WASHINGTON, Dec 1 (Reuters) - U.S. officials on Monday unveiled details of their plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to millions of Americans starting later this month, as the United States again broke records for new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

With outgoing President Donald Trump's coronavirus strategy relying heavily on a vaccine, the chief adviser of his administration's Operation Warp Speed program said on Tuesday that 20 million people could be vaccinated by the end of 2020, and that by the middle of 2021 most Americans will have access to highly effective vaccines.

"Within 24 hours, maybe at most 36 to 48 hours, from the approval, the vaccine can be in people's arms," Moncef Slaoui, a former GlaxoSmithKline executive, said at an event conducted by The Washington Post newspaper.

The virus infected 4.36 million more people in November, more than doubling the number of new cases the previous month, as many Americans refused to wear masks and traveled for holiday gatherings against the recommendations of health experts.

Some 60 million to 70 million doses could be available per month beginning in January, after the expected approval of vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc, Slaoui said.

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A Food and Drug Administration panel of outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether to recommend that the FDA authorize emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine. They are expected to review Moderna's candidate a week later.

The U.S. Transportation Department said on Tuesday it has made preparations to enable the "immediate mass shipment" of COVID-19 vaccines and completed all necessary regulatory measures.

First in line for vaccinations could be about 21 million healthcare workers and 3 million residents in long-term care facilities, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said.

A CDC advisory panel is due to vote on Tuesday on recommendations for which Americans should get the vaccine first. The CDC will take the recommendation into account and provide guidance to the states to assist governors in their decisions about vaccine distribution priorities.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday complained about the lack of federal funding for vaccine distribution. He also criticized a data-sharing agreement put forward by the government that he said could "dissuade undocumented immigrants from taking the vaccine."

Cuomo expressed concern that data on those receiving the virus could end up in the hands of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

'TRAGICALLY FAMILIAR PATTERN'

Meanwhile, leading health officials are pleading with Americans to follow their recommendations to help arrest a pandemic that killed more than 37,000 people in the United States in November alone.

A record of nearly 96,000 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally.

Officials are concerned about the strain on healthcare systems and overworked providers with hospitalization and deaths expected to spike after millions traveled for Thanksgiving last week and with the Christmas holiday season fast approaching.

U.S. COVID-19 deaths are projected to nearly double in December to a pandemic-high of more than 70,000 and climb to over 76,000 in January before ebbing in February, according to a widely cited model from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The monthly U.S. record of 58,740 COVID-19 deaths was set in April.

The pandemic and restrictions meant to stop it have ravaged the U.S. economy.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a $908 billion COVID-19 relief bill aimed at breaking a monthslong deadlock between Democrats and Republicans over new emergency assistance for small businesses, unemployed people and industries.

U.S. nursing homes are experiencing the worst outbreak of weekly coronavirus cases since the spring, according to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), which represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the country.

New York City is seeing a "marked increase" in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, with hospitals reporting more than 1,100 COVID-19 patients - double the number from less than three weeks ago and the most since early June, Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi told a news conference on Tuesday.

Chokshi said he is issuing a "commissioner's notice" urging at-risk New Yorkers to stop non-essential activities and stay in as much as possible as the city battles its second coronavirus wave.

"This escalation unfortunately follows a tragically familiar pattern - cases grow, hospitalizations follow," Chokshi said. "And, sadly, too many result in critical illness or even death."

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lisa Shumaker, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Jonathan Allen, David Shepardson and Julie Steenhuysen; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)