Variants and Eased Restrictions Push U.S. Virus Cases Up Again
The rise is partly a result of large social interactions and state leaders pulling back on mitigation measures, Dr. Anthony Fauci said. Here’s the latest.,
After weeks of decline followed by a steady plateau, coronavirus cases are rising again in the United States. Deaths are still decreasing, but the country averaged 61,545 cases last week, 11 percent more than the average two weeks earlier.
Scientists predicted weeks ago that the number of infections would curve upward again in late March, at least in part because of the rise of variants of the coronavirus across the country. The variant that walloped Britain, called B.1.1.7, has led to a new wave of cases across most of Europe. Some scientists warned that it may lead to a new wave in the United States.
The rise in infections is also a result of state leaders pulling back on mitigation measures, and large social interactions, like spring break gatherings in Florida, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief science adviser, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“The variants are playing a part, but it’s not completely the variants,” Dr. Fauci said. Most states have lifted restrictions, including on indoor dining, in response to the drop in numbers, actions that Dr. Fauci called “premature.”
As of Thursday, there were 8,337 known cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the country, but the actual number is probably much higher because labs in the country analyze only a very small proportion of the diagnosed cases. Still, the trend is clear: The variant — which is more transmissible and possibly more lethal — has been rising exponentially in the United States, its growth masked by the overall drop in infections.
“It is remarkable how much this recalls the situation last year where we had introductions of virus to different places that scientists warned would be a problem,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health, said in an interview on Sunday. “People waited for them to be a problem before they took action — and then too late, they took action.”
Dr. Hanage said he was particularly worried about B.1.1.7 because it is at least 50 percent more transmissible than the original virus. The brisk pace of vaccinations will stem the tide somewhat, but the rising immunity in the population may be more than offset by the variant’s contagiousness, he added. “B.1.1.7 is really scary,” he said.
The vaccines in use in the United States — made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — are expected to prevent severe disease and death from any of the variants, although they are slightly less effective against a variant that was identified in South Africa. That variant, known as B.1.351, has not yet spread widely in the United States.
Because many of the highest risk people have been inoculated, hospitalizations and deaths may not show a steep rise along with infections. But a surge in cases will still lead to some severe cases and deaths, Dr. Hanage said.
“How large it will be we’ll need to wait and see,” he said. “But ideally we would not be waiting to see, ideally we’d be taking action.”
At least 36 states have made some members of the clergy eligible for a vaccine before the rest of the population, according to a New York Times survey.
The vaccines come at a critical time: As religious leaders continue to work on the front lines of the pandemic in hospitals, mortuaries and long-term care facilities, many are now working with health officials to help combat vaccine hesitancy in their communities.
In Utah, mosques are sharing videos on social media of imams receiving the vaccine. In Michigan, a rabbi is weaving messages of support for vaccination into his sermons and conversations with his congregation. And at the Washington National Cathedral this month, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease specialist, and other health officials joined 25 faith leaders from across the D.C. region as they received their vaccines on camera.
“Religious figures are among the most trusted leaders, so seeing congregation leaders get vaccinated first can relieve anxiety and fears,” Melissa Rogers, the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said during the vaccination event in Washington.
Many states have prioritized all clergy members for the vaccine, while at least 17 have expanded eligibility to religious leaders who work only in hospitals or other health care settings. In some other states, all adults are already eligible.
Rabbi Mark Miller of Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who continued to preside over funerals during the pandemic, was vaccinated in January.
“With everything that went on in the country over the last year, one of the things that didn’t stop, and couldn’t stop, was funerals,” said Rabbi Miller, who has urged his congregants to get the vaccine when they become eligible.
In some places, religious leaders have pushed to become eligible because their work can place them at higher risk of contracting the virus. Bishop Daniel G. P. Gutierrez of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania said he and other faith leaders started calling elected officials in December to ensure that clergy members would be vaccinated with other frontline workers. Though clergy members in most of Pennsylvania are still not eligible for the vaccine, the state has moved them into an earlier priority group than it had originally planned.
“People don’t recognize the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week ministry of a clergy,” Bishop Gutierrez said. “Once we brought that to their attention, almost all said: ‘You’re right. Let’s do this.'”
Officials with the Utah Muslim Civic League, which has hosted vaccination events at mosques, said registration numbers had been growing. And in Washington, after the Rev. Patricia Hailes Fears of Fellowship Baptist Church became the first clergy member to receive the vaccine at the event with Dr. Fauci, some congregants took notice.
“I wasn’t even home from the cathedral, and I was getting phone calls from members of the congregation saying, ‘Pastor, we saw you! I’m getting my shot on Saturday,'” she said.
Across the country, public health officials have reached out to religious leaders in Black and Hispanic communities, which have sometimes reported significantly lower vaccination rates compared with their representation in the general population.
In Baltimore, the Rev. Terris King of Liberty Grace Church of God has set up virtual discussions for members of his predominantly Black congregation with representatives from health care companies, such as Pfizer. Governments need to work with churches, the reverend said, because religious leaders understand their communities’ needs and anxieties, with much of the mistrust stemming from historical and current mistreatment of people of color in the health care system.
“Many of them have seen what, as a researcher in minority health, I’ve always known, and that’s that the church is the trusted source in the African-American community around the country,” he said.
— Brillian Bao and Kristine White
Facebook has frozen the page of President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela for violating policies against spreading misinformation about Covid-19 by promoting a remedy he claims, without evidence, can cure the disease, a company spokesman said on Saturday.
Facebook has taken down a video in which Mr. Maduro promotes Carvativir, an oral solution derived from thyme, because it violates a policy against false claims “that something can guarantee prevention from getting Covid-19 or can guarantee recovery from Covid-19.”
“We follow guidance from the W.H.O. that says there is currently no medication to cure the virus,” the spokesman told Reuters, referring to the World Health Organization. “Due to repeated violations of our rules, we are also freezing the page for 30 days, during which it will be read-only.”
In the video, Mr. Maduro says Carvativir, which he calls “miracle drops” of 19th century Venezuelan doctor Jose Gregorio Hernandez who has been beatified by the Roman Catholic Church, can be used preventively and therapeutically against the coronavirus.
The administrators of the page were notified of the policy violation, the Facebook spokesman said.
Mr. Maduro’s account on photo-sharing social media platform Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, will not be affected.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Venezuela’s official figures as of Friday showed 154,905 cases of coronavirus and 1,543 deaths, though opposition critics contend that limited testing means the actual figure is likely higher.
MOSCOW — While Russia is exporting its homegrown Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to countries in Latin America, Africa and Europe to great fanfare, it is quietly having to import supplies for its own population.
The Russian government struck a deal with a South Korean company, GL Rapha, to make Sputnik V doses and ship them to Russia. Several planeloads arrived in December and another shipment is due soon.
The Kremlin has deals with companies in India to start doing the same, but those deals may be clouded by India’s recent moves to held back vaccine supplies from export to be used domestically.
Russia has held up its vaccines, led by Sputnik V, as a triumph of the country’s scientists, but manufacturing them domestically on a large scale has been a different story. Domestic producers struggled for months last fall to obtain Chinese-made biotechnology equipment they needed.
The exact scale of Russia’s imports have not been disclosed, but they are expected to grow in the next few months. Russian officials said last fall that overseas manufacturing could be used to meet domestic demand, but have since gone quiet on the matter.
The imported doses could help Russia overcome a dismally slow vaccination rollout at home. So far, Russia has vaccinated 4.4 percent of its population, compared to 10 percent in the European Union and 26 percent in the United States.
They also illustrate that even countries whose scientists have designed successful vaccines often must rely on cross-border trade for supplies.
The slow start to production even played a role in when President Vladimir V. Putin was inoculated. His spokesman said last week that Mr. Putin put off getting a shot in January, when he became eligible under Russia’s priority rules, to avoid stimulating demand before the vaccine became widely available outside Moscow.
Mr. Putin said last week that enough Sputnik V to fully inoculate 8.9 million people — out of a population of about 145 million — had been distributed in Russia since regulators approved the vaccine last August. Russia’s minister of industry said Monday that he expected the country to soon be producing twice that amount every month.
More than 20 countries have begun using Sputnik V in relatively small amounts provided by Russia, including Argentina, Hungary, Bolivia, Algeria and Paraguay. Russian officials have said that most of the demand for Sputnik V abroad would be met by overseas production.
PANOLA, Ala. — A dog-eared trailer that serves as the only convenience store within 20 miles of this blink-and-you-miss-it rural hamlet, population 144, is more than a place to stock up on life’s essentials. These days the store — or more precisely its proprietor, Dorothy Oliver — has become an unofficial logistics hub for African-American residents seeking the coronavirus vaccine.
Even as vaccine supplies in Alabama have become more plentiful, Ms. Oliver’s neighbors, many of them older and poor, lack the smartphones and internet service needed to book appointments. And if they manage to secure a slot, they may not have a way to get to distant vaccination sites.
Ms. Oliver helps her neighbors snag appointments online and matches them with those willing to make the 45-minute drive to Livingston, the seat of Sumter County and the nearest town offering inoculations. Nearly three-quarters of the residents of the county, which includes Panola, are African-American.
“We’ve got to fend for ourselves because no one else is going to help us,” said Ms. Oliver, 68, a loquacious retired office administrator who spends many of her waking hours on the phone. “That’s the way it’s always been for poor Black people living in the country.”
Across the Southern states, Black doctors, Baptist preachers and respected community figures like Ms. Oliver are trying to combat lingering vaccine skepticism while also helping people overcome logistical hurdles that have led to a troubling disparity in vaccination rates between African-Americans and whites.
Though local leaders have made headway combating the hesitancy, they say the bigger obstacles are structural: the large stretches of Alabama and Mississippi without an internet connection or reliable cellphone service, the paucity of medical providers, and a medical establishment that has long overlooked the health care needs of African-Americans.
The old job, the old office, the old week — for many New Yorkers, the possibility of the return of something resembling their old life appears finally within reach. For them, the year of the pandemic was a blip, a pause, however frustrating, in their lives.
But for so many others, the old life is gone forever, washed away in tragedy, a job erased or a reordering of priorities.
New York may be just months away from seeming like its former self — restaurants and bars buzzing with people, subways full of vaccinated riders. The next few weeks will bring many reasons to feel hopeful. An increase in vaccine supply means appointments should be easier to secure, and the warmer weather will begin to draw people out of their homes.
But look closer and you see the truth. New York couldn’t possibly emerge from this year the same. Not after all this. Every street, block and building has suffered loss in some form.
The make-do adjustments, pivots and reactions of the last year have since calcified, becoming regular parts of the day. This is the new New York, and these are some of the new New York lives.
After Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna were approved for use in late 2020, anecdotes proliferated about rich people finding ways to jump the distribution priority line.
“I heard a lot from friends in Miami about people flying in, because they were giving it to everybody,” the writer Carole Radziwill said. “There was a lot of that in January.”
But a month later, as eligibility expanded in places like New York to include people with pre-existing conditions, such as cancer, severe obesity or cardiovascular disease, it began to appear as if a vaccine was available to anyone who was willing to hunt one down or stretch the truth about a mild circulatory or mental ailment — a “fauxmorbidity” — to justify an early shot.
To be fair, most comorbidities are invisible, and federal law protects the privacy of patients’ health information. And the more people who are vaccinated, the better. The supply of vaccines is supposed to increase dramatically over the next week or two, making these concerns less urgent.
Holly Peterson, who has written several novels about wealth in New York, heard about visibly slender people getting their vaccines early by citing, without much credibility, a high body mass index, or B.M.I.
To her, that seemed like “the equivalent of knocking over an old lady for a taxi and feeling good about yourself,” as she put it in an interview.
The generous phrase “including but not limited to” when one is asked to verify an “underlying condition as defined by the New York Department of Health” on the state’s comorbidities information sheet has been, for some, an open invitation to be creative with their medical history.
That people are publicly airing their vaccination status has made some who have been waiting for eligibility to broaden uneasy. “It’s broadcasting status, that you got the vaccine ahead of others,” said Erik Maza, the styles news director at Town & Country magazine. “We should all consider taking up the Garbo challenge and stay off social media for a spell instead of broadcasting every waking second of the day, including your vax shot.”
Few professions have been more upended by the pandemic than teaching has, as school districts have vacillated between in-person, remote and hybrid models of learning, leaving teachers concerned for their health and scrambling to do their jobs effectively.
For students considering the profession, the disruptions in education this past year have seeded doubts, which can be seen in declining enrollment numbers.
A survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that teaching programs had a 19 percent drop in enrollment this year at the undergraduate level and an 11 percent decline at the graduate level. And Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-income schools across the country, said it had received fewer applications for its fall 2021 corps compared with this period last year.
Many program leaders believed that enrollment numbers declined because of the perceived hazards posed by in-person teaching and the difficulties of remote learning, combined with longstanding frustrations over low pay compared with professions that require similar levels of education. (The national salary average for a public-school teacher was roughly $61,000 in 2017.) Some are hopeful that enrollment will return to its prepandemic level as vaccines continue to roll out and schools resume in-person learning.
But the challenges in teacher recruitment and retention run deeper: The number of education degrees conferred by American colleges and universities dropped 22 percent from 2006 to 2019, despite an overall increase in the number of graduates from universities in the United States, stoking concerns about a future teacher shortage.
Yale plans to hold a version of in-person graduation for the class of 2021 in May — with no guests allowed. Harvard is not even calling its commencement a “commencement.” It plans to hold virtual degree-granting ceremonies and, for the second year in a row, will postpone traditional festivities.
The universities of South Florida, Southern California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt, Rochester and Kentucky, among others, are holding in-person commencements, but with differing rules about guests.
So it goes in this second graduation season of the pandemic. Day by day, another university announces commencement plans, and given the uncertainty created by the coronavirus, the decisions are breaking in opposite ways.
Prairie View A&M in Texas plans to hold live commencements, even as, somewhat surreally, the president of the college, Ruth Simmons, will be delivering the principal address at Harvard’s virtual commencement.
In the United States, reported coronavirus cases and deaths have fallen significantly after a post-holiday surge, according to a New York Times database. Vaccinations have also picked up, averaging about 2.5 million shots a day, as eligibility expands in several states.
Experts warn, however, that dangerous variants could lead to a spike in cases and states that lift restrictions could be acting prematurely.
Many universities are stipulating that in order to participate in graduation, students must have tested negative for the coronavirus before the ceremony and have a good record of adhering to campus policies created to guard against infection.
Peter Salovey, the president of Yale, said in a statement this month that the university would be recognizing graduation by holding in-person gatherings “on or around May 24, if public health conditions permit.” Students studying both on campus and remotely are invited, but not their guests. Mr. Salovey said Yale was excluding families because it seemed unlikely that everybody would be vaccinated by graduation day.
Harvard was one of the first universities to evacuate its campus in mid-March last year, and it is still in caution mode. In an email to students on Feb. 26, its president, Lawrence Bacow, said that postponing live commencement for two years running was “deeply disappointing, but public health and safety must continue to take precedence.”
Like other universities, though, Harvard promised to bring the classes of 2020 and 2021 back to celebrate at some future date.
Some universities plan to hold their commencements in outdoor stadiums. Notre Dame, which was aggressive about bringing students back to campus last fall, is planning to accommodate all 3,000 graduates and a limited number of guests in its 79,000-seat stadium. Health officials have authorized the use of up to 20 percent of the seating.
The University of Southern California will hold in-person ceremonies for the classes of 2021 and 2020 in May. The ceremonies will take place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and graduates will be allowed to invite two guests, although they must be California residents.
Northeastern University in Boston will host five commencement ceremonies in Fenway Park in May. Officials are aiming to allow each graduate to invite one guest, though they are still evaluating total capacity with physical distancing.
The University of South Florida in Tampa said this month that its commencement would take place at nearby Tropicana Field, which can hold about 40,000 people. The university set a tentative date of May 7 to 9. Students will be allowed to bring two guests and must register in advance.
Some schools are holding ceremonies without guests, in what will be largely empty stadiums.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison will hold in-person ceremonies in its Camp Randall Stadium, which can hold about 80,000 people. The university will hold two ceremonies on May 8, but graduates cannot bring guests.
Princeton plans to hold an outdoor commencement at its stadium for students who have taken part in the testing program and who live on or near campus. It is also considering extending the invitation to students learning virtually.
Princeton is still deciding whether to allow guests at its in-person ceremony, and summed up the uncertainty this way: “Families are encouraged not to make nonrefundable travel arrangements.”
Some universities are moving forward with entirely virtual commencements. Columbia is planning a virtual ceremony, but has held out some hope of smaller outdoor events. New York University and Stanford University have also announced plans to hold virtual celebrations.