The rate of Covid-19 vaccinations in the United States, which had been accelerating after a chaotic start, has quickly fallen after a winter storm blew through much of the country, closing vaccine sites and delaying shipments of millions of doses.
The country has been racing to vaccinate as many people as possible before more contagious and possibly deadlier variants of the coronavirus become dominant, and the figure had been well above the president’s goal of 1.5 million doses for several days. It peaked at 1.7 million on Feb. 16 before a brutal winter storm hit states from coast to coast. The bad weather delayed shipments of vaccine supplies from two hubs: a FedEx center in Memphis and a UPS site in Louisville, Ky.
More than 2,000 vaccine sites were in areas with power outages, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Many were not only forced to close but left relying on generators to keep doses at the ultracold temperatures they require to prevent them from spoiling.
New York City has fewer than 1,000 Covid-19 doses on hand because of shipment delays caused by snowstorms across the country, the city reported on Saturday. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that New York City had delayed scheduling up to 35,000 first dose appointments because of the shortage.
The storm stacked up six million doses, about three days’ worth of shipping delays, stalling appointments across the country, said Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, at a news conference.
States had made up for some of the backlog with existing stock, Mr. Slavitt said. Of the six million doses, 1.4 million were already in transit on Friday, he added, and the rest were expected to be delivered in the next week.
“We’re asking vaccine administration sites to extend their hours even further and offer additional appointments and to try to reschedule the vaccinations over the coming days and weeks as significantly more supply arrives,” Mr. Slavitt said Friday.
The bottlenecks and delays have come just as states have broadened vaccine access to more groups, despite a limited supply that is not growing enough to keep up.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said that starting March 1 the state would reserve 10 percent of its first vaccine doses for teachers and school employees, after expanding access to all Californians with chronic health conditions and disabilities.
Some states have restarted vaccinations. Texas, after a frigid storm left millions without power and water, has reopened inoculation sites. The state has been assigned almost 600,000 first doses of the vaccine for the upcoming week, according to the state health department, up from about 400,000 first doses for the week of Feb. 15.
The doses that were supposed to be delivered this week are still waiting to be shipped to Texas from out-of-state warehouses, state health officials said. The missed doses are expected to be delivered in the first half of this week.
In the Houston area, a new mass FEMA vaccination site at NRG Park is on track to open on Tuesday and will be vaccinating 42,000 people per week, Lina Hidalgo, chief executive of Harris County, said on Thursday.
In Dallas, a major vaccination hub at Fair Park will reopen Sunday, but sites in Austin remain closed.
New York State is still scheduling appointments for new mass vaccination sites opening in Brooklyn and Queens on Wednesday in partnership with FEMA.
State officials said that they had received 40 percent of their vaccine allocation for the week, and that they expected the remainder would be distributed on Sunday.
The new sites, at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and York College in Queens, are open to residents of only select ZIP codes and are intended to increase low vaccination rates in communities of color. Data released on Tuesday showed drastic disparities between vaccination rates in whiter areas of New York City compared with predominantly Black neighborhoods.
Canadians might be known internationally as nice, apologetic and fair-minded. But a very different Canadian persona has been exposed by a year of pandemic: one that shames people for contracting and potentially spreading the virus.
Snitch lines set up across Canada have been flooded with tips about people suspected of breaking quarantine, businesses flouting public health restrictions, and out-of-towners siders with unfamiliar license plates who are seen in town and might be bringing the virus with them.
Facebook groups are full of stories of people being labeled potential vectors and are then refused service, disinvited from family gatherings, and reported to the police and public health authorities.
Experts worry that fear of being treated that way may be driving cases underground, delaying reports of Covid-19 symptoms and making people avoid getting tested.
“This is impacting our ability to contain the virus,” said Dr. Ryan Sommers, one of eight public health doctors in Nova Scotia who published a letter beseeching residents in the small Atlantic province to stop shaming one another.
“We want to create a social norm where people will be supportive and caring and compassionate,” Dr. Sommers said. “Social media can be more virulent than the virus itself.”
In the country’s four eastern provinces, which have enforced self-isolation rules for anyone entering the region, the shaming is not just online, said Robert Huish, an associate professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, who is conducting a study of coronavirus stigma. It’s intimate, particularly in small communities, where “community cohesion quickly flips to become community surveillance.”
Some say the fear of stigma has become worse than the fear of contracting the virus.
Historically, stigma and shaming have faithfully trailed pandemics, said David Barnes, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the history of infectious diseases and epidemics. During the plague years in Europe, Jewish people were made into convenient scapegoats. When cholera afflicted Britain in the 19th century, working-class Irish people were blamed, Mr. Barnes said.
Most recently, gay men and Haitians were stigmatized during the AIDS epidemic in the United States.
“We make ourselves feel safer and superior by associating disease with people who are not like us, do things we don’t do or come from places unlike our place,” Mr. Barnes said. “We shouldn’t be surprised.”
When a young Israeli woman was released from detention in Syria this week, after having been arrested for crossing illegally into Syria, the official story was that she had been the beneficiary of a straightforward prisoner swap. In return for her freedom, the Israeli government announced, she had been exchanged for two Syrian shepherds captured by the Israelis.
But if this deal between two enemy states, which have never shared diplomatic relations, sounded too swift and easy, it was. In secret, Israel had in fact also agreed to a far more contentious ransom: the financing of an undisclosed number of Covid-19 vaccines for Syria, according to an official familiar with the content of the negotiations.
Under the deal, Israel will pay Russia, which mediated it, to send Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the official said. Israel has given at least one vaccine shot to nearly half its population of 9.2 million, while Syria — now entering its 11th year of civil war — has yet to begin its vaccine rollout.
The Israeli government declined to comment on the vaccine aspect of the deal, while a Syrian state-controlled news outlet, the Syrian Arab News Agency, denied that vaccines were part of the arrangement. Asked about the vaccines in a television interview on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel evaded the question, saying only that no Israeli vaccines were being sent to Syria.
The deal constitutes a rare moment of uneasy cooperation between two states that have fought several wars and still contest the sovereignty of a tract of land, the Golan Heights, that Israel captured from Syria in 1967.
It also highlights how vaccines are increasingly a feature of international diplomacy. And it reflects a vast and growing disparity between wealthy states, like Israel, that have made considerable headway with coronavirus vaccines and may soon return to some kind of normality — and poor ones, like Syria, that have not.
Australia began vaccinating its population against the coronavirus on Sunday, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and 19 other people getting shots a day after hundreds gathered nationwide to protest the vaccine rollout.
The first Australian to be vaccinated was Jane Malysiak, 84, who lives in a Sydney nursing home. She was followed by a number of quarantine and health care workers; the country’s chief health officer, Paul Kelly; and Mr. Morrison.
When asked by the person administering his vaccine whether he had any questions, Mr. Morrison replied, “No, I’m ready to go, just like the country.”
Australia, a country of about 25 million, aims to have four million people vaccinated by the end of next month. Prioritized groups are receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, though Australia has also approved the vaccine from Oxford University-AstraZeneca, which is being manufactured domestically. The vaccines are being distributed for free and taking them is not compulsory, although employers in some high-risk industries may be able to compel workers to vaccinate.
The event in Sydney was intended to build confidence ahead of the country’s official vaccine rollout on Monday, and it came a day after anti-vaccine protests took place in most major Australian cities.
In Melbourne, the police clashed with protesters and used pepper spray, according to the local news media. The police said they had arrested 20 people on charges including breaching public health orders and resisting arrest. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation estimated that the protest drew about 500 people.
Protests in other cities were largely peaceful. In Sydney, the police said more than 400 people protested, while in Brisbane, the ABC estimated there were over 1,000. Protesters chanted “Freedom!” and “My body, my choice.”
New Zealand officially began its own vaccine rollout over the weekend, also using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Both countries have recorded relatively few coronavirus cases and deaths, reporting zero locally acquired infections in the 24 hours before vaccinations began.
One year ago, when the coronavirus spread to the United States, few public health experts predicted its death toll would climb to such a terrible height.
At a White House briefing on March 31, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert in the country, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who was coordinating the coronavirus response at the time, announced a stunning projection: Even with strict stay-at-home orders, the virus might kill as many as 240,000 Americans.
Less than a year later, the virus has killed more than twice that number. A nation numbed by misery and loss is confronting a number that still has the power to shock: 500,000.
No other country has counted so many deaths during the pandemic. More Americans have perished from Covid-19 than they did on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.
The milestone comes at a hopeful moment: New virus cases are down sharply, deaths are slowing and vaccines are steadily being administered.
But there is concern that new, more contagious variants of the virus could quickly undo the nation’s progress and lead to another spike. It will still take months to vaccinate the American public, and it may be months before the pandemic is contained.
The virus has reached every corner of America, devastating dense cities and rural counties alike. By now, about one in 670 Americans has died of it.
In New York City, more than 28,000 people have died of the virus — or one in 295 people. In Los Angeles County, which has lost nearly 20,000 people to Covid-19, about one in 500 people has died of the virus. In Lamb County, Texas, where 13,000 people live scattered on a sprawling expanse of 1,000 square miles, one in 163 people has died of the virus.
As the United States approaches the loss of half a million people to Covid-19, there are few events in history that adequately compare.
The 1918 influenza pandemic is estimated to have killed about 675,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when the country’s population was a third of what it is now. But it also happened at a time when influenza vaccines, antibiotics, mechanical ventilation and other medical tools did not exist yet.
Deaths from Covid-19 in the United States came faster as the pandemic went on. The first known death occurred in February, and by May 27, 100,000 people had died. It took four months for the nation to log another 100,000 deaths; the next, about three months; the next, just five weeks.
Though daily deaths are now slowing, about 1,900 deaths in America are being reported each day. As of Saturday evening, the toll had reached 497,221.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, has projected that the nation could reach more than 614,000 deaths by June 1. Factors like how well people adhere to guidelines like mask-wearing and social distancing, plus the speed of vaccinations, could affect that estimate.
Weddings have always been emotional, but adding personal boundaries around safety and health, confusing government guidelines and the finer points of air filtration systems to the mix has pushed families and wedding planners to the edge.
Adept at negotiating fraught moments and achieving the impossible, wedding professionals are now also acting as health, infrastructure and grief experts. They face states, counties and cities with shifting and often senseless hodgepodges of guidelines and restrictions, or, sometimes, no rules at all.
“Everybody in the wedding industry is more confused than ever,” said Sonal Shah, who owns an event consulting company in New York. “One person in our office is dedicated to researching C.D.C. guidelines.”
In Texas, now gripped by a severe storm that forced power outages and water shortages, all venues can currently be filled to 75 percent capacity — but, as with a number of states, churches are exempt from that rule.
In North Dakota, an executive order ended capacity limits on weddings in mid-January, but state guidelines still offer numerous suggestions, such as limiting guest lists to 1,000 people in venues that can hold 2,000.
In New York, for now, weddings are capped at 50 people — indoors or outdoors. Religious ceremonies have to limit attendees to 50 percent of the venue’s capacity.
The Michigan guidelines are nearly impenetrable, but seem to indicate that no more than 10 people from no more than two households can gather indoors, and 25 people can gather outside, as long as there are no more than 20 people within 1,000 square feet — unless there is fixed seating, in which case a maximum of 25 people can gather, as long as attendance is limited to 20 percent of seating capacity of the outdoor area. Got that?
Regulations can also change unexpectedly, a challenge for events that are planned months in advance. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, suggested in December that weddings be pushed to June or July of 2021 at the earliest.
But as vaccinations and hope spread across the United States, the race to schedule weddings is back on.
An industry market report — which vividly showed the suffering finances of the wedding industry in 2020 — predicts that there will be a significant increase in wedding revenue this year.