The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use on Friday, clearing the way for millions of highly vulnerable people to begin receiving the vaccine within days.
The authorization is a historic turning point in a pandemic that has taken more than 290,000 lives in the United States. With the decision, the United States becomes the sixth country — in addition to Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico — to clear the vaccine. Other authorizations, including by the European Union, are expected within weeks.
The F.D.A.’s decision followed an extraordinary sequence of events on Friday morning when the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told the F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Stephen Hahn, to consider looking for his next job if he didn’t get the emergency approval done on Friday, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter. Dr. Hahn then ordered vaccine regulators at the agency to do it by the end of the day.
The authorization set off a complicated coordination effort from Pfizer, private shipping companies, state and local health officials, the military, hospitals and pharmacy chains to get the first week’s batch of about three million doses to health care workers and nursing home residents as quickly as possible, all while keeping the vaccine at ultracold temperatures.
Pfizer has a deal with the U.S. government to supply 100 million doses of the vaccine by next March. Under that agreement, the shots will be free to the public.
Every state, along with six major cities, has submitted to the federal government a list of locations — mostly hospitals — where the Pfizer vaccine is to ship initially. In populous Florida, the first recipients will be five hospitals, in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Hollywood. In tiny, rural Vermont, only the University of Vermont Medical Center and a state warehouse will get supplies.
McKesson Corporation, a giant medical supplier, is sending kits of syringes, alcohol pads, face shields and other supplies to the same sites, where they will meet up with the vaccines that Pfizer is shipping in special boxes, packed with dry ice, designed to keep them at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Pfizer packaging will include a device that tracks the location of the box, plus a thermal probe that will make sure the deep freeze is maintained throughout the journey from the company’s distribution sites in Michigan and Wisconsin.
The decision is a victory for Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, which began working on the vaccine 11 months ago. Vaccines typically take years to develop. The companies’ late-stage clinical trial, which enrolled nearly 44,000 people, was found to be 95 percent effective.
The vaccine will be scarce at first. Pfizer had to scale back earlier estimates because of manufacturing setbacks, and has said it will be able to supply up to 25 million doses before the end of the year, and 100 million total vaccines by March.
Federal officials are initially holding back half of the supply so that they can give a booster shot to recipients three weeks after their first vaccination. Even though only about three million people will receive a vaccine in the first week, officials have held firm on their estimate that, between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which each require two shots, they hope to give at least 20 million people their first dose of a vaccine by the end of the year.
An expert panel advising the F.D.A. on Thursday gave its approval of Pfizer’s vaccine for people 16 and older, and the agency was planning to release the formal authorization on Saturday. That timeline was accelerated by half a day after President Trump attacked Dr. Hahn for failing to authorize a vaccine more quickly. But the accelerated announcement was not expected to speed up the delivery of vaccines around the country.
The federal government announced Friday that it is buying another 100 million doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine to be delivered between April and June.
The Trump administration’s purchase will boost the number of people who can be vaccinated by 50 percent, to 150 million Americans. But that still leaves the question of how and when the roughly 180 million other Americans will be covered.
Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, did not address shortfalls in announcing the new vaccine purchase late Friday.
“This new federal purchase can give Americans even greater confidence we will have enough supply to vaccinate all Americans who want it by the second quarter of 2021,” he said.
Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, said: “We continue to scale up our manufacturing capability in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.”
The government signed deals last summer with Moderna and Pfizer to deliver a total of 200 million doses by next March. Because both vaccines require two doses, those contracts guaranteed enough doses for 100 million people.
No supply had been locked in the second quarter of next year, and some federal officials privately voiced concern that the government might run out of doses in March. Officials had recently asked Pfizer to sell it another 100 million doses, but Pfizer had said it could not meet that demand until about June.
The new deal indicates that Moderna is able to cover at least some of the gap. At the same time, though, doubts about the ability of other vaccine makers to demonstrate their products are safe and effective have grown, raising questions about whether the United States will be entirely dependent on supplies from Pfizer, Moderna and possibly a third company, Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson is expected to reveal the results of its clinical trials early next month.
The administration’s crash program to develop vaccines, known as Operation Warp Speed, bet heavily on Moderna, along with a handful of other vaccine makers. Its vaccine is similar to Pfizer’s, but it is easier to store and transport.
Clinical trials have shown that like Pfizer’s vaccine, it is about 95 percent effective. Unless unexpected problems emerge, the Food and Drug Administration is on track to approve it for emergency use later this month, about one week after Pfizer.
The federal government agreed last summer to purchase 100 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine, locking in options to purchase up to another 400 million doses, at a cost of $16.50 a dose. Unlike the options in its contract with Pfizer, the government is allowed to call on Moderna for more doses at the government’s “sole discretion.”
Los Angeles County could see “catastrophic suffering and death” in the coming weeks, public health officials warn, as the nation’s most populous county reported another record day of new coronavirus cases.
The 13,737 cases reported on Friday bring the county’s total to more than 500,000, as the county and California struggle to contain an explosion. California officials reported 37,124 cases on Friday, the highest one-day total of the pandemic.
“We’re on a very dangerous track to seeing unprecedented and catastrophic suffering and death here in L.A. County if we can’t stop the surge,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said at a news conference on Friday. “These numbers are overwhelming, and the grief that our community continues to experience can’t be comprehended.”
The number of people hospitalized for Covid-19 has sharply risen over the past month. In early November, fewer than 1,000 people were in hospitals for treatment. Today, there are more than 3,600, according to the latest figures from the county.
The steep rise in cases in California mirrors a national spike. Officials reported more than 236,000 new cases on Friday, yet another single-day case record.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Dr. Ferrer fought through tears as she talked about the state’s rising death toll.
“Over 8,000 people who were beloved members of their families are not coming back,” she said. “And their deaths are an incalculable loss to their friends and their families.”
Over the past month, the average number of daily deaths has increased more than 250 percent in Los Angeles County. In the past week, 357 people there have died and at least 71,079 people have contracted the virus.
“We’re in uncharted territory at this point,” Dr. Ferrer said. “We’re seeing daily numbers of cases and hospitalizations that we’ve not experienced and, frankly, did not anticipate.”
Mexico’s Medical Safety Commission on Friday approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, just before the United States Food and Drug Administration did so as well.
Mexico and the United States are now on a growing list of countries — one that includes Britain, Canada, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to have granted full or emergency approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Mexico has arranged to receive a first batch of 250,000 doses, enough for 125,000 people, The Associated Press reported on Friday. Vaccinations are scheduled to begin next week, starting with health care workers.
The announcements from regulators in Mexico and the United States capped a flurry of vaccine-related news from around the world.
On Thursday, officials in Saudi Arabia said they had approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as the first to be used in that country. Saudi Arabia did not say how many doses it plans to purchase, or when they would arrive or be distributed.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said on Friday that the Chinese territory had struck an agreement to buy 15 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines. Half will come from Sinovac — whose unproven vaccine has already been given to tens of thousands on the Chinese mainland — and the other half from Pfizer-BioNTech.
And Japan’s Health Ministry said on Friday that it had formalized a deal to buy 120 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough for 60 million people, and that it expected to receive the first quarter of those doses by March. Japan has also agreed to buy 120 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 50 million doses of the Moderna vaccine.
In other developments across the world:
New Zealand said on Saturday that it had chosen the Cook Islands as its first partner for a travel bubble. Travel between the two South Pacific countries is expected to be quarantine-free by the end of March. New Zealand has had just 2,092 confirmed Covid-19 infections during the pandemic, and the Cook Islands have not reported any.
Switzerland ordered shops, bars, restaurants and sports facilities across much of the country to close at 7 p.m. each night. The country had imposed limited measures last month to halt a spike in cases and deaths, but achieved only partial success. Health authorities there reported a sharp rise in the weekly average of new cases on Friday, and warned that hospitals were close to capacity. Establishments in French-speaking areas of the country, which had protested against new restrictions, will be allowed to stay open later if they report case numbers below the national average.
As Germany sees record levels of coronavirus infections and deaths, several states are planning tight lockdowns even before nationwide measures can be announced. On Friday, the Eastern state of Thuringia announced it would close shops and move classes to online lessons by the end of next week. A meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and state governors to agree on a countrywide lockdown is expected to take place on Sunday, and the mayor of Berlin told reporters he expected a three-week lockdown starting at the end of next week. German health authorities registered 29,875 new infections on Thursday, beating the previous record, set on Wednesday, by 6,196. Hospitals also recorded a record 598 deaths in one day on Thursday.
As a way to build public confidence in the federal government’s vaccine program, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, told 澳门葡京网址 on Friday that he intends to “get vaccinated publicly, in the public space, so that people can see me getting vaccinated,” as soon as “the vaccine becomes available to me.”
Dr. Fauci, 79, added that he is not certain when that will be, and is leaving it up to the health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, to decide. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine as early as Friday evening.
Dr. Fauci also disclosed in an interview with The Times that a healthy 32-year-old who is close to one of his daughters died of Covid-19 — a stark reminder that the disease is deadly in the young as well as the old.
The 32-year-old who died was the brother of the boyfriend of one of Dr. Fauci’s daughters. “He’s a perfectly healthy 32-year-old guy who got Covid, got the cardiac complications and died within like a week and a half of getting infected,” Dr. Fauci said, adding, “It is really very devastating to my daughter.”
As President Trump and his allies have asserted, incorrectly, that the disease is not a threat to younger people, Dr. Fauci has repeatedly testified on Capitol Hill that there is much to be learned about the novel coronavirus, and that scientists must be humble about what they do not know.
Young people are hardly immune; in Florida, for example, more than 100 adults aged 25 to 44 died of Covid in July alone.
A study from Harvard released in September “establishes that Covid-19 is a life-threatening disease in people of all ages,” wrote Dr. Mitchell Katz, a deputy editor at JAMA Internal Medicine, in an editorial accompanying the research, adding that “while young adults are much less likely than older persons to become seriously ill, if they reach the point of hospitalization, their risks are substantial.”
Indoor dining will once again be barred in New York City restaurants starting Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Friday, a significant reversal of the city’s reopening that comes as officials try to halt the escalation of a second wave of the coronavirus.
The decision, which Mr. Cuomo earlier this week suggested was all but certain, is a crushing blow to the city’s restaurant industry, a vital economic pillar that has been struggling all year in the face of pandemic restrictions and a national recession.
For months, New York City’s restaurant owners have warned that their businesses, many of which operate on tight margins in the best of times, are on the edge of financial collapse. Thousands of employees, many of them low-wage workers, have been laid off since March, and their jobs have yet to fully return.
Their anxieties only mounted as winter approaches and frigid temperatures threaten to deter customers from dining outdoors. Industry groups have called repeatedly for federal or state financial assistance, with restaurant and bar owners watching nervously as stimulus talks drag on in Washington.
“Another forced government closure of New York City restaurants will cause an irreversible harm on even countless more small businesses and the hundreds of thousands of workers they employ, especially if it is not coupled with financial relief,” said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, in a statement on Monday.
Mr. Cuomo’s announcement came after weeks of shifting messages and changing guidance on indoor dining, which only resumed in New York City at the end of September.
The inconsistent approach, which confused residents and business owners alike, came as Mr. Cuomo repeatedly downplayed indoor dining as a source of new infections, focusing much of his attention on parties and other indoor gatherings instead.
But on Monday, Mr. Cuomo warned that he would curb indoor dining in regions in the state where hospitalizations did not stabilize, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that described eating at indoor restaurants as a “particularly high-risk” activity.
On Friday, Mr. Cuomo said that contact tracing data showed that restaurants and bars were the fifth main source of new infections in the state, well behind household and social gatherings. The data is based only on those who give a response to contact tracers and does not capture every infection in the state, officials have said.
Of 46,000 cases between September and November, 1.43 percent could be linked to restaurants and bars, compared to 73.84 percent connected with private gatherings.
On Friday, Mr. Cuomo said that a state task force, which he convened following concerns that President Trump was expediting the vaccine rollout for political purposes, said that once the Pfizer vaccine was authorized by federal regulators, which it was later Friday night, New York was ready to distribute. The governor, a third-term Democrat, had previously said no federally-authorized vaccine would be given out in New York until his task force signed off on the distribution.
Some of Mr. Cuomo’s conservative critics had described the move as a political ploy that could delay the vaccine’s delivery in New York. Mr. Cuomo, however, said on Friday that the state’s independent review would help build confidence among the public following surveys showing many Americans did not trust the vaccine’s safety.
New York State is expected to begin receiving an initial allocation of 170,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday or Monday, Mr. Cuomo said. Those vaccines will be administered to health care workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. An additional allocation of vaccines from the drugmaker Moderna, which has also applied for federal for authorization for its vaccine, enough to vaccinate about 346,000 people is expected the week of Dec. 21.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a news conference on Friday the beginning of a center to coordinate vaccine distribution. The work of the center will involve reporting the number of people getting vaccinated, as well as working with communities to build trust in the vaccine and troubleshoot distribution issues.
Representative Devin G. Nunes of California said he had tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in a live interview with a Fresno radio station on Friday afternoon.
“I felt a little under the weather in October,” Mr. Nunes, a Republican, told Ray Appleton of KMJNOW. “I isolated myself for a few days, and anyway I’m guessing that’s when I had it, but I don’t really know.”
Researchers believe that antibodies could last months, and possibly years, after a person recovers from the virus. Mr. Nunes said he discovered he had the antibodies when he returned to Washington post-election and requested the test from Navy doctors who regularly examine lawmakers.
Mr. Nunes encouraged Californians to donate plasma if they can, and said hospitals were running out. Blood from people who have recovered can be a rich source of antibodies that fight the virus. The state’s hospital systems are under immense strain after a recent surge in virus cases: More than 33,000 new cases were reported and nearly 13,000 people were listed as hospitalized with the virus on Thursday. On Friday, the governor’s office issued an emergency alert urging residents to stay home and warning that I.C.U. capacity was less than 10 percent statewide.
Several members of Congress have contracted the virus in recent months. Nearly a dozen prominent Republicans tested positive for the virus after attending the Rose Garden ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court in late September, including Senator Mike Lee of Utah, Senator Thom Tillis of Florida and, most notably, President Trump. Last month, two of the oldest members of Congress, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Representative Don Young of Alaska, also announced they had contracted the virus.
In the earliest days of the pandemic, Mr. Nunes, who is the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, called the closing of California schools “way overkill” and encouraged people to dine out even as health experts were urging Americans to stay home.
As many as 300,000 coronavirus cases across the United States can be traced to a two-day conference in Boston attended by 175 biotech executives in February, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.
The conference, convened by the drug company Biogen, was one of the earliest examples in the pandemic of what epidemiologists call “superspreading events,” where a gathering of people leads to a huge number of infections. But new genetic data made publicly available in recent months by many states has allowed researchers for the first time to estimate the national scope of its astonishing ripple effect.
“It’s a cautionary tale,” said Bronwyn MacInnis, a genomic epidemiologist at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T. “When we hear these stories of clusters where 20 or 50 or 100 were affected, that does not account for what happens after.”
To track the spread, the researchers took advantage of a kind of genetic fingerprint that they identified in samples of the virus taken from 28 people who had attended the meeting. An earlier version of the paper published online in June suggested that the conference had seeded tens of thousands of cases in the Boston area alone.
By March, the researchers had found, viruses bearing the same signature began to appear in the viral genomes taken from coronavirus patients in several other states. But by November, viruses containing the marker could be found in 29 states, linked to some 70,000 in Florida alone. And because the viral genome data linked to U.S. cases has grown by tenfold since June, the researchers are able to make a reliable national estimate. The conference, the study estimates, is responsible for 1.9 percent of all cases in the United States since the start of the pandemic.
A vast majority of introductions of the virus into a workplace or home or community fizzle, the researchers noted. But the study highlights how a local event with a mobile population can seed a national outbreak. Because the genetic fingerprint identified in the Biogen attendees existed previously in Europe, it was not possible to reliably estimate how many of the transmissions globally came from the Boston event, the researchers said.
Although the Biogen conference occurred at a time when the coronavirus was barely on the radar for most Americans, it might have important implications for the current pandemic moment. The first, eagerly awaited vaccines have been demonstrated to protect from severe Covid-19 symptoms, but it is not known whether they protect people from transmitting the virus.
“We risk having folks going around thinking ‘all is good,’” Dr. MacInnis said. “Our data reminds us what can happen when transmission is unchecked.’’
Scientists developing the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik V will try a combination of their respective vaccines by the end of the year, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund announced on Friday, in hopes of strengthening the efficacy of both.
Vaccination often requires one injection and then a boost, and the process can take two forms: giving the same vaccine multiple times, a technique known as “homologous boosting,” or combining different, yet similar vaccines, called “heterologous boosting.”
By combining different but similar vaccines, AstraZeneca and the Russian Investment Fund said they were hoping to boost the immune protection of people who may receive the injections.
The Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, which develops the Sputnik V vaccine, uses two different human adenoviruses to develop its product. AstraZenca uses an adenovirus that infects chimpanzees.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is developed at the University of Oxford, showed encouraging but head-scratching results: two doses of the vaccine provided stronger results (90 percent efficacy) when the first dose was only at half strength, than when two full-dose shots were injected (a 62 percent efficacy).
In Russia, the Sputnik V vaccine showed an efficacy rate of 95 percent in preliminary results from a clinical trial, but such results were based on an unspecified small group of volunteers, raising skepticism from experts.
The Russian Investment Fund said AstraZeneca and the Gamaleya Research Institute would begin clinical trials by the end of the month. Kirill Dmitriev, the fund’s C.E.O., hailed the partnership as “an important step toward uniting efforts in the fight against the pandemic,” and AstraZeneca said it “could provide an additional approach to help overcome this deadly virus.”
The announcement comes days after both Britain and Russia began rolling out of a vaccine, the first two countries in the world to do so. Britain has used the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and Russia has administered the Sputnik V vaccine.
A British government official said earlier this week that scientists were reviewing whether it was safe to combine and match vaccines.
“What it means is that you give one vaccine to get the immune system triggered up and another one to then boost it further with a different vaccine,” England’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said in an interview with Sky News. “That’s an established way of getting the immune system geed up.”
Russia drew widespread criticism when it registered its Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use in August before completing a Phase 3 clinical trial to measure its efficacy, yet President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has boasted that it was the first vaccine in the world to receive government approval.
Elian Peltier and
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security attended an indoor holiday party this week even as the Trump administration urged Americans to double down on pandemic precautions to combat increasing deaths from Covid-19.
The political appointees celebrated at the agency’s St. Elizabeth campus in Washington on Thursday, the same day that Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned Americans the country would count “more deaths per day than we had at 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor” for the next two to three months.
Troy Edgar, the chief financial officer for D.H.S., which has played a large role in implementing pandemic-related travel restrictions, posted a photograph at 9:31 p.m. on Thursday of himself alongside Chad F. Wolf, the agency’s acting secretary, and Karen S. Evans, its chief information officer. None of them were wearing masks.
“On the stage tonight at the DHS Holiday Party with @DHS_Wolf and Chief Information officer (CIO) Karen Evans,” Mr. Edgar tweeted. “I’m so grateful to serve with the 250,000 dedicated employees of Homeland Security. Merry Christmas.”
There were dozens of guests in attendance, according to department officials who asked to speak anonymously because they were not authorized to speak on the record. The latest guidance put forth by Washington’s mayor, Muriel E. Bowser, a Democrat, limits indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people.
The White House sent out invitations to at least 20 year-end parties earlier this month.
D.H.S. includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been tasked with supporting state governments with personal protective equipment across the country, and Customs and Border Protection, which has screened travelers for the coronavirus at the nation’s borders.
In a statement to 澳门葡京网址, Chase Jennings, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, described the holiday party as “a meeting yesterday with political staff.”
“It is standard procedure for every agency to meet with political staff several times a year across every administration — D.H.S. is no different,” Mr. Jennings said. “The meeting itself was held at one of the largest spaces at D.H.S. headquarters in order to allow for social distancing. C.D.C. guidelines were followed.”
But he declined to answer questions inquiring why Mr. Wolf and other top officials were not wearing masks, exactly how many people attended the gathering or why the agency chose to have the party in person rather than virtually.
Mr. Wolf is expected to travel internationally this weekend. He and other D.H.S. staff members plan to fly to Panama and El Salvador, in part to discuss accords that have redirected asylum seekers at the southwest border back to Central America, the agency said in a statement on Friday.
The next few months are “going to be really tough” in the United States, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned on Thursday.
“We are in the time frame now that probably for the next 60 to 90 days we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had at 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor,” Dr. Redfield said during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.
In the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, 2,977 people were killed. The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, killed 2,403 Americans.
On Wednesday, at least 3,055 new coronavirus deaths in the U.S. were reported, according to a database maintained by 澳门葡京网址. On Thursday, at least 2,923 people died. On Friday, the figure was at least 2,951.
Although a vaccine should be available soon, Dr. Redfield said that it is unlikely to reduce the numbers of deaths over the next few months. He urged Americans to “double down” on precautions and protect themselves by wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, avoiding indoor social gatherings and keeping their guard up, even among friends and family members. He also implored Americans not to travel and to reconsider travel plans if they have already made them.
“We are turning a corner, but I want to come back to the reality that this is going to be a brutal time for us,” Dr. Redfield said.
Health officials across the country share that same grim assessment.
“The worst is yet to come in the next week or two or three,” said Catherine Troisi, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston. “What happens after that is going to depend on our behavior today.”
Dr. Troisi said she expected the death toll to accelerate in part because current numbers most likely do not reflect infections from Thanksgiving gatherings.
The virus has taken the lives of the young and the old, the healthy and the sick, the prominent and the ordinary people known best by those who loved them.
Linda Azani, the assistant manager of Perches Funeral Homes in El Paso, said the toll the virus has taken there is so steep that “there’s not enough of us to go around.”
“Not enough directors to see families,” she added. “Not enough facilities to have funerals. Not enough chapels.”
MIAMI — The complicated story of how a Florida data scientist responsible for managing the state’s coronavirus numbers wound up with state police agents brandishing guns in her house this week began seven long months ago, when the scientist, Rebekah D. Jones, was removed from her post at the Florida Department of Health.
Ms. Jones had helped build the statistics dashboard that showed how the virus was rapidly spreading in a state that had been hesitant to mandate broad restrictions.
Two months in, Ms. Jones was sidelined and then fired for insubordination, a conflict that she said came to a head when she refused to manipulate data to show that rural counties were ready to reopen from coronavirus lockdowns. The specter of possible censorship by the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican allied with President Trump, exploded into the frenetic pandemic news cycle, and Ms. Jones’s defiance came to symbolize the growing questions over Florida’s handling of the pandemic.
The arrival of state agents at her home in Tallahassee on Monday to execute a search warrant in a criminal investigation marked a new, dramatic chapter in Ms. Jones’s saga, which at its core has always returned to the same basic question: Can Floridians, who are in the midst of another alarming rise in coronavirus infections and deaths, trust the state’s data?
“This isn’t really unexpected,” she said of this week’s raid. “You take down a governor, he’s going to come for you. Six months ago, I was just a scientist trying to do my job.”
President Trump on Friday signed a one-week stopgap bill to fund the government, buying additional time for negotiators to reach agreement on both a catchall government spending package and a coronavirus aid plan to address the economic toll of the pandemic.
The Senate earlier in the day had approved the measure by voice vote, after top congressional leaders corralled the chamber into supporting the one-week extension.
While lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill continue to haggle over an aid plan, the two policy divides that have long impaired a coronavirus relief deal — a Republican insistence on sweeping coronavirus liability protections and Democratic demands for state and local funding — remain sticking points. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has suggested jettisoning both provisions in order to get a swift agreement on a narrower package, but many lawmakers are reluctant to resort to that.
Democratic leaders have said the starting point for talks should be a $908 billion bipartisan compromise being drafted by a group of moderates. It would include limited liability protections, $160 billion in state and local funding, $288 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program that extends loans to small businesses, and $300-a-week supplemental federal jobless payments until the spring. The proposal, for now, does not include direct payments from stimulus checks.
“These problems don’t go away,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who is part of the group that is working on the bipartisan plan. “If anything, they just get bigger. So if we can just stick to it, get a proposal that we can advance that resolves not only goals like unemployment, P.P.P., food security, but also the state and local and tribal and the liability issue — this is what we’ve been working on. This is what we need to keep doing.”
The pandemic is pummeling New York City’s commercial real estate industry, one of its main economic engines, threatening the future of the nation’s largest business districts as well as the city’s finances.
The damage caused by the emptying of office towers and the permanent closure of many stores is far more significant than many experts had predicted early in the crisis.
The powerful real estate industry is so concerned that the shifts in workplace culture caused by the outbreak will become long-lasting that it is promoting a striking proposal: to turn more than one million square feet of Manhattan office space into housing.
Nearly 14 percent of office space in Midtown Manhattan is vacant, the highest rate since 2009. On Madison Avenue in Midtown, one of the most affluent retail stretches in the country, more than a third of all storefronts are empty, double the rate from five years ago.
The collapse of commercial real estate is another major burden for New York, since the industry provides a significant portion of the city’s tax revenues.
Filings to erect new buildings in the city, a key indicator of industry confidence, have dropped 22 percent this year to 1,187, the lowest number since 2010.
As of late October, only 10 percent of Manhattan’s one million office workers were reporting to the office, according to a survey by the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group.
And this already bleak picture could even get worse, real estate experts and industry executives said.
Matthew Haag and
The number of people with the coronavirus in the United States who have died passed 300,000 on Monday, another wrenching record that comes less than four weeks after the nation’s virus deaths reached a quarter-million.
Covid-19 surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield said in public remarks last week, referring to a breakdown of deaths for a week in early December. Almost the same number of Americans are being lost to the disease each day as were killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks or the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The surge in deaths reflects how much faster Americans have spread the virus to one another since late September, when the number of cases identified daily had fallen to below 40,000. A range of factors — including financial pressure to return to workplaces, the politicization of mask-wearing and a collective surrender to the desire for social contact — has since driven new cases to more than 200,000 per day. Preventable deaths on a staggering scale, many experts said, were sure to follow.
“There’s no need for that many to have died,” said David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We chose, as a country, to take our foot off the gas pedal. We chose to, and that’s the tragedy.’’
Three hundred thousand is more than the number of Americans who died fighting in World War II. It is roughly half the number of total cancer deaths expected this year. It is the population of Pittsburgh.
But the worst is yet to come.
The first 100,000 U.S. deaths were confirmed by May 27; it then took four months for the nation to log another 100,000 deaths. The latest 100,000 deaths occurred over a span of about three months. The next 100,000 Americans to die, many public health experts believe, may do so in closer to one month.
“I am floored at how much worse it is than what I expected,” said Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
The Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a highly effective vaccine last week offers a new tool to slow — or even stop — the virus’s onslaught if it becomes widely distributed early next year. But “the people who are going to die in late December and early January will already have been infected by then,” Dr. Jha said. “It’s going to be very hard to avoid hitting 400,000 within a month after hitting 300,000.”
The proportion of Americans who die roughly 22 days after being diagnosed with the coronavirus has remained at about 1.7 percent since May, Trevor Bedford, a genomic epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle, noted recently on Twitter. As a result, about three weeks worth of future deaths are “essentially ‘baked into’ currently reported cases,” Dr. Bedford wrote.
Since the number of reported cases has approached an average of 200,000 per day over the last 22 days, an average of more than 3,000 deaths are likely to occur daily for the next 22, according to Dr. Bedford’s back-of-the-envelope calculation.
Many of the 300,000 who died from Covid-19 had an underlying health condition, like diabetes, hypertension or obesity. A large fraction were residents of long-term care facilities. About a third were over the age of 85.
But it is wrong to conclude that these were deaths that would have happened anyway, epidemiologists said. Nationwide, deaths have been almost 20 percent higher than normal since mid-March, when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
Roughly 60,000 of the 300,000 were under the age of 65. A disproportionate number were Black, Latino and Native American — with the highest disparities at younger ages: Black Americans from ages 30 to 49 died at nearly six times the rate of white people in the same age group, while Hispanic people died at nearly seven times the rate of white people in the same age group, according to an analysis by Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociologist.
Will the coronavirus death toll exceed 400,000? Much will depend on whether a majority of Americans chooses to take the vaccine, experts said. Nicholas Reich, a biostatistician at the University of Massachusetts who has been assembling statistical projections of Covid-19 deaths from researchers around the country, said many of the models have performed poorly during the recent climb in cases, in part because human behavior was so variable.
“Actions taken collectively can really change the course of what is happening,” Dr. Reich said. “One reason this is hard to predict is to some extent the power is in our hands.”
In its emergency authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Friday night, the Food and Drug Administration took an unexpected step, leaving open the possibility that pregnant and breastfeeding women may opt for immunization against the coronavirus.
The agency authorized the vaccine for anyone 16 and older, and asked Pfizer to file regular reports on the safety of the vaccine, including its use in pregnant women.
There had been no guarantee that the agency would take this route. The vaccine was not tested in pregnant women or in those who were breastfeeding. Regulators in the United Kingdom recommended against these women receiving the shots even while acknowledging that the evidence so far “raises no concerns for safety in pregnancy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet endorsed the vaccine for pregnant women, but an advisory committee to the agency is expected to meet this weekend to make further recommendations.
Some experts said the virus itself poses greater risks to pregnant women than the new vaccine, and noted that vaccines have been given to pregnant women for decades and have been overwhelmingly safe.
“This is a really huge step forward in recognizing women’s autonomy to make decisions about their own health care,” said Dr. Emily Miller, an obstetrician at Northwestern University and a member of the Covid-19 task force of the Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine.
With the first doses of the vaccine reserved for health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, the F.D.A.’s authorization most immediately affects the estimated 330,000 pregnant and breastfeeding health care workers in the United States.
Some health care workers are at high risk of Covid-19, either because their jobs bring them into intense contact with the virus — for example, cleaning the rooms of sick patients — or because they live in low-income and multigenerational homes, Dr. Faden said.
After a spring semester in which most American universities adopted some form of pass/fail grading system, or even abolished grades entirely, the vast majority planned to bring back normal marks this fall. But as the pandemic has continued to disrupt campuses and uproot student lives, at least some are going back to the more lenient days of spring.
After many meetings and much deliberation, Colorado State announced this month that its 25,000 undergraduates could switch to a satisfactory or unsatisfactory grade after final exams if they were unhappy with their marks in a particular class.
Kelly Long, the school’s vice provost for undergraduate affairs, said it was clear that many students were struggling in classes, which are mostly online, often because of less-than-ideal home situations.
“Perhaps their home environment is not conducive to online learning, or they are having to work or caring for someone who is ill, or they themselves are falling ill,” Dr. Long said. “Those are parts of the generous thinking we’re trying to do.”
Dr. Long said Colorado State had consulted with other universities and found that many administrators were also considering whether they had underestimated the impact of the pandemic. “Our peer institutions were starting to revisit the question,” she said. But so far, few have made similar announcements.
“We believe that grades have meaning,” said Justin Anderson, a spokesman at Dartmouth, which adopted a pass/fail system in the spring but returned to letter grades this fall.
But at M.I.T., one of the most rigorous schools in the country, administrators have continued to be accommodating. Students who receive a letter grade worse than a C in a fall semester course will not have that class appear on their transcript, unless they choose to for credit. In a letter to students on Nov. 30, Rick Danheiser, the faculty chair, said that policy would continue into the spring, and the school might revert to a “pass” system if conditions deteriorate.
Australia on Friday canceled a roughly $750 million plan for a large order of a locally developed coronavirus vaccine after the inoculation produced false positive test results for H.I.V. in some volunteers participating in a trial study.
Of the dozens of coronavirus vaccines being tested worldwide, the Australian one was the first to be abandoned. While its developers said the experimental vaccine had appeared to be safe and effective, the false positives risked undermining trust in the effort to vaccinate the public.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said that his government would compensate for the loss of 51 million doses it had planned to buy from the Australian consortium in part by increasing orders of vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Novavax. The government has said it plans to begin inoculating citizens by March.
“We can’t have any issues with confidence,” he told reporters, “and we are as a nation now, with a good portfolio of vaccines, able to make these decisions to best protect the Australian people.”
Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, told reporters that the country still had access to 140 million units of coronavirus vaccines — more than enough to cover its population of about 25 million people.
The Australian setback showed the missteps that can inevitably occur when scientists, during a pandemic that has killed more than 1.5 million people, rush to condense the usual yearslong process to develop vaccines into a matter of months.
The mistake, said John P. Moore, an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, was an “honest error” that cost money, not human lives.
“I’m sure a lot of people are very embarrassed by it,” Professor Moore said. “It’s not great to be associated with a mistake like this. But when you’re running at 90 miles an hour, sometimes you trip.”
The pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline said Friday that their experimental Covid-19 vaccine did not appear to work well in older adults, a significant setback to their late-stage clinical trial that was previously expected to begin in the United States in December.
Instead, the companies said they planned to test a modified version of their vaccine in a smaller trial beginning in February. Rather than compare their candidate with a placebo, they said, it could be tested against a vaccine expected to be authorized by regulators for emergency use soon.
The Sanofi vaccine is one of six that were selected by Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s effort to quickly bring a vaccine to market. The companies negotiated a $2.1 billion agreement with the United States to provide 100 million doses.
A vaccine developed by Pfizer and the German company BioNTech was authorized for emergency use in the United Kingdom and approved in Canada. In the United States, an expert panel voted on Thursday to recommend that the Food and Drug Administration authorize that vaccine. A decision could come as early as Saturday. Another vaccine developed by Moderna could also be authorized within weeks.
Sanofi and GSK now face a more difficult path because they may have to show their vaccine is at least as good as one already authorized by regulators. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have each shown that they are more than 90 percent effective against Covid-19.
The companies said they now expect their vaccine will not be available until the end of next year.
“We care greatly about public health which is why we are disappointed by the delay announced today, but all our decisions are and will always be driven by science and data,” said Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and head of Sanofi Pasteur, the company’s vaccine division. “No single pharma company can make it alone; the world needs more than one vaccine to fight the pandemic.”
The companies said Friday that interim results of their early-stage clinical trials showed that, among adults 18 to 49 years old, the vaccine stimulated an immune response that was comparable to patients who had recovered from Covid-19. But older adults showed a low immune response, likely because of an insufficient concentration of the antigen, the protein that stimulates the body’s immune reaction.
The Sanofi vaccine is based on viral proteins that are produced with engineered viruses that grow inside insect cells. GSK supplements the proteins with adjuvants that stimulate the immune system. The vaccine is based on the same design Sanofi used to create Flublok, an approved vaccine for influenza.
If the vaccine does not succeed, or if it takes longer to develop, that could limit the available supply of vaccines, both in the United States and around the world.
In addition to the U.S. deal, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline also reached a deal in September with the European Union for 300 million doses, and with Canada for up to 72 million doses. Sanofi also agreed to provide 200 million doses to COVAX, an international collaboration to deliver the vaccine equitably across the world. They had previously announced plans to make up to one billion doses in 2021.
American officials warned Thursday that hackers are targeting K-12 schools in a new wave of cyberattacks that is disrupting distance learning even as coronavirus cases spike across the country.
The F.B.I. and the cybersecurity division of Homeland Security issued a joint advisory warning of a new wave of ransomware and so-called DDoS, or distributed denial of service, attacks on K-12 schools that are slowing or disrupting student and teacher access to distance learning.
Some of the hackers behind the ransomware, officials said, held school data hostage or threatened to leak confidential student data if a payment was not made.
Over the past month, the attacks have taken more than a hundred schools in Baltimore offline. They have also hit dozens of schools in Texas and Alabama, as well as a handful of schools in Georgia and Ohio, according to public reports collected by Emsisoft, a security firm.
More than half of all ransomware attacks reported to a multistate analysis center in August and September involved attacks on K-12 schools, officials said.
“Schools have always been targets because there is a high likelihood they’ll pay a modest ransom to get their data back,” said Alex Holden, the chief executive at Hold Security, which specializes in cybercrime.
The F.B.I. has advised ransomware victims not to pay, but some schools are ignoring that advice.
Officials in Yazoo County, Miss., recently revealed that they had paid $300,000 to recover data from a ransomware attack last October. In July, officials in Athens, Texas, paid $50,000 to keep their data from being published online.
Cybersecurity experts say K-12 schools are particularly vulnerable, given that younger children are not as well versed in password management and in not clicking on phishing emails.
Many school districts have worked with FireEye, the security firm, which has offered school districts in Texas and elsewhere access to their security tools through the end of 2020. But earlier this week, FireEye revealed that its systems had been penetrated by nation-state hackers that appeared to be Russian.