VIRUS TODAY: Colorado reports first US case of virus variant

Here’s what’s happening Wednesday with the pandemic in the U.S.:

THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

— A new variant of the coronavirus that may be more contagious has been found in a Colorado man who had not been traveling. That has triggered a host of questions about how the first reported U.S. case of the new version showed up in the Rocky Mountain state. The new variant was first identified in England, and infections are soaring now in Britain. The new variant has also been found in several other countries. Experts say the vaccines being given now are thought to be effective against it.

— Louisiana’s newest Republican member of the U.S. House, Luke Letlow, died from complications related to COVID-19 only days before he would have been sworn into office. He was 41. Letlow was elected in a December runoff and was set to take office in January. He was admitted to a Monroe hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. He was later transferred to Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport and placed in intensive care, where he died.

— People who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 are finding comfort in the act of remembering, whether it’s cradling an item their loved one left behind, vowing to fulfill a promise they would have blessed, or imagining them in better days. Over the last year, Associated Press journalists profiled dozens of ordinary people around the world who died from the coronavirus. As the turbulent year comes to a close, the AP revisited the families and friends of 10 of those lost to see how they are coping.

THE NUMBERS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased in the last two weeks from 2,496.9 on December 15 to 2,256.6 on December 29, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

DEATH TOLL: The number of COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. stands at more than 338,000.

QUOTABLE: “I’m going to celebrate that I’m alive, but I’m not precisely too happy for this year,” said Cesar Soltero, a 36-year-old Florida engineer who visited Times Square this week ahead of New Year’s Day.

ICYMI: President-elect Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration for the pace of distributing COVID-19 vaccines, saying it is “falling far behind.” Biden said “it’s gonna take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people” at the current pace. He vowed to ramp up the current speed of vaccinations five to six times to 1 million shots a day, noting it could still take months to vaccinate the American people.

ON THE HORIZON: If ever a year’s end seemed like cause for celebration, 2020 might be it. Yet the coronavirus scourge that dominated the year is also looming over New Year’s festivities and forcing officials worldwide to tone them down. From New York’s Times Square to Sydney Harbor, the pandemic is turning big public blowouts into TV-only shows and digital events.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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