Covid-19 Live News: Updates on Vaccines, the Virus and Variants

Students at the Green Mountain School in Woodland, Wash., completing a health screening before entering on Feb. 18.
Credit…Nathan Howard/Getty Images

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine offered school districts early access to vaccines for their staff if they committed to opening classrooms by March 1.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency related to child and adolescent mental health and banned fully virtual instruction starting in April.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that most elementary schools would be required to offer full-time in-person instruction by April 5, and most middle schools by April 28.

The three are part of a significant and bipartisan group of governors who have decided it is time to flex some muscle and get students back into classrooms, despite union resistance and bureaucratic hesitancy.

The push has come from both ends of the political spectrum. Democratic governors in Oregon, California, New Mexico and North Carolina, and Republicans in Arizona, Iowa, West Virginia and New Hampshire, among other states, have all taken steps to prod, and sometimes force, districts to open.

The result has been a major increase in the number of students who now have the option of attending school in-person, or will in the next month.

According to a school reopening tracker created by the American Enterprise Institute, 7 percent of the more than 8,000 districts being tracked were operating fully remotely on March 22, the lowest percentage since the tracker was started in November. Forty-one percent of districts were offering full-time in-person instruction, the highest percentage in that time. Those findings have been echoed by other surveys.

In interviews, several governors described the factors motivating their decision to push districts to reopen, including the substantial evidence that there is little virus transmission in schools if mitigation measures are followed, the decline in overall cases from their January peak, and, most of all, the urgency of getting students back in classrooms before the school year ends.

“Every day is an eternity for a young person,” Mr. Inslee, a Democrat, said. “We just could not wait any further.”

In the weeks since most of the governors acted, nationwide cases have started to rise again, which could complicate the effort to get children back in school. Many school staff members have already been offered vaccines, which has reduced the resistance from teachers’ unions to reopening and, provided staff vaccination rates are high, will limit the opportunities for the virus to spread in schools.

Even so, in areas where cases are increasing sharply, like Michigan, some schools have had to revert to remote learning temporarily because so many students were in quarantine.

But for the time being, at least, the moves by these governors have yielded significant results.

In Ohio, nearly half of all students were in districts that were fully remote at the beginning of 2021. By March 1, that number was down to 4 percent, and it has shrunk further in the weeks since.

In Washington, before Mr. Inslee issued his proclamation, the state’s largest district, Seattle Public Schools, was locked in a standoff with its teachers’ union over a reopening plan. Days after Mr. Inslee announced he would require districts to bring students back at least part time, the two sides reached an agreement for all preschool and elementary school students and some older students with disabilities to return by April 5.

And in Massachusetts, the move by Mr. Baker, a Republican, has spurred a sea change, with dozens of districts bringing students back to school for the first time since the pandemic began, and hundreds shifting from part-time to full-time schedules.

“It’s worked exceedingly well,” Mr. DeWine, also a Republican, said of his decision to offer vaccines to Ohio districts that pledged to reopen. “We’ve got these kids back in school.”

A vaccination site in Seattle last month. More than a third of the U.S. population has now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Credit…Jason Redmond/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As President Biden enters the homestretch of his first 100 days in office, the general declines in new virus cases, deaths and hospitalizations since January offer signs of hope for a weary nation.

But the average number of new cases has risen 19 percent over the past two weeks, and federal health officials say that complacency about the coronavirus could bring on another severe wave of infections.

“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an emotional plea to Americans this week. “But right now I’m scared.”

On the positive side, nearly a third of the people in the United States have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. As of early Saturday morning, nearly three million people on average were receiving a shot every day, up from about two million in early March.

The rising vaccination rate has prompted some state officials to accelerate their rollout schedules. This week, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut expanded access to people 16 and older, several days ahead of schedule. And Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado opened universal eligibility about two weeks earlier than planned.

“No more having to sort out if you’re in or if you’re out,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, the deputy secretary of the Department of Health Services in Wisconsin, where anyone 16 or older will be eligible for a vaccine as of Monday. “It’s time to just move forward and get everybody with a shot in their arm.”

In another promising development, federal health officials said on Friday that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can travel “at low risk to themselves” within the United States and abroad.

But these days, most signs of hope are offset by peril.

Over the past week, there has been an average of 64,730 cases per day, an increase of 19 percent from two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database. New deaths on average have declined, but they are still hovering around 900 a day. More than 960 were reported on Friday alone.

The C.D.C. predicted this week that the number of new Covid-19 cases per week in the United States would “remain stable or have an uncertain trend” over the next four weeks, and that weekly case numbers could be as high as about 700,000 even in late April.

Cases are already increasing significantly in many states, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, as variants spread and some governors relax mask mandates and other restrictions. Dr. Walensky said this week that if states and cities continued to loosen public health restrictions, the nation could face a potential fourth wave.

Michigan, one of the worst-hit states, is reporting nearly 6,000 cases a day — up from about 1,000 a day in late February — even though half of its residents over 65 are now fully vaccinated.

And in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said that new variants were aggravating the state’s caseload, even as vaccinations picked up.

“We have to understand that we are in a battle,” he said.

As if to underscore how fragile the nation’s recovery is, a quintessential American ritual — the start of the baseball season — has already faced a virus-related delay.

Major League Baseball officials said on Friday that the league had found only five positive cases in more than 14,000 tests of league personnel. But because four of those people were Washington Nationals players, the team’s Opening Day game against the New York Mets was postponed, and then the team’s full three-game weekend series.

“It’s one of those things that brings it to light that we’re not through it yet,” Brian Snitker, the Atlanta Braves manager, told The Associated Press. “We’re still fighting this.”

Benjamin GuggenheimLauryn Higgins and

Crowds at the Gare de Lyon, the main train station in Paris on Friday ahead of new measures. The national rail authority said it expected nearly 1 percent of the country’s population to travel over the weekend despite restrictions.
Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Parisians filled packed trains on Saturday as France entered a third lockdown, with the national rail authority saying it expected nearly 1 percent of the country’s population to travel over the weekend despite lockdown restrictions.

Intensive care units in France are now as full as they were in April last year at the peak of the first wave, and on Saturday the country of 67 million recorded over 46,000 new cases and 301 deaths.

Although new measures include a ban on traveling further than 10 kilometers, about six miles, from home except for essential reasons and a 7 p.m. curfew, many bought train tickets after President Emmanuel Macron announced the new lockdown on Wednesday.

Mr. Macron had said that those living in urban areas could use the Easter weekend to travel to the countryside and spend the three-weeks-long lockdown there, and the authorities said they would also show “tolerance” over the weekend to let parents arrange for child care with grandparents.

Similar moves last year prompted anger from local residents and fears that city dwellers living in areas with high rates of infection would spread the virus to regions that had so far been spared.

Yet nothing like last year’s exodus was expected.

Some Parisians left the capital last month after restrictions were imposed in the city and its surroundings. The new restrictions, which also include bans on gatherings of more than six people and on outdoor drinking, now apply nationwide. Schools will also shut.

In La Baule, a popular seaside town of 17,000 on the Western coast, the mayor told Le Monde that he expected more than 30,000 people to flock to the resort town for the third lockdown.

“To leave at any cost,” Le Parisien newspaper wrote on its Saturday front page.

Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, receiving his second shot of a Covid-19 vaccine at Baptist Medical Center South in Montgomery, Ala., in January.
Credit…Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser, via Associated Press

Alabama will allow everyone ages 16 or older to sign up for a Covid-19 vaccine on Monday, joining more than 40 states that have already broadened access in an effort to make all adults eligible by the end of the month.

“This vaccine is our ticket back to normal life,” Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, said in a statement on her website. “We are so close to getting Covid-19 in the rearview, and until then, we should all keep wearing our masks, get vaccinated and use the common sense the good Lord gave us.”

While states are moving to vaccinate people faster, they are also easing restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus as Americans tire of the constraints more than a year into the pandemic.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that about 101.8 million people — nearly one-third of the total U.S. population — had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Yet cases are increasing significantly in many states as new variants of the coronavirus spread through the country, and new deaths on average have only just dipped below 900 a day.

Health officials say that new infections are still at a level that is too high. Earlier this week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said that the recent case increases had left her with a recurring sense of “impending doom.”

And although the agency said Friday that fully vaccinated Americans could start traveling — not that they should, only that they could — scientists are not yet certain whether, or how often, vaccinated people may become infected, even briefly, and transmit the virus to others.

Travel has already been increasing nationwide, as the weather warms and people grow tired of pandemic restrictions. Last Sunday was the busiest day at domestic airports since the pandemic began. According to the Transportation Security Administration, nearly 1.6 million people passed through the security checkpoints at American airports.

President Biden warned on Friday that the virus was still not under control and said that measures like mask wearing needed to stay in place.

“I ask, I plead with you, don’t give up the progress we have all fought so hard to achieve,” Mr. Biden said at the White House.

Alabama’s current set of restrictions, including a requirement to wear masks in public, expires on April 9, adding tension to a continuing battle between governors anxious to get their states open again, and the C.D.C. and Biden administration who continue to ask for patience. Several states have already dropped mask mandates.

“Please, this is not politics — reinstate the mandate,” Mr. Biden said Monday about the easing of restrictions nationwide, adding, “The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.”

Almost three million people are being vaccinated across the country per day, according to the seven-day average released by the C.D.C. on Friday. But only about 25 percent of Alabama’s total population has received one shot of a vaccine, below the national average of 31 percent, according to the agency.

Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi are tied as the states with the smallest percentage of people who have received at least one shot.

Global Roundup

People at an open market in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Wednesday. The country is bracing for a lockdown.
Credit…Monirul Alam/EPA, via Shutterstock

NEW DELHI — As a new wave of coronavirus infections grips the densely populated region of South Asia, home to a quarter of the world’s population, Bangladesh on Saturday announced a second lockdown and officials in Mumbai, India’s largest city, said they were on the verge of declaring one.

The authorities in Bangladesh said the nation of 165 million people would go into a weeklong lockdown beginning on Monday to curb the spread of the virus. The country shut down for two months starting in March last year.

Bangladesh on Friday registered nearly 7,000 cases in 24 hours, the highest since the spread of the virus in the country last year. The daily death toll has been around 50 for the past week, but what has particularly alarmed officials is the high test positivity rate, with 24 percent of virus tests conducted coming back positive.

Farhad Hossain, Bangladesh’s state minister for public administration, told the local news media that “industries and factories will remain open,” but would operate in shifts and follow strict health protocols. The exceptions appeared to be aimed at reducing the economic impact and avoiding the kind of exodus of laborers that led to a humanitarian crisis in India last year.

Infections have also been rising sharply in Pakistan, which has struggled to source vaccines for its population, and in India, where a vaccination drive is only now picking up pace — despite the country being home to one of the world’s largest suppliers of vaccines.

Just a few weeks ago, India was a major exporter of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it was using that to exert influence in South Asia and around the world. But as infections soared, the country decided to cut back on exports and is now holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million doses that the Serum Institute of India, the private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine, makes each day.

India on Saturday recorded its biggest single-day spike in cases since September, with government officials reporting nearly 90,000 cases and 714 deaths over the past 24 hours. Single-day figures sometimes contain anomalies, but the country’s seven-day average of new cases, a more reliable gauge, has been rising sharply since early March.

Nearly half of deaths and new infections in recent weeks have been traced to the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, the country’s financial hub.

Uddhav Thackeray, the state’s chief minister, warned in a televised address on Friday that a lockdown was imminent if people continued with their relaxed attitude. Even when people are vaccinated, he noted, protection from infection is not absolute.

“The vaccine is like an umbrella in the rain,” Mr. Thackeray said. “But what we are facing right now is a storm.”

As cases rise, law enforcement officials across India are adopting stringent measures, including fining violators who don’t wear masks. India has also expanded its vaccination drive, now administering over three million jabs a day.

But the government’s messaging is at times contradictory, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many senior officials continue to hold large rallies in several states where local elections are underway.

The government has also allowed a huge monthlong Hindu festival to go ahead on the banks of Ganges River. One million to five million people are expected to participate in the festivities in the city of Haridwar each day, officials say.

In other virus news from around the world:

  • Britain said it would ban international arrivals from four more countries — Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan and the Philippines — amid concerns over virus variants. The move, which takes effect on April 9, will bring the number of countries on Britain’s travel “red list” to 39.

  • San Marino, a microstate surrounded by Italy, feared being left behind in Europe’s inoculation campaign. Now it has jumped ahead, with the Sputnik vaccine sent by an unlikely, faraway friend.

  • Turkey began administering Pfizer-BioNTech shots. With coronavirus infections surging and Ramadan approaching, the government also recently moved to reimpose strict social distancing measures, including a prohibition on the large gatherings for meals before sunrise and after sunset that are traditional during the Muslim holy month.

Medical staff members in Kenya waited to receive some of the country’s first Covid-19 vaccinations in early March. Kenya expects that by 2023 it will have just 30 percent of its population vaccinated.
Credit…Ben Curtis/Associated Press

A new analysis by The New York Times found that although half a billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, more than 75 percent of them have been used by the world’s richest countries. Experts say that it’s not the inability of poorer countries to buy the vaccines, but how and when deals for the doses were struck.

In the pandemic’s early days, when drug makers were just starting to develop vaccines, placing orders for any of them was a risk. Wealthier countries could afford to order multiple vaccines, but in doing so, they tied up doses that smaller countries might have purchased, according to experts.

This led to higher-income countries like the United States claiming doses that, if delivered, could vaccinate the country four times over. Canada has secured a number of doses that could inoculate the country six times over this year. But Kenya expects that by 2023 it will have just 30 percent of its population vaccinated, and that’s with Covax covering the first 20 percent.

Covax, a global effort to distribute vaccines equally that is run by the World Health Organization and others, has tried to shift the balance. As of March 30, Covax has shipped 32.9 million vaccine doses to 70 countries and regions. Most of those shipments were donations to lower-income countries. To put that number in context, it is just 6 percent of the 564 million doses that have been administered worldwide.

“Inequities are growing, unfortunately,” said Andrea Taylor, a researcher at Duke University who is studying the vaccine purchase agreements, “and we expect that to be the case for at least the next six months while wealthy countries continue to keep the majority of doses rolling off production lines.”

Here’s what else we learned this week:

  • Federal health officials said on Friday that Americans who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can travel at low risk to themselves, but that they must continue to take precautions like wearing a mask.

  • As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York was writing a book that would center on his image as a hero of the pandemic, an impending Health Department report threatened to disclose a far higher number of nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus than the Cuomo administration had previously made public.

  • A clinical trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine found that it is extremely effective in young adolescents, maybe even more so than in adults. The trial found no symptomatic infections among vaccinated children ages 12 to 15, the companies said, and there were no serious side effects. The data has not yet been reviewed by independent experts.

The Red Light District in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, was nearly deserted on Thursday night.
Credit…Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

When international travel came to a halt last year, Amsterdam — like cities everywhere — was drained of tourists almost overnight. The effect, according to Sonia Philipse, the owner of the restaurant Lavinia Good Food, was both surreal and serene: Without the crowds, her city was quieter and more beautiful than she had ever seen it.

“At this point we’re missing our tourists again,” Ms. Philipse said recently. “But I think there was a moment of really big joy in getting our city back.”

In 2019, a record-breaking 21.7 million people visited Amsterdam, a city with a population of about 870,000. After the pandemic wiped out tourism in 2020, and with visitor numbers still low, Amsterdam’s leaders are trying to introduce new restrictions in an effort to ensure that old problems stemming from tourism don’t reappear when visitors return.

Even before the pandemic, city leaders put in place measures to try to address residents’ complaints about disruptive tourists who disrespected prostitutes, drove up housing prices by occupying short-term vacation rentals and had taken over some of the city’s most beautiful, historic areas. Officials raised the tourist tax and banned several types of businesses, including guided tours of the Red Light District, new hotels in the city center and new shops that cater to tourists.

“Constantly increasing numbers of visitors, misconduct, a shrinking retail mix, rising property prices, commercialization of public space and criminal subversion all call for measures to be taken,” Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema, wrote of the city center in a letter to the City Council in 2019.

Ms. Halsema proposed four scenarios for the future of sex work in the Red Light District. One of those scenarios — the relocation of sex workers to a “prostitution hotel” elsewhere in the city — recently attracted the support of a majority of City Council members and is awaiting full approval.

Another headline-grabbing proposal from the mayor’s office would make it illegal for visitors to buy cannabis in Amsterdam’s coffee shops, which are concentrated in the Red Light District, an ancient part of Amsterdam’s city center and a huge magnet for tourists. Amsterdam has also joined more than 20 other European cities to advocate stricter rules on vacation-rental platforms at the European Commission and in the European Parliament.

The proposals have provoked opposition from local business owners and those in the sex work industry, who argue that the government should increase enforcement of existing prohibitions against public urination, public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.

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