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Vaccine blitz underway in New Jersey as state aims to inoculate 70% in six months. Postal Service woes continue. Second vaccine approved. And stimulus checks coming?

Gov. Phil Murphy says the state is on track to open six "megasites" for vaccines. Meanwhile Congress debates a stimulus package.

Cooper University Health Care nurse Kimberly Peacock holds a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this week. Cooper is among the first group of hospitals in New Jersey to receive the vaccine.
Cooper University Health Care nurse Kimberly Peacock holds a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this week. Cooper is among the first group of hospitals in New Jersey to receive the vaccine.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

A COVID-19 vaccine blitz has begun in New Jersey with the state aiming to inoculate 70% of the adult population by summer. A health-care executive is calling the vaccine “a shot in the arm for morale.” At least a few modestly positive trends were reported Friday, and government stimulus checks might soon be on the way to households around the country.

But officials reiterated Friday that no Christmas miracle is imminent; that infection, hospitalization, and death numbers are still increasing. That like everything else since the coronavirus began disrupting our lives nine months ago, the 2020 holiday season is going to be like no other.

Officials are cautioning people about attending Christmas parties and church services, let alone New Year’s Eve celebrations to mark what purists call the official start of the new decade.

And coronavirus-related issues have so messed up the mail service that one veteran U.S. Postal Service employee warns: “You’re not gonna get your Christmas presents because we don’t have the people and the ingenuity to do it.”

» READ MORE: Thousands of delayed packages are piled up at Pa. Postal Service facilities: ‘You’re not gonna get your Christmas presents’

Meanwhile, a growing number of Pennsylvania businesses, mostly restaurants and gyms, are openly defying the state’s recent orders that ban indoor service at restaurants, gyms, casinos, and theaters through Jan. 4, despite the state’s warnings about the potential for indoor infection spread.

Pennsylvania reported more than 200 COVID-19 deaths for the fourth straight day on Friday, and overall the state has reported 13,608 coronavirus-related deaths. Hospitalizations continue to increase, the health department said.

The state did offer one positive development: The seven-day average for positive tests, 9,800, was down slightly from last week. In New Jersey, while cautioning that it was too soon to declare a trend, Gov. Phil Murphy said that hospitalizations dropped slightly for a second consecutive day.

The state reported on Friday that it added 3,875 new cases, and 44 COVID19-related deaths.

But the battle against the virus is escalating in the Garden State. New Jersey is on track to open six vaccine “megasites” by mid-January, Murphy said, including ones in Burlington and Gloucester Counties and Atlantic City. Health officials also plan to open 200 satellite sites at hospitals, pharmacies, and other locations.

More than 2,000 health-care workers have received doses, said health commissioner Judith Persichilli. Vaccinations of residents and staff of long-term care facilities will start on Dec. 28, she said. Then, those over 65 who have underlying conditions will be eligible, followed by the general public. The goal is to have 70% of the adult population vaccinated within the next six months.

Across the river, John Stallkamp, Main Line Health’s chief medical officer, called the vaccine “a shot in the arm for morale.” The health system’s four acute-care hospitals received vials of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday and began vaccinating 2,000 workers. “People have lived with this fear of getting the virus. This vaccine is better than any PPE we can give them.”

» READ MORE: COVID-19 vaccine gives Philly health-care workers a glimpse of pandemic hope. Then it’s back to work.

But Murphy expressed concern about vaccine deliveries. He said New Jersey’s timetable will hinge on how many doses it receives from Pfizer and Moderna, and Persichilli said that the state’s next shipments will include more than a third of the doses the state had expected.

On the issue of delivery problems, the U.S. Postal Service evidently is having one forgettable holiday season.

“Don’t be using the post office right now, because we can’t deliver the mail,” said Laurence Love, an assistant clerk craft director who operates mail-sorting machines at the Philadelphia Processing and Delivery Center.

Veteran employees are warning that holiday gifts might not arrive by Christmas as tens of thousands of packages pile up inside Philadelphia-area processing centers.

Facilities across the region are so full of packages there is barely enough room to walk, employees in Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley, and South Jersey said. In Allentown, about 10 trailers filled with mail are sitting in the parking lot, with no room to unload the items.

It’s very possible that the postal service may soon be called upon to deliver millions of stimulus checks, although they won’t arrive in time for Christmas.

Negotiations continue on a stimulus package that could include $600 to $700 for eligible Americans, supplemental $300-a-week federal unemployment benefits for those not working, and deferred student loan payments until April.

» READ MORE: Americans could get $600 direct payments, $300-a-week federal unemployment in next stimulus

The same Americans who received stimulus checks last March would be eligible for this latest round: individuals who earn less than $75,000 and married couples making less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income. As in the first round, those with dependents may also receive extra money.

In the meantime, officials are asking people to keep their distances over Christmas. Churches that do hold in-person services should take precautions such as requiring spacing in pews, said Bucks County Health Director David Damsker.

Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia cautioned against gathering in person or traveling to celebrate Christmas. Instead, she suggested, try a Zoom gathering.

“This is a year we’re going to be telling children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren about. And we should be able to point to what we did to make this year a little bit easier for the doctors and nurses as well as for our neighbors.”

Staff writers Erin Arvedlund, Marie McCullough, Anna Orso, Rob Tornoe, Ellie Rushing, and Ellie Silverman contributed to this article.