Covid-19 and Vaccine News: Live Updates


Salt Lake City International Airport last week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning against nonessential flights as air travel rises.
Credit…Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

U.S. airports had 1.357 million people pass through on Friday, the highest number on any day since March 2020, just after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

The new figures from the Transportation Security Administration will be welcome news for the aviation industry, which has particularly been decimated during the pandemic but was granted some relief in the stimulus bill that President Biden signed on Thursday.

Still, nonessential flights go against the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which warned last week that even fully vaccinated people should avoid travel unless necessary.

“We know that after mass travel, after vacations, after holidays, we tend to see a surge in cases,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday on MSNBC. “And so, we really want to make sure — again with just 10 percent of people vaccinated — that we are limiting travel.”

Plane travel remains relatively low in the United States — Friday’s figures are nearly 38 percent less than what they were on the same day in 2019, according to T.S.A. data — but the latest increase in airline passengers has come as states continue to expand vaccine eligibility criteria and during the peak of spring break season.

Photos of spring break partyers without masks in Florida spread on social media this week, prompting concern from some local officials. “Unfortunately, we’re getting too many people looking to get loose,” Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach said. “Letting loose is precisely what we don’t want.”

The T.S.A. said it had prepared for a possible increase in spring break travel between late February and April, including through recruitment and vaccination efforts for its own officers. The agency’s employees had previously alleged that the more than 6,000 cases among their ranks were fueled by lax safety measures.

A drag queen performed in a face shield at a restaurant in Miami Beach, Fla., last week. Much of life seems normal in the state, and not just because of the return of the winter tourism season.
Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

MIAMI — Other than New York, no big city in the United States has been struggling with more coronavirus cases in recent weeks than Miami. But you would hardly know that if you lived here.

Spring breakers flock to the beaches. Cars cram the highways, and thousands of motorcyclists have packed into Daytona Beach for an annual rally. Weekend restaurant reservations have almost become necessary again. Banners on Miami Beach read “Vacation responsibly,” the subtext being, Of course you’re going to vacation.

Much of life seems normal, and not just because of the return of Florida’s winter tourism season, which was cut short last year a few weeks into the pandemic. The state reopened months before much of the rest of the nation, and for better or worse, it offers a glimpse of what many states are likely to face as they move into the next phase of the pandemic.

Now, much of the state has a boomtown feel, a sense of making up for months of lost time, though its tourism-dependent economy remains hobbled. A $2.7 billion budget deficit will need an injection of federal stimulus money. Orange County, where Orlando is, saw the lowest tourist development tax collections for any January since 2002.

“You can live like a human being,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican. “You aren’t locked down. People aren’t miserable.” President Biden’s new hope of getting Americans together to celebrate with their families on the Fourth of July? “We’ve been doing that for over a year in Florida,” the governor boasted.

The Tesla car manufacturing plant in Fremont, Calif., remained open during the pandemic despite restrictions put in place by local officials.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

More than 400 workers at a Tesla plant in California tested positive for the coronavirus between May and December, according to public health data released by a transparency website.

The data provides the first glimpse into virus cases at Tesla, whose chief executive, Elon Musk, had downplayed the severity of the coronavirus crisis and reopened the plant in May, in defiance of guidelines issued by local public health officials.

Automakers across the country halted production and closed plants for two months last year from mid-March until mid-May. After resuming production, other automakers publicly announced when workers had tested positive for the virus and halted production to prevent further infection among employees and to disinfect work areas.

Tesla, however, has released little information about employee coronavirus cases.

The data was obtained by the website PlainSite, which works to make legal and governmental documents publicly accessible. It showed that 440 cases were reported at the Tesla plant, which employs some 10,000 people. The number of cases rose to 125 in December from fewer than 11 in May.

A year ago, after officials in California ordered manufacturing plants to close, Mr. Musk suggested on Twitter that the measure was unnecessary and that cases in the United States would be “close to zero.”

He also called virus restrictions “fascist,” threatened to move Tesla out of California, and then reopened the plant a week before health officials said it was safe to do so. More recently, Mr. Musk has questioned on Twitter the effectiveness of Covid vaccines.

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Protesters Defy Covid Restrictions to Rally for Slain London Woman

Thousands of people gathered at Clapham Common on Saturday, the London park near where Sarah Everard, 33, was last seen alive. Her death led to an outpouring of anger and solidarity over violence against women.

“The police have been known to intimidate us.” “The police have been known to intimidate us.” “We say no.” “We say no.” “The police are trying to repress us.” “The police are trying to repress us.” “This is a sickening response.” “This is a sickening response.” [applause] [chanting] “Let us speak.” [chanting] “Let us speak.” [cheering] [chanting] “No justice. No peace.” [cheering] [yelling] [booing] [chanting] “The police do not protect us.”

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Thousands of people gathered at Clapham Common on Saturday, the London park near where Sarah Everard, 33, was last seen alive. Her death led to an outpouring of anger and solidarity over violence against women.CreditCredit…Leon Neal/Getty Images

LONDON — Thousands of people gathered in South London on Saturday for a vigil in tribute to Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman whose body was found on Friday, despite police warnings that the event would be defy coronavirus restrictions. The killing has touched off a national reckoning in Britain over violence against women.

As dark fell on London, a growing crowd chanted “Shame on you!” and “How many more!” In what became a rally against gender violence, some clapped their hands and others held tea lights or signs that read “End Violence Against Women.”

The event, in Clapham Common, near where Ms. Everard was last seen on March 3, had drawn small groups at first, with people gathering in silence around a memorial where flowers had been laid in her memory. Earlier, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, also laid flowers at the memorial.

Adding to the anger over the case, a 48-year-old police officer, Wayne Couzens, has been charged with kidnapping and murdering Ms. Everard.

A court had ruled late Friday that the gathering could be deemed unlawful because of Covid-19 restrictions, and the police had urged prospective attendees to stay home. Organizers eventually relented and called for a national doorstep vigil, though in the end that did not dissuade people from going to the park anyway.

As Britain is gradually coming out of a monthslong lockdown, the fight over the vigil posed critical questions over balancing freedom of assembly and safety measures in the months to come, and recalled debates over marches against police brutality last year.

More than 30 gatherings had been planned across Britain on Saturday, in what organizers hoped would convey the outpouring of solidarity and anger over Ms. Everard’s killing.

Children sanitizing their hands before entering school in Johannesburg. Many African nations have yet to start vaccinations, with less than one dose administered across the continent per 100 people.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

More than 345 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide in the three months since mass inoculation began in December, but there is still a huge disparity in the vaccination rates between countries.

At least one dose

Fully vaccinated

20% 40% 60% 28%63%Dec. 13 Mar. 12

Seychelles

Israel continues to stand out in the global vaccination race, with 58 percent of its population having received at least one dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, and 46 percent having received both required doses. Despite a slow start, Chile is now making swift progress, with at least a quarter of its population having received at least one dose.

Despite some initial criticism of Britain’s decision to delay second doses until 12 weeks after the first, the strategy seems to be paying off, as more than a third of its population has received at least one dose, far ahead of any of its European counterparts. Studies appear to have vindicated Britain’s decision after finding a single dose could avert most coronavirus-related hospitalizations.

Some of the starkest differences can be found when comparing continents. In North America, 18 doses have been administered for every 100 people, while in South America, there have been just 4.9 vaccinations per 100 people amid growing outbreaks across much of the continent. Many African nations have yet to start vaccinations, with less than one dose administered across the continent per 100 people.

Until the bulk of the world’s population has been immunized, the virus will continue to evolve into variants that are more contagious, more deadly or that dodge the immune response at least in part, experts have warned. A global program led by the World Health Organization and other groups has made a few million doses of Covid-19 vaccines available to some African countries, but it is unlikely to have enough doses for the rest of the world before 2024.

Carrie Johnson, 78, at home in  Lexington, Ky., in January. To recuperate from spinal surgery, she went into a nearby five-star nursing home, but ended up with an infection and can no longer walk, or even stand.  
Credit…Jessica Ebelhar for The New York Times

Twelve years ago, the U.S. government introduced a powerful new tool to help people make a wrenching decision: which nursing home to choose for loved ones at their most vulnerable. Using a simple star rating — one being the worst, five the best — the system promised to distill reams of information and transform an emotional process into one based on objective, government-blessed metrics.

The star system quickly became ubiquitous, a popular way for consumers to educate themselves and for nursing homes to attract new customers. During the coronavirus pandemic, with many locked-down homes unavailable for prospective residents or their families to see firsthand, the ratings seemed indispensable.

But a New York Times investigation, based on the most comprehensive analysis of the data that powers the ratings program, found that it is broken.

The ratings program, which is run by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or C.M.S., relies on a mix of self-reported data from more than 15,000 nursing homes and on-site examinations by state health inspectors.

Despite years of warnings, the system provided a badly distorted picture of the quality of care at the nation’s nursing homes. Many relied on sleight-of-hand maneuvers to improve their ratings and hide shortcomings that contributed to the damage when the pandemic struck.

More than 130,000 nursing-home residents have died of Covid-19, and The Times’s analysis found that people at five-star facilities were roughly as likely to die of the disease as those at one-star homes.

People wait to be vaccinated in Richmond, Va., where there have been delays caused by faulty software.
Credit…Carlos Bernate for The New York Times

When coronavirus vaccines first became available, state health officials in Virginia turned to software recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to schedule appointments. But people complained that the software, called VAMS, was too confusing for older adults to use.

So the state switched to another system, PrepMod — but that had problems, too. Links sent to seniors for their appointments were reusable and found their way to Facebook, leading to one vaccination event in Richmond with dozens of overbookings. Some of those people threatened health care workers when they were turned away.

“It was a nightmare scenario,” said Ruth Morrison, the policy director for the Richmond and Henrico County health district. “People showing up confused, irate, thinking they had an appointment.”

State and local health departments around the country continue to face delays dispensing shots, in part because flaws remain in the appointment software tools like those used in Richmond. The problems threaten to slow the vaccine rollout even as supplies and distribution are picking up quickly across the country.

Large software systems have often been problematic for companies and governments. HealthCare.gov, a site released after the Affordable Care Act, crashed early on. But the issues with the vaccine sites have an added sense of urgency because health officials are trying to vaccinate as many people as possible, as fast as possible.

President Biden said that his administration would send out technical teams to help states improve their websites. He also said the federal government would open a website by May 1 that would allow Americans to find out where the vaccine is available.

Aisha Jones, leaning in to give her grandmother, who died of Covid-19 last month, a kiss. The U.S. death rate remains at nearly 1,500 people every day.
Credit…Rachel Wisniewski for The New York Times

Coronavirus cases are trending downward across the United States as the country’s vaccine rollout picks up speed. But despite the large drop in new infections since early this year, the U.S. death rate remains at nearly 1,500 people every day. That number still exceeds the summer peak, when patients filled Sun Belt hospitals and outbreaks in states that reopened early drove record numbers of cases, though daily deaths nationwide remained lower than the first surge last spring. The number of new reported cases per day remains nearly as high as the summer record.

Waiting to receive a dose of China’s Sinovac vaccine in Hong Kong last month.
Credit…Pool photo by Paul Yeung

BEIJING — China raised the stakes in the international vaccine competition on Saturday, saying that foreigners wishing to enter the Chinese mainland from Hong Kong will face fewer paperwork requirements if they are inoculated with Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines.

The policy announcement, which covers foreigners applying for visas in the Chinese territory, comes a day after the United States, India, Japan and Australia announced plans to provide vaccines more widely to other countries. The four so-called Quad powers promised to help finance the production in India of at least a billion doses of coronavirus vaccine by the end of next year.

China is trying to increase the international appeal of its shots, even as scientists and foreign governments urge Chinese vaccine makers to be more transparent with their clinical trial data. Guo Weimin, a Chinese government spokesman, said that China had sent vaccines to 69 countries by the end of February and begun commercial exports to 28 countries.

Chinese state media organizations have also begun a misinformation campaign that questions the safety of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots and promotes Chinese vaccines as better alternatives.

Chinese-made vaccines have not yet been approved by most regulators in the West, though Hungary has agreed to buy five million doses. China has not yet approved the manufacture or distribution of foreign vaccines within its borders either.

This week, China introduced an international electronic passport for its citizens that shows whether a traveler has been vaccinated against the coronavirus. But it was not immediately clear how much of a difference Saturday’s policy announcement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry would make for foreigners living in Hong Kong, given that China has been issuing almost no visas lately.

In addition, Hong Kong’s borders have been closed to nonresidents for nearly a year. So the new policy will not help many foreigners in other countries who want to return to mainland China for work or family reasons.

The Hong Kong government allows residents to choose between the Sinovac vaccine from mainland China and a version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that it imported from Germany. The announcement on Saturday did not specify whether people in Hong Kong who have already received the Pfizer-BioNTech shot would need to be vaccinated again with the Sinovac product.

Alan Beebe, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said that border restrictions had become the biggest concern for multinationals doing business in the country, and he questioned the need for restricting entry based on which vaccine was chosen by travelers.

“It’s not clear to us,” he said, “what is the difference between having an imported vaccine and one that is produced in China.”

Liu Yi contributed research.

The apparent assault of an Uber driver, Subhakar Khadka, is the latest incident involving confrontations around coronavirus protections.
Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

An arrest has been made after scenes from a viral video that circulated this week showed passengers taunting and deliberately coughing on an Uber driver.

In the dashcam video, the driver, who had a hand on his head, looked exasperated. A woman in the passenger’s seat uttered an expletive about a mask and coughed on him, using racial slurs. Another passenger joined in, pulling down her mask and laughing. “And I got corona,” she said.

The driver refused to continue the ride, and the situation escalated. The passenger who initially coughed on the driver, grabbed his phone and tore off his mask, breaking the strap. The women continued screaming profanities.

The San Francisco Police Department said in a statement that the driver, identified by KGO-TV as Subhakar Khadka, had picked up three passengers in the early afternoon on Sunday, but he ended the ride once he saw that one of the women was not wearing a mask. Mr. Khadka told the passengers that he would not continue unless they were all wearing masks, the police said. In a video that was posted on Instagram and had since been removed, one passenger said that the driver was trying to make them exit the car in the middle of the freeway.

Soon, “an altercation ensued,” the police said.

One woman grabbed the driver’s cellphone, which Mr. Khadka eventually retrieved, and another passenger sprayed “what is believed to be pepper spray” into the car through an open window after they exited the vehicle, according to the police.

The flare-up is the latest high-profile example of mask conflicts, which have sometimes taken violent turns. Last year, prosecutors in Chicago said two sisters attacked a store security guard with a garbage can. One of the women stabbed the guard repeatedly with a small knife after he tried to insist that they wear masks and use the store’s hand sanitizer on entry.

In another case last year, an 80-year-old man in upstate New York was killed after he asked a bar patron to wear a mask; the patron shoved the man to the ground, causing him to hit his head.

Mr. Khadka, an Uber driver from Nepal who came to the United States eight years ago, said in an interview with KPIX that he never said anything “bad” to the women, and that they had refused to leave his car. Mr. Khadka said he believed he was singled out for their ire because he is South Asian. “If I was of another complexion, I would have not gotten that treatment from them,” he said. “The moment I opened my mouth to speak, they realized I’m not among one of them. It’s easy for them to intimidate me.”

One of the passengers in the Uber car in San Francisco has now been arrested, the Las Vegas Police Department said. Malaysia King, 24, was taken into custody on Thursday on a warrant for assault with a caustic chemical, assault and battery, as well as conspiracy and violation of health and safety code, the police said.

Arna Kimiai, 24, who has also being sought in the case, communicated through her lawyer that she intended to turn herself in “soon,” the San Francisco Police Department said.

“The behavior captured on video in this incident showed a callous disregard for the safety and well-being of an essential service worker in the midst of a deadly pandemic,” said Lt. Tracy McCray, who heads the Police Department’s robbery detail.





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