The United States entered the final month of the year with expectations that promising vaccine candidates will soon be approved to halt the rapidly spreading coronavirus after 4.2 million new cases were reported in November.
The new COVID-19 cases were more than double the previous monthly record set in October, as large numbers of Americans still refuse to wear masks and continue to gather in holiday crowds, against the recommendations of experts.
With outgoing President Donald Trump’s coronavirus strategy relying heavily on a vaccine, a Food and Drug Administration panel of outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether to recommend that the FDA authorize emergency use of a vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc.
The advisers will consider a second candidate, from Moderna Inc., a week later, officials have said, raising hopes that Americans could start receiving inoculations before the end of the year, although it could take months to vaccinate people widely across the country.
Other global pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca PLC and Johnson & Johnson, also have vaccines in the works, leading a member of the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” program to predict the country could be vaccinated by June.
“One hundred per cent of the Americans that want the vaccine will have the vaccine by [June]. We will have over 300 million doses available to the American public well before then,” Paul Ostrowski, the vaccine program’s director of supply, production and distribution, told MSNBC television on Monday.
‘Can’t come soon enough’
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said officials in his state have identified 10 hospitals that will receive the first doses of vaccine, which he said should arrive around Dec. 15.
In the next several days, the state will inform the federal government of other places where the shipments should be made, he said. DeWine, interviewed on CBS’ This Morning show on Tuesday, added that the National Guard might get involved in moving vaccines out to smaller counties.
First responders, nurses and doctors will be first in line for the vaccines, as well as nursing home patients, he said.
“That Dec. 15 date just can’t come soon enough,” DeWine said. “We’re very excited about it and very happy about it.”
In the meantime, leading health officials are pleading with Americans to follow their recommendations and help arrest a pandemic that killed more than 36,000 people in November, pushing hospitalizations to a record high of nearly 93,000 on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally.
In Rhode Island, where case numbers have been on the rise, officials have opened two field hospitals with a combined 900 beds to deal with an expected increase of COVID-19 patients.
Care New England opened a field hospital with more than 300 beds in Cranston on Monday, the same day the state sent an emergency alert saying conventional hospitals had reached their coronavirus capacity. A facility with nearly 600 beds opened Tuesday at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. It is run by Lifespan, the state’s largest hospital group.
There were 365 COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals on Saturday, according to the state Department of Health. That’s down from a high of 381 on Nov. 23.
In Worcester, Mass., the National Guard trucked in cots, medical supplies, tables and other items needed to operate a 250-bed field hospital in the event the state’s medical centres become overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, a health official in Alabama says hospitals treating a record number of COVID-19 patients are bracing for a “tidal wave” of additional cases linked to holiday gatherings. Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo of the University of Alabama at Birmingham said health-care systems could be overwhelmed within two or three weeks.
The Alabama Hospital Association said only 11 per cent of the state’s intensive care beds were available Monday.
States weigh new restrictions
With more than 10,000 people dying and 1.1 million contracting the coronavirus in the week ended Sunday, Republican Trump has remained focused on overturning the results of the Nov. 3 election won by Democratic president-elect Joe Biden, denying Trump a second term.
Biden has pledged to make combating the coronavirus his top priority upon taking office on Jan. 20, saying he will rely on the best scientific evidence.
Millions of Americans defied experts’ advice and travelled over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, traditionally one of the busiest periods of the year in the United States for flying.
The number of travelers passing through U.S. airports reached 981,912 on Monday, down from 1.18 million on Sunday, which marked the most since government restrictions began to sharply depress travel in March, the Transportation Security Administration said.
Both days’ travel figures were less than half of their year-ago levels, the TSA said.
WATCH | Fears that U.S. Thanksgiving could become super-spreading event:
In the absence of a federal blueprint to curb the spread of the virus, some states — though not all — are issuing new or revamped restrictions on businesses and social life.
California’s governor said he may renew a stay-at-home order in the coming days, warning that ICU admissions are on track to exceed statewide capacity by mid-December unless public health policies and social behaviour change.
“The red flags are flying,” Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters in an online briefing. “If these trends continue, we’re going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic, action.”
Meanwhile, families of 15 public school students sued the state on Monday, claiming it has failed to provide equal education to poor and minority children during the pandemic.
The students, who range from kindergarten to high school and were only identified by first name in court documents, were not provided devices and internet connections to attend online classes, according to the lawsuit, the first of its kind in the United States.
In contrast to California, Florida’s governor has vowed not to adopt any further restrictions or impose closures like those enacted in the spring and summer, despite rising case numbers.
The state on Tuesday joined Texas and California in surpassing one million confirmed COVID-19 cases.
It also reported 82 new virus deaths, with COVID-19 hospitalizations rising to 4,261. The figure is still less than half what hospitals saw in late July, but it has steadily climbed since October after plateauing at about 2,000 hospitalizations daily for weeks following the summer surge of the virus.