NEW YORK (AP) – A major snowstorm rolled into the Northeast on Wednesday at a key moment in the coronavirus pandemic, days after the start of the US vaccination campaign and in the heat of a virus burst that has throngs of people looking for tests every day.
By late afternoon, snow fell from Northern Virginia to points north of New York City. The storm was about to drop as much as 0.6 meters of snow in some places by Thursday, and the pandemic added new complexity to officials’ preparations – deciding whether to close test sites, figuring out how to deal with it. plow amid outdoor dining platforms on the streets of New York City, redefining the snowy days at school as another day of learning at home, and more.
“Our theme today should be, ‘If it’s not one, it’s another,’ said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy as he gave residents storm guidance that’s new this year – mask on if you’re helping your neighbors with scooping.
Still, officials said they did not expect the winter blast to disrupt the distribution of vaccines, which began Monday for primary care health workers, the first group of Americans to receive the shots. The first 3 million admissions are strictly limited to those workers and nursing home residents.
US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Wednesday that the government is closely monitoring vaccine shipments, already has staff to receive them, and believes the companies transporting them can weather the storm.
“This is FedEx, this is UPS express shipping. They know how to handle snow and bad weather. But we’re on it and we’re following it, ”he told Fox News Channel“ Fox & Friends. ‘
With 35 vaccine deliveries to New Jersey hospitals expected in the next two days, Murphy said his administration was focused on ensuring they continued, including by exempting vaccine delivery trucks from a storm-related ban on commercial traffic on some highways. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state’s first round of vaccination had already been distributed to some 90 hospitals, and the next delivery should not take place until about Tuesday, well after the storm.
The National Weather Service said the storm would bring “ a plethora of hazards from the mid-Atlantic to the northeast, ” including frigid rain and ice in the mid-Atlantic, heavy snow in the New York City area, and southern New England, high winds and coastal flooding, and possibly even severe thunderstorms and some tornadoes in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
In Virginia, the burst of snow, sleet, and sleet powered thousands of homes and businesses by Wednesday afternoon. State police said troopers had responded to about 200 crashes as of 3 p.m., including a wreck on Interstate 81 that killed a North Carolina man.
The heaviest snowfall was expected in central Pennsylvania, where forecasters in the state capital of Harrisburg said a six-decade-old record for a December snowfall could potentially be broken. But some areas, from West Virginia to Maine, can get as much as three feet of snow – more for some than they all saw last winter. In New York City, officials are bracing for the biggest storm in about three years.
“Take this seriously,” Mayor de Blasio warned residents.
In addition to the usual rollout of plows and salt spreaders, the country’s most populous city added some pandemic-era preparations to its list, such as closing city-run test sites on Wednesday afternoons and suspending outdoor dining in the sometimes elaborate spaces which now occupy parking lots outside some restaurants.
The eateries don’t have to tear down their wooden casings and other structures to eat al fresco, currently the only form of restaurant table service allowed in the city. But they have to secure patio furniture, remove heaters, and take other measures to make way for plows. The town’s snow clearing chief, acting Sanitation Commissioner Ed Grayson, said the agency had been planning and training to maneuver around the buildings since the summer.
De Blasio also announced that Thursday would also be a snow day – 2020 style – for the country’s largest school district. School buildings will be closed, but students are expected to attend classes online (many would anyway, as middle and high schools are all currently online and many families have opted for full distance learning).
“I know we all grew up with the excitement of snow days, but this year is different,” the mayor tweeted.
Rhode Island, meanwhile, closed state-run coronavirus testing sites for Thursday.
Associated Press Writers Tom Hays in New York; Wayne Parry in Point Pleasant, New Jersey; Mike Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey; Skip Foreman in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Philip Marcelo in Boston and Dino Hazell in Washington contributed.