Latest news updates: J&J starts work on vaccine targeting Omicron coronavirus variant

Japan will ban foreign citizens from entering the country, reversing a three-week old relaxation of its rules, as Tokyo responds to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Prime minister Fumio Kishida on Monday announced the decision, which will take effect at midnight on Tuesday.

“We’re handling the Omicron variant with a strong sense of crisis,” Kishida told reporters. “It appears to be spreading around the world so we continue to look at further strengthening our border control measures.”

The new ban covers foreign students, trainees and workers moving to Japan and business travellers on short trips. Under the relaxation announced three weeks ago, vaccinated business travellers could visit Japan with a quarantine as short as three days.

Japanese nationals returning from South Africa, neighbouring countries and other nations with Omicron cases would have to quarantine at government controlled facilities, Kishida said.

Traders in Tokyo said that despite the Omicron news over the weekend, Tokyo’s morning session had been relatively positive, with opening dip pared back before the lunch break as NY futures continued to trade positively.

However, the headlines regarding Japan’s new policies on foreign arrivals hit sentiment hard, driving down stocks that had previously been trading higher on expectations of a gradual return to the tourism market.

Shares in Japan Air Terminals and several of the large railway companies fell sharply.

“Japan had just started to open up for short-term visitors and this looks like a step back,” said CLSA head of execution services Takeo Kamai. “There is a lot of uncertainty and the Tokyo market is always going to trade conservatively at a time like that.”

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Holiday travel bursts openly divided political and vaccine bubbles

WASHINGTON — It’s the holiday season. Time to gather with family and old friends, even people with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye politically — and this year that may have special meaning.

The geographic self-segregation that has come to define American politics (the difference between where Democrats and Republicans tend to live) is often a subject for the Data Download. But combined with the pandemic, those geographic divides have real world, public health impacts.

After 20 months of COVID protocols, many families and friends are travelling and getting together for the first time in a long time and they are bringing with them different attitudes about the virus and the vaccine. Add it up and it could mean the country is due for another post-holiday season surge.

The change in travel plans around Thanksgiving this year tells the story. More than 53 million Americans were planning to take to the road and the skies this past week, according to AAA.

That’s an increase of more than 6 million people compared to last year, before there was a vaccine and before Americans had gotten exhausted by the pandemic.

The figures show there is still some hesitancy around travel. Back in 2019, the same AAA survey found 56 million Americans were going to travel for Thanksgiving. But this year’s number still represents a 13 percent increases from 2020. It shows more people are breaking out of their community bubbles to see people from other places.

And that’s where the political/health differences come into play.

Every holiday season scores of stories are written about how to talk politics with those you disagree with, but this year those differences may well include a different COVID-19 vaccination statuses for Uncle Bob or Aunt Dora.

As of late-October, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 27 percent of American adults had not received a single vaccine dose for — about 1 in 4 adults. But the partisan divide in that 27 percent was remarkable — 17 percent of them were Democrats, 17 percent of them were independents and a whopping 60 percent were Republicans.

So, in some cases, the awkwardness of holiday conversations has risen to a whole new level. Before you start talking about Congress or the White House you might want to ask if your table mate has his or her vaccination card handy.

And it’s not just about sitting around the table together or sharing the punchbowl that provides a COVID challenge. The point of travel is to pull you out of your environment into someplace different and even if everyone at your destination is vaccinated, there is still getting from point A to point B.

The data show space between the two locations can be complicated. For all the talk of the vaccination rates of various states, the truth is just travelling a few miles can put you in a very different political and COVID environment.

For instance, consider Mecklenberg County and Stanly County in North Carolina.

The two places are less than a half-hour apart by car, but the political/COVID differences between them are stark. President Joe Biden won Mecklenberg by 35 percentage points and 59 percent of the total population has had two COVID shots. Former President Donald Trump won Stanly by 51 points and fewer than 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

And the phenomenon is not limited to North Carolina.

In Denver, Colorado, which Biden won by 62 percentage points, 72 percent of the population is full vaccinated. Meanwhile, in nearby Elbert County, which Trump won by 50 points, only 36 percent have received both doses.

In fact, compare maps and you can find similar patterns around the country from Tennessee to Kansas to California — “blue” counties with high vax rates near “red” counties with the opposite.

The unfortunate reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic has become politicized and this year the holiday season seems primed to show the impacts of that politicization as we emerge from our respective political bubbles and interact.

The American Communities Project recently found that urban areas that are more likely to vote Democratic are also more likely to have higher percentages of people who are fully vaccinated. But even the “bluest” high-vaccinated cities area connected by highways that run through very “red” low-vaccinated areas.

In short, even if you are vaccinated and visiting people who are vaccinated, the airports and rest stops and restaurants you visit along the way are likely to be filled with a cross-section of people holding different beliefs about politics and the virus that has disrupted life.

It all serves as a reminder that even in 21st Century America, no political bubble is airtight. We may increasingly live near and socialize with people who share our views, but the fates of red and blue America are more tightly intertwined than either side probably wants to admit.

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Busy holiday travel season lands at Sea-Tac Airport but vaccine impact on TSA minimal – KOMO News

Busy holiday travel season lands at Sea-Tac Airport but vaccine impact on TSA minimal  KOMO News

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TSA vaccine mandate looms as busy holiday travel season kicks off

TSA vaccine mandate looms as busy holiday travel season kicks off

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Flu outbreak hits University of Michigan as some students prepare to travel for Thanksgiving holiday: “There’s vaccine fatigue”

Michigan is dealing with its first flu outbreak, local and state health departments report. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are is investigating the nearly 530 influenza cases reported at the University of Michigan—77% of them among the unvaccinated.  

While 98% of their student population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, only about a third have had the flu shot.

Dr. Lindsey Mortenson, the university’s medical director, blamed those numbers on “vaccine hesitancy or people just not making time to get it done.”

“There’s vaccine fatigue and they think the COVID vaccine protects against the flu virus, which it doesn’t. So I think there’s a lot of work we can do to keep our campus educated,” Mortenson said.

Another concern for University of Michigan officials is the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

They are worried students traveling back home for the holiday will become potentially more vulnerable to contracting the virus and spreading it once they come back.

“Michigan is also seeing some other viruses like RSV and influenza, which the state hasn’t seen in more than a year,” said Dr. David Donaldson, chief of emergency medicine at Beaumont Hospital.  

“That is a big difference as well,” Donaldson said.

The state is also seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people, health officials say.

The Food and Drug Administration moved to expand its emergency authorization of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to all adults on Friday.

In Royal Oak, 73-year-old Twyilla Harrelson has been hospitalized for two months with COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated.

“If you’re not vaccinated, I tell you flat out you are a fool because that’s the worst thing that you can do is get out and spread this disease,” Harrelson told “CBS Mornings” lead national correspondent David Begnaud. 

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Fake vaccine cards, will travel: People confess to using counterfeit cards to their travel advisers

Raoul Fokke, an Amsterdam-based travel adviser for Act of Travel, was meeting with a prospective client in-person to get a better sense of his interests and travel style. The Dutch traveler, who wanted to take a trip either to Dubai, Portugal or Italy, told Fokke that while he didn’t want to get vaccinated, he had someone who could arrange documents to bypass travel restrictions.

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Covid-19 Live Updates: Vaccine Mandates, Boosters and More News

ImageThe T.S.A. security checkpoint at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport during a busy period in August ahead of Hurricane Ida.
Credit…Scott Olson/Getty Images

Airline travel this Thanksgiving season is expected to approach prepandemic levels, Transportation Security Administration officials said Wednesday. The agency is preparing to handle about 20 million air passengers.

“We are staffed and prepared for the holiday travelers,” David Pekoske, the T.S.A. administrator, said in a statement.

The large volume of travelers expected comes as inoculation rates across the country have risen, allowing many families to gather safely for the first time since 2019, when T.S.A. screened 26 million people. The uptick also signals a willingness by people across the country to resume customary holiday travel.

“I recommend that travelers pay attention to the guidance that the T.S.A. officers are providing at the checkpoint,” Mr. Pekoske said. “They may be directing you to a shorter line or guiding you around someone who is moving slowly. And they may be giving you some advice that will lessen the likelihood that you’ll need a pat-down.”

The busiest days during the Thanksgiving travel period are usually the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward, the T.S.A. statement said. While the travel volume this year is not expected to reach 2019 levels, the agency said it could be higher in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

The increase comes as airlines deal with an uptick in cases of unruly passengers. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued fines and the president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, Sara Nelson, has blamed the rising tensions in the skies to the politically charged atmosphere over health protocols.

In an interview with CBS Mornings, Mr. Pekoske said that the number of such reports are higher than he can ever recall.

“We’re working very closely with the carriers, the flight attendants, the flight deck crews, the air force and the F.A.A., to do everything that we can to message how dangerous this behavior is,” he said.




White House: About 10% of Younger Children Have Received First Shot

White House officials estimated that nearly 10 percent of the nation’s 5- to 11-year olds had received their first coronavirus vaccine dose since the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for that age group.

Our effective rollout is helping parents and families across the country experience the giant sigh of relief of knowing their kids are on the path to having protection from the virus. We estimate by the end of the day today, 2.6 million kids ages 5 to 11 will have gotten their first shot — 2.6 million, that’s about 10 percent of kids. So just 10 days into our program being at full strength, we’re at 10 percent of kids. For perspective, it took about 50 days for us to reach 10 percent of adults with one shot. And when the polio vaccine was first rolled out for kids in the 1950s, it took about three months to cross two and a half million shots in arms. And in fact, the pace of vaccinations for kids has been accelerating. In the last week, 1.7 million kids got vaccinated, double the prior week. Operationally, we continue to make strong progress with the kids vaccination program. Vaccines for kids are now available at more than 30,000 trusted and convenient locations. That’s up from 20,000 last week. That means just 10 days in, we have one vaccine site for every 900 kids. That compares to one vaccine site for every 3,500 Americans age 12 and older.

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White House officials estimated that nearly 10 percent of the nation’s 5- to 11-year olds had received their first coronavirus vaccine dose since the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for that age group.CreditCredit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

The pace of vaccination against the coronavirus among newly eligible younger children is accelerating, and nearly 10 percent of the nation’s 5- to 11-year olds have already had their first shot, the White House estimated on Wednesday.

Last week alone, 1.7 million young children were vaccinated, about double the previous week, Jeff Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said at a White House Covid-19 briefing. The administration estimates that by the end of Wednesday, 2.6 million of the 28 million children in that age group will have had their first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only one currently authorized for them.

“Just 10 days into our program being in full strength, we’re at 10 percent of kids,” Mr. Zients said. “For perspective, it took about 50 days for us to reach 10 percent of adults with one shot. And when the polio vaccine was first rolled out for kids in the 1950s it took about three months to cross two and a half million shots in arms.”

The pediatric figures come as the nation is about to cross another vaccination threshold: Nearly 80 percent of Americans aged 12 and older have had their first shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The figure suggests slow but steady acceptance of the vaccine. This past summer, President Biden failed to meet his goal of having 70 percent of U.S. adults receive at least one dose by the July 4 holiday.

Studies and real-world evidence show that coronavirus vaccines are extremely effective at preventing hospitalization and death from Covid-19. During Wednesday’s briefing, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s top medical adviser for the pandemic, shared a slide deck showing data from states including Texas and Indiana to make that point.

In Texas, Dr. Fauci said, unvaccinated people were 13 times more likely than fully vaccinated people to become infected with the coronavirus during the month of September, and 20 times more likely to die of Covid-19. In Indiana, during the week that began on Sept. 30, 1,447 people were hospitalized with Covid-19; about 10 were fully vaccinated. Of 219 who died, fewer than 15 were fully vaccinated.

Credit…Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald, via Associated Press

Moderna has asked federal regulators to authorize booster shots of its coronavirus vaccine for all adults, a request that the Food and Drug Administration could grant as early as this week along with a similar request from Pfizer, according to people familiar with the planning.

If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also signs off every adult who was fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot at least six months ago would not only be eligible for a booster, but could choose which vaccine. The agency’s committee of independent experts is set to meet Friday to discuss booster shots.

It would also allow President Biden to fulfill his August pledge to offer booster shots to every adult — nearly two months later than the administration originally planned, though, and amid an ongoing debate among experts over whether extra shots are necessary for younger, healthy adults.

As it stands now, only people who received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines and are 65 or older, or adults who are considered to be at special risk because of their medical conditions, jobs or living environments are eligible for boosters. Anyone who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot can already get a booster, two months after the first shot. Eligible people can select from any of three vaccine brands as a booster.

By some estimates, the existing eligibility categories, which are broad but complicated, cover up to 70 percent of adults. More than 30 million Americans, or about 16 percent of those fully vaccinated, have already gotten additional shots. But under the federal rules, tens of millions more are still ineligible.

Even if federal regulators do not act on Moderna’s request this week, the F.D.A. and the C.D.C. are expected to allow all fully vaccinated adults access to Pfizer’s booster. At a White House briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, defended the administration’s approach of broad access to boosters, saying vaccines should protect against symptomatic illness, not just hospitalization and death.

“I don’t know of any other vaccine that we only worry about keeping people out of the hospitals,” he said. “I think an important thing is to prevent people from getting symptomatic disease,” noting that it can have long-term consequences, a condition dubbed long Covid.

“There’s a really good reason to optimally protect younger individuals” as well as older and more vulnerable people, he said.

A growing number of state and localities have moved on their own to offer booster shots to all their adult residents, either by generously interpreting or simply ignoring the federal guidelines. As of Wednesday, a number of states had broadened access, including Kansas, Kentucky, Maine and Vermont. New York City health officials on Monday encouraged all adults who want boosters to seek them out.

Moderna announced Wednesday that it had requested the F.D.A. broaden its booster authorization to include all adults, as regulators in Canada and the European Union have recently done.

Moderna’s vaccine is considered more protective than Pfizer-BioNTech’s; its dose for the initial two shots is 100 micrograms, while Pfizer’s is 30. Regulators authorized a half-dose of Moderna as a booster for older people and other vulnerable groups, in part to mitigate concerns about side effects; Moderna is seeking the same half-dose booster for the broader adult population.

State and local health officials have criticized the existing federal eligibility categories for Moderna and Pfizer booster shots as far too complicated for the public to figure out. Besides those who are 65 or older, those eligible include those with medical conditions ranging from heart conditions to obesity to depression.

Also eligible, the C.D.C. has said, are people “at increased risk for Covid-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting” — a category covering health care workers, residents of homeless shelters and prisoners, among others.

Credit…Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Kansas, Kentucky, Maine and Vermont on Wednesday joined several states across the United States in expanding access to coronavirus vaccine boosters for all adults. That comes as federal regulators consider granting requests for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters to be authorized for all adults as early as this week, according to people familiar with the planning.

State leaders have used various justifications for choosing not to wait for federal decisions on boosters, ranging from concerns about holiday season gatherings and winter temperatures pushing people indoors to rising cases and confusion among residents about eligibility. Federal regulators say boosters are available for adults who meet their eligibility categories and are at least six months past their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or are two months past receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccination.

Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky issued an executive order that allows any adult to get a booster, provided they meet timing rules. In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly said that vaccine providers should allow people to determine their level of risk exposure and that the entire state was at high risk, urging all adults to get a booster. And Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont expanded booster access to all adults and said the state would simplify the online registration for state-run vaccination clinics and permit walk-in appointments.

Citing a sustained surge in cases in Maine, Gov. Janet Mills announced that all adult residents would be eligible for a booster shot because of their high risk of exposure across the state.

Currently, federal regulators say people who received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines and are 65 or older, or adults who are considered to be at special risk because of their medical conditions, jobs or living environments are eligible for boosters. Anyone who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot can already get a booster. Eligible people can select from any of three vaccine brands as a booster.

The Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention has notified health care providers of the expanded eligibility for the booster shot, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The authorities in New York City on Monday encouraged all adults to get the booster. Arkansas, California, Colorado and New Mexico have also moved to expand access.

A growing body of early global research has shown that the vaccines available in the United States have remained highly protective against the disease’s worst outcomes over time, even during the summer surge of the highly transmissible Delta variant. And there has been an ongoing debate among experts over whether extra shots are necessary for younger, healthy adults.

Ms. Mills justified broadening access to boosters by saying that since the entire state of Maine had seen significant spread of the virus, it qualified as the kind of high-risk environment for which federal regulators had cleared boosters.

“With Maine and other New England states confronting a sustained surge, and with cold weather sending people indoors, we want to simplify the federal government’s complicated eligibility guidelines and make getting a booster shot as straightforward and easy as possible,” the governor said in a statement.




White House Plans to Bolster Vaccine Manufacturing

Jeffrey D. Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said the administration would partner with companies to increase U.S. manufacturing capacity in order to expand global access and prepare for potential future pandemics.

From the start, President Biden has been clear that the only way to defeat Covid is to defeat the virus here at home and around the world. That’s why we’ve committed to donating 1.2 billion doses to the world. For every one shot we’ve administered here in the United States, we’re donating about three doses to people around the world. Today, we will hit a major milestone in our effort to deliver on this commitment: 250 million doses delivered to 110 countries. Today, we’re taking another major step to bolster vaccine manufacturing, both for this pandemic and to prepare for any future threats. H.H.S. is soliciting interest from companies that have experienced manufacturing mRNA vaccines to identify opportunities to scale up their production capacity. Importantly, initial production could provide more mRNA Covid vaccines for the world. The goal of this program is to expand existing capacity by an additional billion doses per year, with production starting by the second half of 2022. This program would also help us produce doses within six to nine months of identification of a future pathogen, and ensure enough vaccines for all Americans. It would combine the expertise of the U.S. government in basic scientific research with the robust ability of pharmaceutical companies to manufacture mRNA vaccines. We hope companies step up and act quickly to take us up on this opportunity to expand production of mRNA vaccines for the current pandemic, and set us up to react quickly to any future pandemic threats.

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Jeffrey D. Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said the administration would partner with companies to increase U.S. manufacturing capacity in order to expand global access and prepare for potential future pandemics.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The White House, under pressure to increase the supply of coronavirus vaccines to poor nations, plans to invest billions of dollars to expand U.S. manufacturing capacity, with the goal of producing at least one billion doses a year beginning in the second half of 2022, two top advisers to President Biden said in an interview on Tuesday.

The investment is the first step in a new plan, announced on Wednesday, for the government to partner with industry to address immediate vaccine needs overseas and domestically and to prepare for future pandemics, said Dr. David Kessler, who oversees vaccine distribution for the administration, and Jeff Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator.

“This is about assuring expanded capacity against Covid variants and also preparing for the next pandemic,” Dr. Kessler said. “The goal, in the case of a future pandemic, a future virus, is to have vaccine capability within six to nine months of identification of that pandemic pathogen, and to have enough vaccines for all Americans.”

The move comes as the Biden administration also plans to buy enough of Pfizer’s new Covid-19 pill for about 10 million courses of treatment to be delivered in the next 10 months, paying over $5 billion, according to people familiar with the agreement. The government has also pledged $3 billion for rapid over-the-counter tests, which are needed to detect the virus early for the Pfizer drug to work.

Taken together, the investments amount to an aggressive effort to vanquish a pandemic that is heading into its third year. When given promptly to trial groups of high-risk unvaccinated people who developed symptoms of the disease, the Pfizer drug sharply reduced the risk of hospitalization and death. Pfizer applied on Tuesday for federal authorization of the drug on an emergency basis.

The antiviral drugs have helped inspire hope among senior administration officials that the United States will be able to curb the devastating toll from the virus. Their promise depends in part on access to testing, because the pills have proved to work in five days or less after symptoms develop.

But the tests are pricey. While federal regulators have cleared a dozen of them, a test typically costs about $12 and not everyone can easily obtain one. One of the newest rapid tests costs $7, though, and by the end of the year the overall supply is projected to be nearly 10 times what it was in August, federal officials said.

The idea for the new public-private vaccine partnership is still in its early stages, and the price tag is uncertain. Dr. Kessler, who has been working on the proposal for months, estimated it at “several billion.” The money has been set aside as part of the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that Mr. Biden signed into law in March.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency intends to issue a “request for information” to solicit ideas from companies that have experience manufacturing vaccines using mRNA technology. Mr. Zients said that officials wanted responses “in a very short period of time, 30 days, to understand how most efficiently, effectively and reliably we can increase manufacturing.”

Activists, many of them veterans of the AIDS epidemic, have been demanding for months that Mr. Biden do more to scale up global vaccine manufacturing capacity. Some, furious with what they regard as the administration’s slow progress, turned up at the home of Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, in September and deposited a fake mountain of bones on the sidewalk in protest.

At the same time, the administration is offering booster shots to millions of vaccinated Americans, despite criticism from World Health Organization officials and other experts who say the doses should go to low- and lower-middle-income countries first. The Food and Drug Administration is aiming to authorize booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid vaccine for all adults as early as Thursday, according to people familiar with the agency’s plans.

Whether the new Biden plan will satisfy the administration’s critics is unclear. Many activists have demanded that the administration build up manufacturing capacity overseas, particularly in Africa, but the Biden plan is focused on building capacity among domestic vaccine makers. “This effort is specifically aimed at building U.S. domestic capacity,” Dr. Kessler said. “But that capacity is important not only for the U.S. supply, but for global supply.”

James Krellenstein, a founder of Prep4All, an AIDS advocacy group, called the Biden plan “a step in the right direction,” but suggested the government build its own vaccine production facility, so as not to depend on the private sector, and hire a contract manufacturer to run it.

“It’s the only way you can leverage the unique skills of the private sector while protecting the taxpayer investment,” he said.

Credit…Marc Lebryk/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The N.F.L. said Wednesday it is strengthening its Covid-19 protocols as the number of positive cases rises across the country and people make plans to gather for Thanksgiving.

Every person, regardless of their vaccination status, must wear a mask inside team facilities between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, and all players, coaches and support staff must be tested for the coronavirus on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1, after the Thanksgiving weekend.

This season, unvaccinated players and staff in the league’s Tier 1 designation, the most essential personnel, must be tested every day. Those who are vaccinated must be tested at least once per week, and potentially more frequently if they are symptomatic or have a close contact with someone who tests positive.

This update to the protocols means unvaccinated players must wait for their test results before entering a team facility, while vaccinated players and staff can enter but must remain masked while they wait for results.

In a memo sent to all 32 teams on Tuesday night, the league also urged clubs to set up drive-through testing facilities for players, staff and any friends or family who may visit them for the holiday.

Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, said the N.F.L. was tightening restrictions because in the previous two weeks the league saw its highest number of confirmed positive coronavirus tests this season. “That wasn’t a total surprise to us because our numbers mirror the number of cases in the country,” he said.

Between Oct. 31 and Nov. 13, there were 81 confirmed positive cases in the N.F.L., 34 players and 47 staff, the most in any two-week period this season. The players affected included high-profile starters like Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, and Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb.

In the prior two-week period, there were 35 confirmed positive cases, including 11 players.

Credit…Ramon Van Flymen/EPA, via Shutterstock

Soaring demand for Covid testing in the Netherlands, combined with a shortage of workers to book them, is pushing the limits of the country’s health services, officials have said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the association of regional health services in the Netherlands called the increase in demand for new testing appointments “explosive,” adding that it was taking the approach of “all hands on deck.”

Officials said that they aimed to reach up to 120,000 tests a day, depending on workers’ availability. On Monday, at least 116,000 new appointments were scheduled and 91,000 people were tested — new daily records — according to Jaap Eikelboom, a Covid program director for the health service association.

“We are reaching the maximum of our capacity on all sides,” he said.

Virus cases have been rising in the Netherlands, with more than 110,000 people testing positive over the past week, an increase of almost 44 percent compared with the week before, according to official figures. Last week, the government announced a national partial lockdown for three weeks, including limited operating hours for restaurants, bars and shops.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

It is also now largely impossible to book most Covid testing appointments online because of the high demand, the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reported, saying that there was only one place in the Netherlands — in the southern province of Zeeland — where people were able to do so.

Speaking at a news conference this month, Prime Minister Mark Rutte hailed the importance of testing to stop the spread of the virus, even for people who are vaccinated.

“Stay home if you have symptoms, and get tested,” he said.

Although coronavirus case levels remain far lower than at the peak of the summer surge, we’re seeing a rise in cases in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest.

U.S. Covid Cases are Increasing Again

Mitch Smith

Mitch SmithReporting on the coronavirus

U.S. Covid Cases are Increasing Again

Mitch Smith

Mitch SmithReporting on the coronavirus


As the holidays approach, Covid-19 cases are starting to rise again. Conditions are deteriorating in the Upper Midwest and parts of the West.

Here’s what to know →

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Credit…Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press

Disney Cruise Line updated its immunization policy for guests on Wednesday, requiring all children over the age of 5 to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The vaccine mandate will go into effect on Jan. 13 and will apply to sailings both in the United States and abroad. Until then, unvaccinated guests between the ages of 5 and 11 must take a pre-departure coronavirus test. Currently, guests age 12 and up and all crew members on Disney ships must be fully vaccinated.

The new requirement comes after federal regulators recently cleared Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 earlier.

Like Disney, most other major cruise lines have required passengers 12 and older to be fully vaccinated. While some companies like Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Group and MSC Cruises have allowed unvaccinated children on board ships with testing requirements, some sailings have had to limit numbers on board because of policies that require at least 95 percent of passengers to be fully vaccinated.

Last week, the chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean, Richard Fain, said he expects an update on vaccine protocols for children soon, but no changes have been announced yet.

“I think we’re moving in the direction where every cruise will have 100 percent of the crew vaccinated and 95 or more percent of the guests,” he said at a media event on board Odyssey of the Seas, a cruise ship owned by Royal Caribbean.

Norwegian Cruise Line has one of the most stringent immunization policies, requiring all passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated — including eligible children — and recently announced that the rules would be extended “indefinitely” in the near future. It bars ineligible children from sailings.

To encourage family cruise vacations, Holland American Line recently announced a new offer allowing fully vaccinated children ages 5 to 17 to sail for free as third and fourth guests in the same stateroom.

“Now that kids ages 5 and older can receive the Covid-19 vaccine, getting out and seeing the world is on everyone’s mind,” said Gus Antorcha, president of Holland America Line.

Credit…Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Ireland’s bars and nightclubs will be required to close at midnight starting on Friday as part of measures that the government is imposing to curb the spread of the coronavirus as a surge of cases has left hospitals overwhelmed and officials scrambling for solutions.

The measures, which the country’s leader, Micheal Martin, announced on Tuesday night, also include a request that people work from home when possible and a requirement that they show a vaccine pass before entering theaters.

“The surge that we are now experiencing is a dramatic reminder of what this virus can do and the threat that it continues to represent,” Mr. Martin said. “We need to act now to deal with this surge.”

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

In the last week, Ireland has experienced its second highest rate of hospital admissions in 2021, Mr. Martin said, a situation that is putting hospitals nationwide under significant pressure.

But even as the measures were announced, Mr. Martin acknowledged that “continued progress in the journey to normal conditions is not inevitable.”

He said that he could not rule out further measures to curb the spread of the virus, but that the country’s successful vaccination program meant that a large-scale lockdown could be avoided at least for now.

Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, said that “stark new modeling” on the number of predicted cases was behind the rationale for the new measures.

Speaking to RTE Radio, the public broadcaster, he said on Tuesday that the models showed that without mitigation measures, Ireland’s intensive care units would see an influx of 200 to 450 patients by Christmas. The country has just over 300 permanent intensive-care beds.

“That would be something we have to avoid, so we are making some changes,” Mr. Donnelly said.

Credit…Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

A Polish luge athlete who was injured during a Winter Olympics training event near Beijing was flown out of China on a cargo plane this week after coronavirus restrictions prevented him from taking a commercial flight, according to the head of Poland’s luge association.

The incident speaks to the kinds of complications that could arise at next year’s Winter Games, which are scheduled to begin on Feb. 4 in accordance with strict health protocols. For training and other events in the prelude to the Games, athletes and team officials are not allowed to move about freely until they have spent 21 days inside a bubblelike training and competition zone.

The luger, Mateusz Sochowicz, 25, hit a barrier and fractured his leg on Nov. 8 while training on the track that will be used during the Winter Games. He was hospitalized near Beijing, and the International Luge Federation said that it and the local track operator were introducing additional safety measures for the Games after the accident.

But when organizers tried to arrange for Mr. Sochowicz to travel back to Poland on a commercial flight, they were told that Covid regulations prevented him from doing so for another two weeks, according to Janusz Tatera, the head of Poland’s luge federation.

Instead, Mr. Sochowicz traveled on an Air China cargo plane from Beijing to Milan on Monday, before taking another flight to Warsaw, Mr. Tatera said in a telephone interview.

The cargo plane’s interior was just like that of a passenger jet, Mr. Tatera said, adding that Mr. Sochowicz had described his journey from Beijing as “very comfortable.”

Mr. Sochowicz remains optimistic, Mr. Tatera said, that he will compete in Beijing 2022 after recovering from the injury.

Credit…Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A standoff between the governor of Oklahoma and the Pentagon over a coronavirus vaccine mandate for troops has turned into a stormy test of federal power, as President Biden moves to require vaccinations for a broad swath of the American work force.

Last week, Oklahoma’s newly appointed adjutant general for the National Guard, Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Mancino, announced on behalf of the governor, Kevin Stitt, that guardsmen in the state would not be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine, defying a Pentagon directive issued in August that makes vaccinations mandatory for all troops, including the National Guard, by deadlines set by each service branch.

“The order I issued came directly from the governor. That is the lawful order to the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard,” General Mancino said in an interview, adding that he had been vaccinated.

Pentagon officials said Wednesday that a failure to follow “valid medical readiness requirements” could “jeopardize” the status of troops.

The officials insist that Mr. Stitt has no legal standing to obviate the mandate, though experts on the obscure laws governing the Guard disagree. They note that unless federally deployed, National Guard members are under the jurisdiction of the governor of their state and therefore not subject to federal mandates. “Guard members can only serve one boss at a time,” said John Goheen, a spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States.

The Pentagon is not without redress. It could deny funding to state units or impede the promotions of Guard members who refuse to get vaccinated. Officials said Wednesday that Guard members who refused to be vaccinated also could face dismissal, just as with active duty troops.

“Oklahoma may be able to take this step as a legal matter, but there are definitely things the federal government can do in response that might make it a painful Pyrrhic victory,” said Eugene Fidell, an adjunct professor of law at the New York University Law School. “The governor and state adjutant general thus might find themselves commanding some very unhappy personnel.”

The Pentagon is bracing for other states to follow Oklahoma’s lead. So far none have, but many are believed to be closely watching the situation, which could become the subject of lawsuits. “This could be contagious,” Mr. Fidell said.

National Guard troops have been caught in the political cross hairs over the years, including in 2018, when several governors said they would withhold or recall their troops from the border with Mexico as the Trump administration separated adults who illegally crossed into the United States from their children. In 1986, several governors balked at sending Guard troops for maneuvers in Honduras ordered by President Ronald Reagan.

But these rare conflicts in the military have never centered on vaccine mandates, which have existed for decades. Many countries now require full vaccination for those crossing into their borders, and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has insisted the vaccine against the coronavirus is vital for troop readiness. “In 2021, many things are political,” Mr. Goheen said

Credit…Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images, via Getty Images

FedEx said on Wednesday that it would close its Hong Kong crew base and relocate its pilots, citing an evolving global business environment and the strict pandemic requirements in the Asian financial hub.

FedEx said that it would continue delivery services as usual in Hong Kong, and did not specify where its crew would move. The South China Morning Post, citing a FedEx memo, reported that the routes would be flown by workers based in Oakland, Calif., where 180 Hong Kong-based pilots had relocated early this year.

Hong Kong has been successful at controlling the spread of the coronavirus, with just 213 deaths in a city of 7.5 million. But the tough restrictions on travel have grated on many and spurred criticism from some businesses that rely on the swift movement of goods and people.

This week Hong Kong ordered 130 Cathay Pacific cargo pilots to undergo three weeks of quarantine because they had stayed at a hotel near Frankfurt where three crew members who tested positive for the coronavirus had also resided.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, acknowledged on Tuesday that the quarantine orders put strains on freight companies and highlighted the city’s dependence on goods brought in from overseas and mainland China.

“If there are one or two more such incidents, our freight planes will have no pilots,” she said.

Also on Wednesday, Tara Joseph, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said that she was stepping down, a decision that she partly attributed to the difficulties created by the city’s coronavirus control measures.

“I think the quarantine rules are a huge red line for many people, including myself,” said Ms. Joseph, who is currently in the United States. She said she planned to stay in her role until the chamber found a replacement.

Earlier this year, Alan Beebe and Ker Gibbs, the presidents of the American chambers of commerce in Beijing and Shanghai, said they were resigning from their roles.

Hong Kong’s quarantine rules have weighed on global companies with a presence in the city. The restrictions were making it hard to retain talent, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said this week during a short visit to the city. He was one of a small number of executives who have been granted a quarantine exemption.

Credit…Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images

When the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, a Southern California man recruited his brother, his wife and many others to use the identities of older people, foreign exchange students who had left the country and dead relatives to apply for $20 million in federal relief funds, the authorities said.

The man, Richard Ayvazyan, 43, bought a $3.25 million mansion and filled it with gold coins, luxury watches and imported furniture using the stolen Covid-19 disaster-relief funds, federal prosecutors in California said.

In June, Mr. Ayvazyan; his wife, Marietta Terabelian, 37; and Artur Ayvazyan, Mr. Ayvazyan’s brother, were convicted of scheming to fraudulently obtain funding that was meant for people and businesses that had sustained economic losses as a result of the pandemic.

In August, as they awaited sentencing at their home in the San Fernando Valley, Mr. Ayvazyan and Ms. Terabelian removed their bracelet monitors and fled, according to the F.B.I. They left their children behind, according to federal prosecutors.

On Monday, they were both sentenced in absentia. Mr. Ayvazyan received 17 years in prison and his wife received six. Artur Ayvazyan, 41, was sentenced to five years.

During the hearing on Monday, Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said he could not recall a fraud case done in such a “callous, intentional way without any regard for the law” and described Mr. Ayvazyan as “an endemic, coldhearted fraudster.”

Mr. Ayvazyan’s lawyer, Ashwin J. Ram, said that his client’s family believed the couple was kidnapped but that the authorities had made no serious effort to investigate the claim.

“There are dozens of people who potentially have exposure,” Mr. Ram said. “My fear was that someone wanted to silence my client.”

Mr. Ram said a one-sided picture of Mr. Ayvazyan was presented at sentencing.

“The entire point of sentencing is not whether a crime occurred,” he said. “The point of sentencing is what is just punishment in this case.”

Mr. Ayvazyan’s background as a churchgoer, a father and a prominent member of the Armenian community in Southern California who invested in small start-ups did not come up at the hearing.

“That story didn’t get told at sentencing because he wasn’t there,” the lawyer said. According to Mr. Ram, the couple has three children, ages 13, 15 and 16, who are living with their grandparents.

Prosecutors said in court filings that Mr. Ayvazyan left a typed letter for their children explaining they had to flee because he has brought “danger and fear” to their lives.

“We will be together again,” he wrote, according to a copy of the letter. “I will find a way, that’s a promise.”

Mr. Ayvazyan had a history of loan fraud, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by prosectors.

He pleaded guilty to conspiring with Ms. Terabelian to fraudulently obtaining a line of credit and was charged with conspiring to use stolen identities to secure mortgage loans and green loans for environmentally friendly home projects, the memo stated.

Ms. Terabelian used to work at a children’s hair salon, according to the F.B.I.

Credit…Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images

Ryan Fraser, a lawyer for Ms. Terabelian, described her as a “loving mother and devoted wife who has tirelessly supported not only her three children, but also her parents, mother-in-law and sister­.”

Mr. Fraser noted that Judge Wilson sentenced Ms. Terabelian to “less than one-third the time” that prosecutors had sought. They asked for 21 years in prison.

Mr. Ayvazyan began stealing disaster-relief funds as soon as they became available in March 2020, according to the prosecutors’ memo.

In messages to his co-conspirators, he joked that the federal government would run out of money and told them to move quickly to get the funds.

“This program is over by end of the month so get as much as you can,” he wrote, according to the memo.

Mr. Ram said the court sentenced Mr. Ayvazyan on guidelines based on the theft of about $1.5 million from the government. He added that he did not believe that prosecutors proved that Mr. Ayvazyan himself stole anyone’s identity.

The government “was handing out money with no checks and a lot of people took advantage of that,” Mr. Ram said.

“It’s a honey trap,” he added. “Richard Ayvazyan fell into that trap.”

The F.B.I. said it was offering a $20,000 reward for anyone with information that could lead to the couple’s arrest.

Credit…Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Egypt is on the verge of passing a law that would allow people to be prosecuted if they publish something deemed to be fake news during an epidemic, an ostensible attempt to control disinformation in the coronavirus era. But critics fear the law could instead be used to repress those who challenge government policies during public health crises.

The legislation awaits ratification by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a mere formality given that he has overwhelming support in the Parliament, which approved the bill on Tuesday. It grants the prime minister extraordinary powers to manage epidemics and pandemics, and it allows the prosecution of people who violate any regulation or mandate imposed by the government to manage such a crisis.

It would set prison sentences of up to one year and a fine of around $635 as punishment for “anyone who deliberately publishes or spreads false news or tendentious rumors related to the situation of an epidemic, with the purpose of disturbing public safety or spreading panic among people.” Only journalists would be exempt from prosecution under the bill.

That would leave everyone else — including health care workers, researchers and millions of social media users — subject to imprisonment in what critics said would be a breach of the Constitution, which prohibits imprisonment for the act of publication.

Proponents of the bill said the pandemic had shown the need for a firm response to the spread of disinformation in critical times.

“Some women have refused vaccination because of a post on Facebook that warned that it is dangerous for women who are planning on getting pregnant within a year,” the lawmaker Ayman Abol Ela said in a televised interview. “That is an immediate threat to national security.”

But critics said the prison sentences would be primarily used to control the expression of dissent on social media in a country where security services keep a tight grip on traditional media and public spaces and where the authorities often see any opposition as a threat. Doctors, journalists and social media users have been prosecuted on charges of spreading false news after they criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic or questioned the stated number of infections on social media.

“The reality is that hundreds have been thrown behind bars for social media posts, and fake news did not stop,” said Khaled Elbalshy, an Egyptian journalist. “Rumors thrive in an environment where the truth is withheld. Fake news and rumors are fought with upholding freedom of information, not with prison.”

The movement of the legislation comes weeks after prosecutors launched a mysterious, high-profile investigation within the health ministry. Prosecutors announced last month that some health officials had been questioned over allegations that have yet to be detailed. The health minister, Hala Zayed, went on sick leave around the time of the announcement after reportedly having been hospitalized for a heart attack. Reports from local news media outlets saying that the inquiry involved corruption allegations were taken down.

Under the new legislation, the prime minister would also have the power to enforce lockdowns, impose vaccine mandates, ban demonstrations, suspend court sessions, close off places of worship and set limits on the prices of commodities and private health care services.

The bill would grant the country’s top officials many powers that had previously been available to them only under a state of emergency. Egypt lifted a four-year state of emergency last month but quickly passed laws transferring similar powers to the government and the military, raising doubts over the country’s seriousness about easing a ruthless crackdown on dissent that has put its human rights record under international scrutiny.

Egypt is facing a fourth wave of Covid that is adding to the 345,848 cases and 19,636 deaths that the government has reported since the start of the pandemic, though the actual figures are believed to be much higher.

Credit…Brian Inganga/Associated Press

Kenya will be the pilot country for a new U.S. effort to accelerate Covid vaccinations in Africa, a program that enlists private company expertise to overcome “last mile” delivery delays, America’s top diplomat said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced the decision in Kenya, on the first full day of his three-day, three-country trip to East and West Africa.

While Mr. Blinken’s visit is aimed largely at efforts to solve crises threatening Ethiopia and Sudan, the Covid-19 pandemic’s ravaging of Africa, and what wealthy countries like the United States are doing about it, is a powerful sub-theme.

Speaking in Nairobi, Mr. Blinken reiterated American support for Africa’s struggle to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The continent lags global vaccination efforts, with just 6 percent of its population vaccinated, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Kenya, only 3 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated.

During a joint news conference with his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo, Mr. Blinken announced that Kenya would become the first country to benefit from the new White House initiative aimed at overcoming the logistical hurdles that hinder Covid-19 vaccine delivery around the world.

Under the initiative, called the Global Covid Corps, private sector companies work pro bono to help countries streamline their vaccine distribution, such as managing supply chains and storage of the doses. Mr. Blinken first announced the initiative last week, during a virtual meeting of foreign ministers.

“What we found is the so-called last-mile challenges, including delivery and logistical hurdles, can make it difficult to turn vaccines into vaccinations, in other words actually getting shots into arms,” Mr. Blinken said.

Slow vaccination rates increase the risk of vaccine-resistant variants of the virus, experts say. Poor infrastructure to deliver doses of vaccines is a major challenge, further complicated by problems such as a shortage of syringes.

Mr. Blinken’s announcement was the latest in the White House’s vaccine diplomacy, in which the United States has tried to persuade other wealthy nations to balance domestic requirements with a global need. The Biden administration also has encouraged Moderna, one of the leading vaccine makers, to prioritize delivering 15 million doses to Africa ahead of its commitments to the United States.

These steps have followed criticism from activists around the world who accuse wealthy nations of hoarding vaccines, to the detriment of poorer nations. Many critics remain upset over what they call inadequate help for initiatives like Covax, the United Nations-backed vaccine program, and the African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Trust. Both are meant to deliver doses to countries that cannot afford to strike large-scale deals with vaccine manufacturers.

Emphasizing what the United States has done, Mr. Blinken pointed to the more than 50 million doses it donated to 43 African countries, as well as $1.9 billion in funding distributed to Africa for Covid-19 relief.

In a thinly veiled allusion to the Covid-19 vaccine aid offered by China, which has enormous economic interests in Africa, Mr. Blinken said the American generosity had been delivered “with no political strings attached.”

Mr. Blinken has previously criticized what he called the ties between China’s vaccine distribution and its geopolitical interests, a criticism that Chinese leaders have rejected.

Among the delegation accompanying Mr. Blinken is Gayle E. Smith, who was appointed as the State Department’s Global Covid Response and Health Security Coordinator. Ms. Smith, a former head of United States Agency for International Development and security aide to former President Barack Obama, was appointed in April.

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Domestic flights should require vaccine or testing, lawmakers say


With the holiday travel season rapidly approaching, three dozen lawmakers are pushing the federal government to require proof of full vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to board domestic flights.

Lawmakers said the additional travel restrictions would “ensure Americans can travel safely to see their loved ones during the holidays while also limiting household introduction and spread of COVID-19 from visiting family and friends,” according to a letter sent to President Joe Biden.

The push for more mandates comes less than a week after the United States updated its entry requirements for international air travel. As of Monday, most foreign nationals must be fully vaccinated and all travelers aged 2 and older who have not recently recovered from COVID-19 – including U.S. citizens – must show a negative coronavirus test to enter. 

The lawmakers said extending vaccine and testing mandates to domestic air travel would boost Americans’ confidence in travel and help the country’s tourism and hospitality industries recover, and argued that it would improve public health by pressuring more travelers to get vaccinated.

► US travel restrictions: International tourists arrive to long lines on Nov. 8

The letter cites polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which published a survey in May that found about four in ten respondents who said they wanted to wait and see how the vaccine works for other people before getting vaccinated themselves would be more likely to get the shot it was required to fly on an airplane.

The letter, dated Thursday but published Friday, also asks that the safety protocols on trains and other modes of public transportation continue to be updated to reflect new data on how to curb the spread of the virus. 

“This is a necessary and long overdue step toward ensuring all Americans feel safe and confident while traveling and reduce the chances of yet another devastating winter surge,” the letter reads. 

► A sprint to Times Square, the Strip: How international tourists spent their first hours in the US after travel ban lift

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to add more stringent safety protocols for domestic flights. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose signature is included on the letter, introduced a bill in September that would require all  U.S. passengers to be fully vaccinated, fully recovered or test negative for the coronavirus before boarding a domestic flight. 

The U.S. Travel Association, which promotes travel to the United States, released a statement against vaccine mandates for domestic flights that same month. 

“The science—including studies from the Harvard School of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Defense—overwhelmingly points to the safety of air travel as long as masks are worn,” Tori Emerson Barnes, the group’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy, said in a Sept. 13 release. “And with the federal mask mandate for all forms of public transportation and U.S. airports extended through January 2022, proper tools are already in place to enable safe air travel for Americans.”

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz

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Coronavirus live updates: States sue Biden administration over vaccine mandate for health workers

If you’re vaccinated (and better yet, boosted) and considered low-risk for severe covid infection, staying in a house/vacation rental with family members who are also vaccinated and low risk is not much concern to health experts. Risks go up if you’re considered high risk, or someone else in the household is vulnerable (elderly un-boosted family members, unvaccinated kids). Risks go way up if people in the house are not vaccinated.

For hotels, the real risks are what you mentioned: busy lobbies, gym, crowded elevators — not the air between rooms. Mask up in public places, maintain social distance if you can and practice good hand hygiene along the way.

Natalie B. Compton

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