US vaccination plans are taking form, however restrictions persist

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© Reuters. A man takes a coronavirus test at a Los Angeles Mission homeless shelter for Thanksgiving in Los Angeles

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By Katanga Johnson and Dan Whitcomb

WASHINGTON, DC (Reuters) – U.S. health officials will hold an emergency meeting next week to recommend that a pending approval coronavirus vaccine be given first to health professionals and people in long-term care facilities.

The meeting, announced Friday by a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination committee, suggests the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is about to approve the distribution of the long-awaited drugs most vulnerable, at least among those considered.

United Airlines has started delivering the from Pfizer Inc (NYSE :), on charter flights to ensure it can be quickly distributed once approved, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will vote Tuesday to recommend to the FDA that health professionals and long-term care providers be the first two groups to receive initial vaccines, a CDC spokeswoman said.

A green light to any vaccine would be welcome news for Americans, who have been taking increasingly aggressive action by political leaders to contain the spread of the virus.

Los Angeles County’s health officials on Friday banned all public and private gatherings for at least three weeks and urged residents to stay home as much as possible.

The county exempted religious services and protests from the ordinance, citing constitutional protection in overt recognition of a US Supreme Court ruling this week denying New York state restrictions on churches and synagogues.

New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the Supreme Court’s decision as “irrelevant,” saying it was tightly tailored to areas that are no longer subject to restrictions.

However, the ruling could pose legal challenges against similar restrictions on places of worship in other states, including California.

“It is fair to say that this Supreme Court ruling has wider implications, and governors should be guided by it in any attempt to select places of worship for unequal treatment,” said Randy Mastro, senior attorney for the Catholic Archdiocese of Brooklyn in the case said Reuters.

Washington DC Mayoress Muriel Bowser said this week that her latest COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings also apply to indoor religious services, reducing the maximum number of worshipers from 100 to 50 people.

“Skip the Crowds”

Americans, tired after just eight months of lockdown, started the holiday season on Friday under pressure to stay home, avoid gatherings, and cut down on Christmas shopping.

A day after the nation celebrated a low-key Thanksgiving Day, malls and retailers that imposed strict COVID-19 rules saw fewer shoppers for the traditional Black Friday start of Christmas shopping.

“Remember, skip the crowd and shop from home this Black Friday,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, a first-time Democrat, wrote on Twitter.

Around 90,000 patients were treated in hospitals for COVID-19 on Friday, a number that has doubled last month to its highest level since the pandemic began.

“This is the reality we face if COVID-19 is allowed to spread uncontrollably – full capacity intensive care units, not enough healthcare workers available,” said Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico governor, in a tweet.

Grisham, a Democrat, didn’t say who she believed had spread the virus unchecked. The governor has put a lockdown requiring all “non-essential” businesses to close and residents to stay at home.

Approximately 880 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Mexico on Friday. According to the county’s Facebook page (NASDAQ 🙂 this week, a hospital in rural Curry County was the last one to reach capacity in its intensive care unit.

Some politicians and health experts feared Americans traveling for Thanksgiving could spread the contagion. Many took advice to stay home on Thursday, but others decided to travel and said they were willing to risk illness to see family.

The day before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year in the US, more than 1.07 million people flew over US airports – almost every day since the pandemic began, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

According to TSA data, more than 4 million traveled through airports Sunday through Thursday, compared with more than 11 million in the same period last year.

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