Overshadowed by events in Washington, the virus was deadlier than ever.

As Americans were transfixed by the spectacle of the Capitol under siege, the coronavirus continued to sweep across the United States.

Officials reported at least 3,964 new coronavirus deaths in the United States on Wednesday, a new single-day record, though delayed recording because of the holidays might have played a role. The daily death toll in New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania also set records.

Some states also reported single-day case records, while Illinois became one of five states that have now recorded their millionth case since the pandemic began.

In Arizona, which is beginning the new year with a higher rate of new cases than any other state, hospitalizations and deaths set records in the past few days. Over the past week, the state has averaged more than 8,000 cases a day, more than double the summer peak.

Yet, some Arizona health care leaders lamented, they are still not seeing the kind of public vigilance that might bring the outbreak under control.

“Most Americans don’t want to know, don’t want to acknowledge, don’t really want to recognize, and certainly — even as it’s descending upon us — do not appear to understand the dire circumstances that we are facing,” said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer at Banner Health, a major hospital network in Arizona.

The outlook is especially alarming in Southern California. In just two weeks, more than 240,000 cases have been identified in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. That is more cases than at least 19 entire states have identified over the entire pandemic.

As the unexpectedly slow vaccine drive began to pick up pace, the federal government moved to start a program to inoculate members of high-risk groups at pharmacies, among them older people and frontline workers.

Some health officials urged flexibility in distributing the vaccines.

Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, said states need not adhere too rigidly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines about whom to vaccinate first. If fewer health care workers agree to be vaccinated, he said, states should “move quickly to other priority groups.”

But even as the work continued to get more shots in arms, health officials were racing against a fast-moving variant of the coronavirus that has the potential to change the disease-fighting landscape in the United States, as it has in Britain. And with no good system in place to identify genetic variations of the virus, experts warn, the government will be hard pressed to track the variant, leaving health officials in the dark.

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