Health officials warn Americans not to let their guard down

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People wait in line to be tested for COVID-19 at a testing site in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. With coronavirus cases surging at a record pace, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new stay-at-home order and said if people don't comply the state's hospitals will be overwhelmed with infected patients.(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

With a COVID-19 vaccine perhaps just days away in the U.S., most of California headed into another lockdown Sunday because of the surging outbreak and top health officials warned Americans that this is no time to let their guard down.

“The vaccine’s critical,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said on NBC's “Meet the Press.” “But it’s not going to save us from this current surge. Only we can save us from this current surge.”

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is scheduled to take up a request Thursday to authorize emergency use of Pfizer's vaccine. Vaccinations could begin just days later, though initial supplies will be rationed, and shots are not expected to become widely available until the spring.

With the U.S. facing what could be a catastrophic winter, top government officials warned Americans anew to wear masks, practice social distancing and follow other basic measures — precautions that President Donald Trump and other members of the administration have often disdained.

“I hear community members parroting back those situations — parroting back that masks don’t work, parroting back that we should work towards herd immunity, parroting back that gatherings don’t result in super-spreading events,” Birx said. “And I think our job is to constantly say those are myths, they are wrong and you can see the evidence base.”

The virus is blamed for over 280,000 deaths and more than 14.6 million confirmed infections in the U.S. New cases per day have rocketed to an all-time high of more than 190,000 on average.

Deaths per day have surged to an average of more than 2,160, a level last seen during the dark days in April, when the outbreak was centered around New York. The number of Americans in the hospital with the coronavirus topped 100,000 for the first time over the past few days.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, warned on CBS' "Face the Nation” that the U.S. death toll could be approaching 400,000 by the end of January.