs small and medium-size cities that once seemed safely removed from the outbreak.  

In Boise, Idaho, public health officials about to vote on a four-county mask mandate abruptly ended a meeting Tuesday evening because of fears for their safety amid anti-mask protests outside the building and at some of their homes. One health board member tearfully announced she had to rush home to be with her child because of the protesters.

Protesters in Montana’s Gallatin County have gathered for two consecutive weeks outside the Bozeman home of county health officer Matt Kelley to decry regulations, including a statewide mask mandate. They have carried signs reading, “We refuse to be your experiment” and “Oxygen is essential.” 

There were many other examples across the country, largely in rural communities.

Editor's note: Johns Hopkins reported more than 3,100 deaths on Dec. 2, but revised that down to 2,804 a few hours later.

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