Around mid-December, 6.4 million doses of Pfizer's covid-19 vaccine will be shipped out across the United States in an initial push after it receives an expected emergency authorization, officials leading Operation Warp Speed, the administration's push to fast-track a vaccine, said on a call with reporters Tuesday.
The first doses -- which are expected to go to health care workers and potentially a few other vulnerable groups -- will be allocated to all 50 states and eight territories, as well as six major metropolitan areas. The quantities will be based on how many adults live in each jurisdiction.
"We wanted to keep this simple," said Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services.
Officials decided on that allocation formula, as opposed to one that would prioritize the hardest-hit parts of the country, in part because the virus is spreading rapidly nationwide, Azar said.
Operation Warp Speed notified states late Friday night of how many doses they'd be receiving in the first push to assist them in their planning, officials said Tuesday. Governors and other local leaders will be responsible for deciding where the shipments should go.
Pfizer will ship doses of the vaccine via UPS and FedEx in special coolers packed with dry ice that will hold a minimum of 975 doses, which must be used up within a few weeks or stored in an ultracold freezer for up to six months.
Pfizer's vaccine, which was developed with the German company BioNTech, was found to be 95% effective in a late-stage study earlier this month. An advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to meet Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer's clinical-trial data and vote on whether to recommend that the agency authorize it.
From there, it's not clear how long it will take to make a decision. The agency could take "days" to deliberate on whether to authorize the vaccine, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in an interview with USA Today published Tuesday.
But Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, said during a television appearance Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that the first doses could be administered as soon as Dec. 11. Federal health officials have said the first Americans will start getting vaccinated within 24 hours of an authorization being issued.
Another leading vaccine developer, Moderna, is expected to soon follow Pfizer's lead in filing for emergency authorization for its vaccine candidate, which an early analysis found to be 94.5% effective.
The path forward in the United States is less clear for AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which on Monday announced that they had zeroed in on a promising dosing plan for their vaccine candidate.
All three of the vaccines require people to get two doses, spread several weeks apart.
After the initial distribution push, vaccine shipments will go out to states and other jurisdictions on a weekly basis. Federal officials have said they expect to have 40 million doses of covid-19 vaccines available by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, families across the region have had to rework their travel and holiday plans.
After a long and lonely summer, the number of coronavirus cases seemed to be just low enough by fall that it appeared as though they could find a way to safely gather for the holiday. The recent spike in community spread, however, has thrown a wrench into even the best laid plans. Newly sickened, exposed or fearing the rampant spread of the virus, people in D.C. and beyond say they are canceling their Thanksgiving plans and preparing for Thanksgiving at home.
One area epidemiologist called off a trip to New Jersey a few weeks ago, and is now searching for a park at a halfway point to meet her family for a distanced tailgate. Another couple canceled their dinner reservations in an outdoor tent in favor of a carryout meal. Two roommates, 24 and 25, decided to have a wine night instead of traveling home to Texas. And a deacon whose pastor exposed him to the coronavirus last weekend is preparing for a quiet night alone.
The last-minute pivots are in line with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on Thursday recommended against traveling or gathering for the holiday. Agency officials stressed that 1 million new cases were reported in the country in the week before Thanksgiving and warned that small gatherings of friends and relatives could accelerate the outbreak. Leaders in the Washington region echoed the guidance multiple times leading up to the holiday, pleading with their constituents to opt for virtual celebrations.
Change in holiday plans comes as many cities across the country are ramping up restrictions.
New York City will have vehicle checkpoints at key bridges and crossings, and will strictly enforce the travel quarantine, Sheriff Joseph Fucito said.
The sheriff's office will conduct spot checks when out-of-state buses drop riders off at the curb. Test and tracing teams will be on the ground to direct individuals to testing sites and provide education on quarantine, Fucito said.
The 14-day quarantine mandates that travelers quarantine or test out. Violations of self-quarantine will be enforced, and may carry fines of $1,000 to $2,000, according to the mayor's office.
The city will enforce the completion of traveler forms at airports, Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. There will be self-test site teams on site.
New York, the early center of the U.S. outbreak, reported a seven-day average of 1,476 new cases, and a seven-day positive test rate of 3.17%, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Tuesday that he is expanding his mask mandate to cover half of Mississippi's 82 counties.
Reeves had previously placed under the mandate 22 counties with the highest number of new cases of coronavirus in the state.
"It's clear we are in the middle of our second surge," Reeves said during a briefing with news media where he announced he was adding 19 counties to that list.
The announcement comes a day after Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor and dean of the University of Mississippi Medical Center's School of Medicine, called on the governor to reinstitute a statewide mask mandate to prevent further spread of the virus. Woodward said last week that no intensive care unit beds were available at the hospital, Mississippi's only level-one trauma center.
"I think we have reasonable evidence to believe that the county-by-county approach is not working," she said during a Monday news briefing.
Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 144,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 3,729 deaths from covid-19. Hospitalizations are rising, with 946 people hospitalized in Mississippi with coronavirus Monday, compared with 560 on Nov. 4, according to the state Department of Health.
In Louisiana, with the state seeing a new spike in coronavirus hospitalizations, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday toughened restrictions on businesses and gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving, worried the holidays would only worsen the outbreak's spread.
"Our numbers are not good, and they're getting worse everywhere. This is clearly a statewide surge, and it requires a statewide, coordinated effort," Edwards said.
The Democratic governor decreased the number of customers allowed at restaurants, gyms, salons, casinos, malls and other nonessential businesses from 75% of their occupancy rate to 50%. Crowds at churches will be capped at 75% of their capacity, with distancing among people of different households required.
The new rules take effect today and expire Dec. 23. The statewide mask mandate will remain in place.
In Newark, N.J., Democratic Mayor Ras Baraka announced what he described as a 10-day "lockdown" starting today -- although city officials say this is an ask, not an order.
In Denver, Democratic Mayor Michael Hancock on Friday pleaded with residents to stay home for the next month. "I know this is hard. I know you hate this," Hancock said.
In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine this month announced that he would enforce a statewide mask mandate. And Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, also a Republican, put a limit on how many guests can be invited to a household gathering: zero.
'THE HEAVIEST WEIGHT'
With the new restrictions, waiters and bartenders are being thrown out of work -- again -- as governors and local officials shut down indoor dining and drinking establishments to combat the pandemic.
Restaurant owner Greg Morena in Los Angeles County was trying to figure out his next step after officials in the nation's largest county banned in-person dining for at least three weeks, beginning today. But he was mainly dreading having to notify his employees.
"To tell you, 'I can't employ you during the holidays,' to staff that has family and kids, I haven't figured that part out yet. It's the heaviest weight that I carry," said Morena, who had to close one restaurant earlier in the year and has two operating at the Santa Monica Pier.
Randine Karnitz, a server in Elk River, Minn., said she was let go last week after Gov. Tim Walz announced that bars, restaurants and gyms would close for four weeks as infections spiked to an all-time high and pushed hospitals to the breaking point.
"'Well, your last day is tomorrow. You don't have a job. You can thank your governor for that,'" Karnitz said her boss told her.
She said her husband's hours also have been cut at his manufacturing job, forcing the family to postpone house repairs.
Karnitz, though, said that she supports a shutdown and that people who didn't take the virus seriously bear much of the blame.
"I just think that if we all would've done our part to begin with, we wouldn't be in this predicament," she said. "Things are only going to get worse for the service industry before it gets better, unfortunately."
Information for this article was contributed by Rebecca Robbins of The New York Times; by Joel Achenbach, Ben Guarino and Emily Davies of The Washington Post; by Stacie Sherman of Bloomberg News; and by Leah Willingham, Melinda Deslatte, Tammy Webber, Daniella Peters, Brian Melley, Patty Nieberg and Juliet Williams of The Associated Press.