Covid Live Updates: Florida Opts to Halt Daily Virus Reports
To reach vaccine holdouts, California tries a flashy lottery, while Hong Kong offers apartments. The C.D.C. says children are more likely to be hospitalized for Covid than for the flu.,
The Florida Department of Health will no longer update its Covid-19 dashboard and will suspend daily case and vaccine reports, the governor’s office confirmed on Friday. Officials will instead post weekly updates, becoming the first U.S. state to move to such an infrequent publishing schedule.
Officials first announced last week that the state would end daily reports in a news release outlining Florida’s plans to transition into the next phase of its Covid-19 response now that cases in the state are decreasing. Last month, Florida closed its state-run testing sites but gave counties the option of taking them over.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, told The News Service of Florida on Friday that there is no need to keep issuing the daily reports.
“Covid-19 cases have significantly decreased over the past year as we have a less than 5 percent positivity rate, and our state is returning to normal, with vaccines widely available throughout Florida,” Pushaw said in an email to reporters.
In the past two weeks, Florida has seen a 43 percent drop in coronavirus cases and deaths, and 50 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, just below the national average of 51 percent, according to a New York Times database.
Florida’s dashboard was created in part by Rebekah D. Jones, a state data scientist who was fired for insubordination in May 2020, 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 data in fact showed that the virus was rapidly spreading in a state that was hesitant to mandate broad restrictions and eager to reopen.
Ms. Jones’s firing became a flash point as Mr. DeSantis, a close ally of then-President Donald J. Trump, touted Florida’s early success in battling the virus — a victory lap that turned out to be premature at the time and led to a disastrous summer. State officials insisted that her claims about hiding virus data were false. She was dismissed, they said, because she made unilateral decisions to modify the virus dashboard without approval.
After Ms. Jones was fired, she made her own database using public virus case records from the Florida Department of Health that had been buried deep in PDF files on the state website.
In December, state police agents with guns drawn raided Ms. Jones’s home in Tallahassee to execute a search warrant in a criminal investigation, after police said a breach at the Florida Department of Health was traced to her computer. She denied having anything to do with the breach.
Ms. Jones’s dashboard generally shows a higher number of cases than the number reported by the state. It also includes information from other agencies, such as hospitalization rates from the Agency for Health Care Administration, that are not on the state dashboard.
But after the state announced that it would no longer update its public records, Ms. Jones wrote on her database that she wouldn’t be able to update her dashboard either.
“No more data,” she wrote. “Only summary reports in PDF format. Please be patient as I work to reformat the website to adjust for these changes.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California kicked off the state’s Covid-19 vaccine lottery on Friday, drawing the first batch of $50,000 winners on a livestream.
“There are real winners here,” remarked the governor, standing in front of a lottery wheel, a ball machine and a glittering gold lame curtain at the headquarters of the California Lottery.
The 15 prize recipients in the “Vax for the Win” program were pulled from the state’s anonymous registry of more than 21 million Californians — 70 percent of adults — who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. (If a winner has only received the first of two shots, that person must complete the vaccination to claim the prize.)
They were publicly identified only by county and registry number; state privacy laws prohibit the release of any names without permission from the winner. Registration is automatic through the state’s immunization database.
The winners came mostly from urban and coastal population centers, a reflection of the state’s ongoing problems with vaccine hesitancy in rural and more conservative areas.
Assisting the governor were State Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician who led the tightening of the state’s vaccine regulations in 2015, and Claudio Alvarado, a pediatric emergency nurse at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center.
“Round and round she goes!” said Mr. Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, as he reached into the ball machine.
A second batch of 15 names will be drawn next Friday for another set of $50,000 cash prizes, and a final group of 10 grand prizes — $1.5 million apiece — will be drawn on June 15. The governor has said the state will lift most of its pandemic health restrictions on that date, but noted on Friday that until the virus is “extinguished,” he will not completely lift the emergency declaration that has underpinned most of his pandemic policies.
The $116.5 million lottery, underwritten by California’s general fund and federal pandemic relief dollars, is so far the nation’s largest vaccine incentive program. A growing number of cash giveaways have been initiated by states from the time Ohio began offering $1 million prizes and four-year college scholarships in May.
Washington, Oregon and Colorado, among others, are offering $1 million jackpots and New Mexico is offering $5 million. West Virginia’s governor this week announced a $1.6 million grand prize, saying that if residents couldn’t get vaccines for themselves, they should do it for his bulldog, Babydog.
The states’ efforts are part of a larger push by the Biden administration to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the country by President Biden’s self-imposed July 4 deadline. Mr. Biden has laid out an aggressive campaign that includes incentives like free tickets to the Super Bowl and to Major League Baseball games, free ride-sharing and child care for those going to vaccine appointments, free airline tickets and free beer for adults on Independence Day — if the nation meets his goal.
California’s vaccine prize drawings offer odds of about 1 in 2 million for the $1.5 million prizes, substantially better than the 1 in 11.7 million odds of winning $1 million in Powerball.
Mr. Newsom, who is facing a Republican-led campaign to recall him, was asked on Friday by reporters whether the recall had influenced his pandemic policies. The governor replied that “every single decision I’ve made is consistent with the work I’ve done for decades and what I’ve campaigned on.”
A brand-new apartment. Paid leave. A private party on a commercial plane.
Incentives to get vaccinated against Covid-19 are multiplying in Hong Kong, from the government as well as businesses eager to begin their recovery.
But the Chinese territory, which has largely kept the coronavirus under control, is now struggling with a sluggish inoculation campaign that officials worry could leave it vulnerable to an outbreak like the one currently faced by Taiwan, another one of the pandemic’s early success stories.
Experts warn that the incentives in Hong Kong may do little to allay the anxiety and confusion underlying people’s vaccine hesitancy, and that other solutions are urgently needed before Hong Kong faces a “fifth wave” of infections.
While other parts of Asia, like India and the Philippines, face dire vaccine shortages, Hong Kong has secured enough doses for its population of 7.5 million. Vaccination is free, but not compulsory, to everyone 16 and older, and on Thursday the health secretary approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children as young as 12.
Hong Kong is not the only place to encourage vaccination with prizes. Earlier this week President Biden said that a wide range of giveaways, like free tickets to sporting events, free flights and free beer, would be part of an aggressive campaign to have 70 percent of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4. California is trying a lottery.
Hong Kong’s vaccination campaign began in late February, with a goal of inoculating 70 percent of the population in order to reach herd immunity and allow Hong Kong to reopen to the world after sealing its borders to nonresidents.
That goal seems increasingly out of reach. As of Friday, just shy of 20 percent of the population had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and less than 15 percent had been fully vaccinated, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.
The number of hospitalizations related to Covid-19 among adolescents in the United States was about three times greater than hospitalizations linked to influenza over three recent flu seasons, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.
The findings run counter to claims that influenza is more threatening to children than Covid-19 is, an argument that has been used in the push to reopen schools, and to question the value of vaccinating adolescents against the coronavirus.
“Much of this suffering can be prevented,” the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, said in a statement. “Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic.”
Children have a much lower risk overall of Covid-19, compared with adults, but their chances of infection and severe illness are thought to increase with age. Since the start of the pandemic, the rate of hospitalizations among children ages 12 to 17 was 12.5 times lower than among adults. But the rate was higher than that seen in children ages 5 to 11, according to the new report.
The researchers tallied Covid-19 hospitalizations among children ages 12 to 17 from March 1, 2020, to April 24, 2021. The data came from Covid-Net, a population-based surveillance system in 14 states, covering about 10 percent of Americans.
The number of adolescents hospitalized for Covid-19 declined in January and February of this year, but rose again in March and April. Between Jan. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021, 204 adolescents were likely hospitalized primarily for Covid-19. Most of the children had at least one underlying medical condition, such as obesity, asthma or a neurological disorder.
None of the children died, but about one-third were admitted to the intensive care unit, and 5 percent required invasive mechanical ventilation. Roughly two-thirds of the hospitalized adolescents were Black or Hispanic, reflecting the greater risk posed by the virus to these populations.
The researchers compared the numbers for Covid-19 with hospitalizations for flu in the same age group during the 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 flu seasons. From Oct. 1, 2020, to April 24, 2021, hospitalization rates for Covid-19 among adolescents were 2.5 to 3.0 times higher than for seasonal flu in previous years.
The rate may have increased this spring because of the more contagious variants of the coronavirus in circulation, as well as school reopenings that brought children together indoors, and looser adherence to precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, the researchers said.
The data lend urgency to the drive to get more teenagers vaccinated, said Dr. Walensky, who added that she was “deeply concerned” by the numbers.
Britain’s drug regulator on Friday endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in 12- to 15-year-olds, as the country reported its highest rate of coronavirus cases since late March.
A final decision on including young people in the country’s inoculation campaign now rests with a government advisory committee, but with Britain expanding vaccine eligibility only gradually — shots are now authorized for those age 30 and older — it could be weeks or months before 12- to 15-year-olds will be able to get vaccinated.
The United States and the European Union cleared the way for use of the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds last month. The United States began vaccinating adolescents last month, and Germany said it would begin next week.
Britain has engineered one of the world’s fastest vaccine rollouts, with more than 75 percent of adults having received at least one dose, and half having been fully vaccinated, according to public data.
Yet the pace of vaccinations has slowed in recent months, and Britain now trails several European countries in the number of daily doses administered.
June Raine, the chief executive of Britain’s drug regulator, said on Friday that clinical trial data for 12- to 15-year-olds showed that the Pfizer vaccine was safe and effective, and that “the benefits of this vaccine outweigh any risk.”
The regulator’s decision came as Britain faces a surge of reported cases driven by the variant first detected in India, now known as Delta. More than 6,200 cases reported nationwide on Friday, according to public data, up from 3,400 a week earlier. Deaths have remained low — 11 fatalities were reported on Friday — but are increasing from the single-digit numbers of recent weeks.
Several European countries have banned most travel from Britain, and experts have urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay the lifting of almost all restrictions scheduled for June 21. This week, Mr. Johnson said: “I don’t see anything currently in the data to suggest that we have to deviate from the road map, but we may need to wait.”
Several outbreaks have been reported in British schools in recent weeks, but the country’s health authorities said on Thursday that they were not a source of major concern.
“Infection and outbreak trends in schools have remained consistent with the expectations of public health and education experts and in line with what is happening nationally,” Public Health England said in a statement.
In early May, after travel restrictions in the United States had eased and he had been fully vaccinated, the writer and psychologist Andrew Solomon took a commercial flight to visit his daughter in Texas. He writes of the experience:
I ate and drank nothing onboard, and my mask was tightly fixed on my face. Still, there was also a feeling of festive nostalgia attached to reclaiming the skies, a feeling I usually associate with returning to a university where I once studied, or revisiting the scene of childhood summers.
As we broke through the clouds into that stratosphere of private sunshine that is so familiar to jet travelers, I felt the uneasy joy I discovered when I first hugged friends after being vaccinated. The quarantine had given me extra time with my husband and son, days to write, and the comforting patterns of repetition. But breaking out of it was a relief, nonetheless.
At the end of “Paradise Lost,” Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden, and John Milton makes no bones about their anguish at being cast out. But he does not end on that sour note, because banishment from one place meant an opportunity to find another, however tentatively that process was undertaken:
Some natural tears they dropd, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.
That will be how we return to the pre-Covid realms of possibility.