Covid Live News and Updates


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand announced a pause in quarantine-free travel from Australia.
Credit…Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand ordered a pause on quarantine-free travel from Australia for at least eight weeks, citing coronavirus surges caused by the Delta variant that have left more than half of Australia under lockdown.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly but it is, we believe, the right one,” Ms. Ardern told reporters at a news conference. “This will mean many people will find themselves for a time once more separated from friends and families in Australia, and I know this announcement will be a disappointment to them.”

The travel bubble was a rarity in Asia, where many countries have closed their borders during the pandemic, and had been largely successful as the two countries enforced strict controls to keep the virus at bay.

The emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant, however, has challenged the “Covid zero” strategy in both countries. And sluggish vaccination programs, which have stalled reopenings in much of the Asia Pacific region, have provoked deep frustration among residents of Australia and New Zealand who have been in and out of lockdowns since the pandemic began.

The Australian state of New South Wales on Friday reported 136 new cases, its highest daily total since the pandemic began, in an outbreak that on Friday was declared a national emergency. Separate outbreaks in the states of Queensland, Victoria and South Australia appear to be contained, according to health officials. New Zealand has not reported any community transmission of the virus for more than three months.

It is the first time that New Zealand has suspended quarantine-free travel from all of Australia since the bubble was introduced in April. The country had previously halted travel from certain Australian states experiencing localized outbreaks.

Travel from New Zealand to Australia will not be affected by the suspension, Ms. Ardern said, adding that the government would arrange return flights for New Zealand citizens and residents currently in Australia.

The announcement comes as both countries’ vaccination campaigns lag behind those in many rich nations. According to New York Times data, 19 percent of people in New Zealand have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 29 percent in Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia apologized on Thursday for the slowness of the vaccine rollout. The country had planned to use a combination of locally produced AstraZeneca shots and imported vaccines produced by Pfizer and BioNTech. But mistrust in the AstraZeneca vaccine, stemming from concerns about the risk of extremely rare blood clots, prompted Australia to buy 20 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, about one-quarter of which are expected to arrive in August.

Later this month, New Zealand is expected to open up vaccinations to anyone over age 18. But limited supply of the Pfizer vaccine, the backbone of New Zealand’s inoculation effort, means that most residents will not receive a first dose until later this year.

Health care workers wait to be let into the home of Eli Nazaingrio, 13, to administer the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Staten Island, New York City, last week.
Credit…Olga Ginzburg for The New York Times

On Staten Island’s South Shore, the sole mass vaccination site — an elementary school’s gymnasium — closed down this week, and was replaced by a vaccination van that has been giving fewer than 10 shots a day.

A mass vaccination site near a mid-island beach is quiet and may also shutter soon, a site director said. And at a nearby beach parking lot, the driver of a mobile coronavirus testing van was resting with his eyes closed last Friday. Only two people, he said, had shown up for testing.

Across New York City, coronavirus cases have more than tripled from last month’s low of 200 per day as the more contagious Delta variant has taken hold. And Staten Island, in particular, has been a hot spot that foretold the broader rise. For weeks, several of the borough’s ZIP codes had among the most cases in the city.

Now, as the rise in cases has taken hold in every borough, the resistance in Staten Island to the city’s efforts to inoculate residents has underscored the daunting task health officials face with the broader vaccination campaign.

In contrast to elsewhere in the city, where vaccine hesitancy has been most profound among Black and Latino New Yorkers, the most vulnerable areas in Staten Island have been predominately white, politically conservative and at times resistant to restrictions during the pandemic.

And that, borough leaders say, requires a different response.

“On the South Shore, you can’t just take the boilerplate approach as with the rest of the city,” said James Oddo, the Staten Island borough president. He said the “come hell or high water” vaccine reluctance in that section of the borough deeply rooted in mistrust of government and authority itself.

Grace, 20, a resident of Tottenville, on the South Shore, said she hasn’t gotten vaccinated. “I wouldn’t get it until it’s F.D.A. approved, and then, maybe,” said Grace, 20, who did not want to give her last name.

She said she listens to her friends, who have told her scary stories about serious side effects, and Fox News, which she described as negative about the vaccine. “And I already had Covid,” she added.

In Staten Island, as in the city and state as a whole, vaccination rates are only inching up. Each day, fewer than 10,000 New York City residents on average are opting to get their first shot. Though the city has tried everything from vaccination buses and in-home vaccinations to exploring ways to better include primary care doctors, it has yet to find an effective strategy to quickly increase the numbers in the face of Delta.

A Greek Orthodox church service in Thessaloniki in April.
Credit…Sakis Mitrolidis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The message from Greek officials is the same as it is from governments around the world: get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated.

But with the inoculation campaign slowing and the virus spreading, the Greek authorities are turning to the leaders of the country’s powerful Orthodox Church to carry the message to the hesitant.

With the Delta variant driving a surge in cases, Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias and the government’s chief epidemiologist, Sotiris Tsiodras, visited the church’s Holy Synod to ask Archbishop Ieronymos to pull renegade clerics into line.

After the visit, the church sent a circular to its clergy this week describing vaccination as “the greatest act of responsibility toward one’s fellow human being.”

It also offered answers to common questions and sought to clear up misinformation. Clerics have been told to distribute the circular to churchgoers on Sunday and deliver sermons extolling the vaccine’s benefits.

The move followed a flurry of discussions between government health officials and senior clerics aimed at quelling objections among priests to the vaccination drive. Some clerics have been using their sermons to stoke vaccine hesitancy while others have warned that churchgoers getting shots will be denied holy communion.

In Thessaloniki in northern Greece, a priest was removed from his parish this month after telling worshipers to not get the vaccine and to defy Covid regulations. In nearby Halkidiki, at mass celebrating the Orthodox Easter, another priest banned vaccinated and masked worshipers from attending his services, describing pressure to get the vaccine as “diabolical” and “fascist.”

It remains to be seen if the church hierarchy can control the message across the country, but the hope was the circular would carry special weight with the faithful.

It cast the vaccine as “a gift from God” and called on the faithful not to heed voices “which lack scientific grounding or ecclesiastical spirit.” It also sought to counter claims by some anti-vaccine protesters, including conspiracy theories about the shot containing embryonic cells or microchips designed to monitor people’s movements.

Greek authorities are hoping the appeal to the faithful will bolster a slowing vaccination campaign, with only 44 percent of Greece’s nearly 11 million citizens fully vaccinated.

Beyond the appeal to the faithful, the country has sought to strike a balance in the restrictions it is imposing as it reopens.

It has required health workers to get shots and has devised a plan that puts vaccinations at the center of reopening policies — without going so far as to essentially bar the unvaccinated.

After allowing outdoor service in May, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and theaters were allowed to resume indoor operation on July 15.

According to the government’s scheme, businesses will declare whether they intend to host only those who have been vaccinated — as well as those who have recovered from a coronavirus infection — or whether they will open for all customers and then display a corresponding sticker at their entrance.

Those choosing to host only vaccinated customers are permitted to operate at a higher capacity.

At least 110 people connected to the Olympics have tested positive so far in Japan.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Tokyo 2020 organizers reported an additional 19 coronavirus cases on Friday among people connected to the Games, including three athletes.

The organizing committee did not name those who were infected. But one of the athletes, who resides in the seaside Olympic Village, was identified as a close contact of a beach volleyball player from the Czech Republic who had also tested positive this week.

At least 110 people connected to the Olympics have tested positive so far in Japan, which has instituted strict controls aimed at preventing the spread of the virus during the Games, including barring spectators from nearly all events.

Infections have been rising across Japan, which reported more than 5,300 new cases on Thursday, the most in two months, according to New York Times data. The surge comes despite a weekslong state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas that restricts the sale of alcohol and requires bars and restaurants to close early.

On Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan met with the chief executive of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, who is in Tokyo for the Games, and asked the company to speed up shipments of its Covid vaccine that are planned for the fall, Kyodo News reported. About 23 percent of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to New York Times data.



Athletes who have tested positive for the coronavirus

Scientists say that positive tests are expected with daily testing programs, even among the vaccinated. Little information on severity has been released, though public reports suggest that cases among athletes have generally been mild or asymptomatic. Some athletes who have tested positive have not been publicly identified.


July 22

Taylor Crabb

Beach volleyball

United States

Reshmie Oogink

Taekwondo

Netherlands

Michal Schlegel

Road cycling

Czech Republic

Marketa Slukova

Beach volleyball

Czech Republic

July 21

Fernanda Aguirre

Taekwondo

Chile

Ilya Borodin

Russian Olympic Committee

Swimming

Russian Olympic Committee

Amber Hill

Shooting

Britain

Candy Jacobs

Skateboarding

Netherlands

Pavel Sirucek

Table tennis

Czech Republic

July 20

Sammy Solis

Baseball

Mexico

Hector Velazquez

Baseball

Mexico

July 19

Kara Eaker

Gymnastics

United States

Ondrej Perusic

Beach volleyball

Czech Republic

Katie Lou Samuelson

Three-on-three basketball

United States

July 18

Coco Gauff

Tennis

United States

Kamohelo Mahlatsi

Soccer

South Africa

Thabiso Monyane

Soccer

South Africa

July 16

Dan Craven

Road cycling

Namibia

Alex de Minaur

Tennis

Australia


Students getting vaccinated last month in Wheeling, a suburb of Chicago.
Credit…Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Chicago Public Schools will require everyone to wear masks in school buildings when the new academic year starts, regardless of their vaccination status, according to guidelines the school system released on Thursday.

With the decision, Chicago joins New York City and several other large jurisdictions, including the state of California, in imposing stricter health guidelines for students and teachers than the federal government has recommended.

In a letter to public school parents and children, Jose Torres, the interim chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, wrote that the rule on face covering would apply to students, staff members and visitors.

“Continuing to require masks will help make sure those in our school communities who are not yet eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, which encompasses the majority of our students, remain as safe as possible,” Mr. Torres wrote.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance earlier this month that called for a full return to classrooms in the fall and recommended that masks be optional for fully vaccinated students and staff.

But the guidance left a lot of details up to state and local governments, advising districts to use local coronavirus data to guide decisions about when to tighten or relax prevention measures like masking and physical distancing. It also recommended that unvaccinated students and staff members keep wearing masks.

Chicago’s announcement came a day after the Virginia Department of Health and Department of Education said that masks should be worn indoors in public elementary schools, regardless of vaccination status. The state’s return-to-school guidelines also encourage mask-wearing indoors in middle and high schools for those who are unvaccinated. But Virginia stopped short of issuing a universal mask mandate, leaving that decision up to schools.

Chicago’s decision on masks was based in part on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which took a more conservative approach than the C.D.C. by recommending that everyone over age 2 wear masks this fall, even if they have been vaccinated. But both the A.A.P. and the C.D.C. support a return to in-person learning.

With the new academic year just weeks away, mask rules are being closely watched — sometimes provoking controversy. On Thursday, two advocacy groups for parents in California filed a lawsuit against the state’s governor and top health officials over the state’s requirement that children must wear masks at school even if they are vaccinated.

A gravedigger rested after the burial of a Covid victim in Bogor, West Java province, Indonesia, earlier this month. Indonesia is struggling to cope with a devastating wave of cases driven by the Delta variant.
Credit…Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

The spread of the super-contagious Delta variant has prompted new restrictions around the world and spurred stark new warnings from public health officials.

Here are some of the questions people have raised about the variant.

Delta, formerly known as B.1.617.2, is believed to be the most transmissible variant yet, roughly twice as contagious as the original virus. Other evidence suggests that the variant may be able to partially evade the antibodies made by the body after a coronavirus infection or vaccination.

But much is still unknown or unproven, including whether this variant may cause more severe illness.

Delta has been reported in 124 countries, and is now the most common variant in many of them.

It was first identified in the United States in March. It spread quickly. In early April, Delta represented just 0.1 percent of cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency now estimates that the number has hit 83.2 percent.

It’s not clear yet. “We’re hurting for good data,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. In Britain, where the variant is widespread, reports have emerged that Delta may cause different symptoms than other variants do.

Although there is not yet good data on how all of the vaccines hold up against Delta, two doses of several widely used shots, including those made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, appear to retain most of their effectiveness against the Delta variant, research suggests.

Even with Delta, breakthrough infections, or infections in people who have been fully vaccinated, remain relatively rare, scientists believe, and tend to be mild or asymptomatic.

After a long and steady decline, cases are on the rise again in the United States, likely fueled by Delta.

But the numbers remain far below last winter’s peak, and experts do not expect them to rise that high again. “I think we are not going to see another big, national surge in the United States because we have enough vaccination to prevent that,” Dr. Michael Osterholm said last month.

Get vaccinated. If you’re already vaccinated, encourage your family, friends and neighbors to get vaccinated.

Face masks, which remain a particularly important tool for those who are ineligible for or do not have access to vaccines, can provide additional protection.

A security agent checked visitors’ health passes in front of the entrance of the Louvre museum in Paris on Wednesday.
Credit…Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters

With the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreading rapidly and the pace of vaccinations slowing, France and now Italy have chosen to turn to a new tool: ordering people who seek to enter most public venues — including restaurants, movie theaters and sporting venues — to provide health passes.

To participate in public life, people in those countries must prove they have been vaccinated or had a negative test within the last 48 hours.

France’s system is yet to come fully into force, and Italy just announced its decision Thursday, so it is hard to know how it will work in practice or what impact it will have.

But the mere announcement of the new measure in France led to a rush of people getting their shots.

More than 3.7 million people booked a first-injection appointment in the week after the country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, announced the plan in a July 12 address. Nearly 50 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.

The move has also been met with a backlash, as more than 100,000 people marched in the streets last weekend to protest what they say is government overreach.

Still, as the United States confronts its own increase in coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant, local, state and federal authorities are looking for ways to increase the uptake of the vaccine.

A national policy relying on vaccine status to circumscribe behavior would be difficult for the United States to adopt. The country’s approach to the pandemic has always been highly decentralized. From mask mandates to testing requirements, there has never been a universal federal policy that was mandated across the 50 states. Likewise, America has no nationally recognized standard proof of vaccination.

The European Union, on the other hand, recently unveiled a “Digital Green Pass,” which shows a person’s vaccination status. It is recognized by all the nations in the bloc and has already eased travel between nations, allowing vaccine status to play a role in restrictions upon entry.

In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently reversed what had been a hard-line stance against making people prove their health status for entry to social and cultural venues, there is a nationally recognized app from the National Health Service that can be used to quickly check vaccination status.

But there is fierce political resistance to the idea of adopting mandatory rules around a health pass when it comes to social and cultural life in Britain. Mr. Johnson’s talk of a reversal sparked outrage from many lawmakers and any new program is unlikely to be considered until September, when all adults will have had the chance to be vaccinated.

For months, U.S. states and local governments have been offering a panoply of incentives to get people to take the shot.

By May, Ohio, Colorado and Oregon were among states offering $1 million lottery prizes for people who got the jab. Prizes large and small — including free beer in Erie County, N.Y. and dinner with the governor of New Jersey — may have driven some to be vaccinated, but the average pace of vaccinations has decreased by more than 80 percent since mid-April.

Attempts at mandates by private industry have been met with court challenges.

A federal judge upheld Indiana University’s requirement for vaccination, rejecting arguments from students who contended the mandate was unconstitutional.

The C.D.C.’s attempt to impose mandates on the cruise industry is now being fought in federal court after the state of Florida challenged the rules.

Even efforts by private hospitals to require health workers to get vaccinated have been challenged.

But while a national policy similar to those in France and now Italy may be unlikely, it remains to be seen if states will look to find their own ways to increase vaccination rates — not by the prospect of prizes but with threats of making life harder for those who do not want to be vaccinated.

The American territory of Guam is offering visitors vaccinations as it attempts to restart its struggling tourism industry.
Credit…Mar-Vic Cagurangen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TAMUNING, Guam — As countries around Asia struggle to swiftly vaccinate their populations against Covid-19, the American territory of Guam has an offer: Come get your shots here, and enjoy a beach vacation while you’re at it.

The economy of Guam, an island in the Western Pacific about the size of Chicago, is driven mainly by tourism, which was all but wiped out by the pandemic. Its “Air V&V” program is an effort to bring travelers back.

But few have trickled in, and those who do are finding that it’s not quite business as usual.

Near a popular beach and across from a complex of big-brand hotels, a McDonald’s remains closed, as do several bars and clubs. A large shopping center has yellow tape across its doorways. Some visitors have struggled to find taxis at the international airport, and the local ride-hailing app, Stroll Guam, sometimes says that it has no drivers. Without tourists, business owners say it costs too much to stay open.

“I plan to have fun here, but I see that a lot of stores are not open. I wanted to go shopping,” said Wang Hao-en, an 18-year-old vaccine tourist from Taiwan.

In the 2019 fiscal year, Guam received 1.63 million visitors — almost 10 times its population. The number of incoming travelers dropped more than three-quarters from January to October 2020.

With nearly 80 percent of its 120,000 adult residents vaccinated, Guam is offering shots to visitors from anywhere. The program offers a choice of the three vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States — made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — for $100 or less per dose.

Japan and South Korea, Guam’s two biggest sources of tourists, have both been slow to administer vaccines. But testing costs, the curtailment of flights and stringent quarantine requirements upon returning home have made even a four-hour flight undesirable to many.

At least 1,000 vaccine tourists, mostly from Taiwan, have arrived so far, according to Gerald Perez, vice president of the Guam Visitors Bureau, who said the numbers would increase.

“These local businesses probably haven’t seen the full impact because we haven’t scaled up yet. We are just tip-toeing into restarting tourism,” Dr. Perez said.

Jason Cheng, an elevator company worker from Taiwan and a father of two, booked a 21-day trip for his entire family to get vaccinated.

“My daughters have to go to school in September, and I have no confidence that they will have a chance to get the shots before then” in Taiwan, he said. “We plan to go swimming, to go diving, to play golf and go snorkeling — there are many things to do.”

Yet even with the slight increase in visitors, officials say tourism may not return to prepandemic levels for at least a couple of years. Some car rental shops have sold off inventory or begun leasing to locals, and several hotels said that their rooms remained mostly unoccupied.

“If we compare it to normal times, it’s not a lot,” said Jason LaMattery, a marketing and customer service coordinator at the Guam Reef Hotel. “But it’s slowly starting to recover.”

Camp Pontiac in Copake, N.Y.
Credit…Cindy Schultz for The New York Times

The outbreak at Camp Pontiac, a sleep-away camp in upstate New York, started in the girls’ dormitories. Nurses, worried that young campers were showing symptoms of Covid-19, began administering tests. Last Saturday, one came back positive.

More followed: As of Thursday morning, 31 of the camp’s 550 campers had tested positive for the virus, said Jack Mabb, the health director of Columbia County, where the camp is located.

All 31 children are under the age of 12 and none of them were seriously ill, Mr. Mabb said.

The New York outbreak is one of a spate of recent camp-related Covid-19 clusters across the United States this summer. In Texas, more than 125 teenagers and adults at a church-run camp tested positive after an indoor event. Kansas’s health department has reported multiple outbreaks tied to camps in and around the state. Illinois reported more than 80 cases, most of them among teens, at a summer camp there.

Those outbreaks, by and large, have come in states with lower vaccination rates than New York State, where 74 percent of adults and 62 percent of all residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Camp Pontiac, located in Copake, N.Y., sits about 110 miles north of New York City on 150 acres at the foot of the Berkshires.

The camp will not close despite the outbreak, Mr. Mabb said.

The COVID-19 contact tracing smartphone app of Britain's National Health Service (NHS) is displayed on an iPhone in this illustration photograph taken in Keele, Britain, last year.
Credit…Carl Recine/Reuters

LONDON — Gas stations closed, garbage collection canceled and supermarket shelves stripped bare of food, water and other essential goods.

In a week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised England a return to normality after the end of months of lockdown rules, a coronavirus-weary nation has instead been battered by a new crisis.

This one is being called the “pingdemic.”

With virus case numbers surging again, hundreds of thousands of people have been notified — or pinged — by a government-sponsored phone app asking them to self-isolate for 10 days because they were in contact with someone who had tested positive.

In the week of July 8 to 15, more than 600,000 alerts were issued by the app, putting acute strain on many businesses and public services.

Supermarkets have warned of staff shortages, as have trucking firms, and the British Meat Processors Association said that 5 to 10 percent of the work force of some of its companies had been pinged. If the situation deteriorates further, some will be forced to start shutting down production lines, it said.

So many workers have been affected that some businesses have closed their doors or started a desperate search for new staff, and a political battle has erupted with the opposition Labour Party warning of “a summer of chaos” after contradictory statements from the government about how to respond if pinged.

Those notified by the app are not required by law to isolate but the government’s official position is that it wants them to do so. On Thursday, it was planning to publish a list of critical workers to be exempted from self-isolation in order to keep things running.

That followed a warning from the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, of possible disruption to the capital’s transportation network, food supplies and refuse collection services. A police force in the West Midlands said it had been hit by staff shortages. Stores have appealed to customers not to indulge in panic buying, and there have even been calls for the government to consider using the military to help fill a shortfall of truck drivers.

“There does seem to be utter chaos at the heart of government at the moment: You have ministers not speaking from the same script, and that suggests that there isn’t a script,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, adding that it was obvious that a rise in case numbers — which the government itself predicted — would mean more people being pinged.

This was not what the government was hoping for when it lifted most coronavirus legal restrictions in England on Monday, a moment hailed as “Freedom Day” by the tabloids.

A healthcare worker administered a coronavirus test last week in Los Angeles.
Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

As the Delta variant surges across the United States, reports of so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people have become increasingly frequent — including, most recently, when at least six Texas Democrats and an aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi tested positive.

The highly contagious variant, combined with the near absence of preventive restrictions, is fueling a rapid rise in cases in all states, and hospitalizations in nearly all of them. It now accounts for about 83 percent of infections diagnosed in the United States.

But as worrying as the trend may seem, breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are still relatively uncommon, experts said, and those that cause serious illness, hospitalization or death even more so. More than 97 percent of people hospitalized for Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

“The takeaway message remains, if you’re vaccinated, you are protected,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. “You are not going to end up with severe disease, hospitalization or death.”

Reports of breakthrough infections should not be taken to mean that the vaccines do not work, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top pandemic adviser, said on Thursday.

“By no means does that mean that you’re dealing with an unsuccessful vaccine,” he said. “The success of the vaccine is based on the prevention of illness.”

Still, vaccinated people can come down with infections, overwhelmingly asymptomatic to mild. That may come as a surprise to vaccinated Americans, who often assume that they are completely shielded from the virus. And breakthrough infections raise the possibility, as yet unresolved, that vaccinated people may spread the virus.

Given the upwelling of virus across much of the country, some scientists say it is time for vaccinated people to consider wearing masks indoors and in crowded spaces like subways, shopping malls or concert halls — a recommendation that goes beyond current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends masking only for unvaccinated people.

The agency does not plan to change its guidelines unless there is a significant change in the science, said a federal official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

The agency’s guidance already gives local leaders latitude to adjust their policies based on rates of transmission in their communities, he added. Citing the rise of the Delta variant, health officials in several California jurisdictions are already urging a return to indoor masking; Los Angeles County is requiring it.

“Seatbelts reduce risk, but we still need to drive carefully,” said Dr. Scott Dryden-Peterson, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We’re still trying to figure out what is ‘drive carefully’ in the Delta era, and what we should be doing.”

The uncertainty about Delta results in part from how it differs from previous versions of the coronavirus. Although its mode of transmission is the same — it is inhaled, usually in indoor spaces — Delta is thought to be about twice as contagious as the original virus.

Significantly, early evidence also suggests that people infected with the Delta variant may carry roughly a thousandfold more virus than those infected with the original virus. While that does not seem to mean that they get sicker, it does probably mean that they are more contagious and for longer.

Dose also matters: A vaccinated person exposed to a low dose of the coronavirus may never become infected, or not noticeably so. A vaccinated person exposed to extremely high viral loads of the Delta variant is more likely to find his or her immune defenses overwhelmed.

The problem grows worse as community transmission rates rise, because exposures in dose and number will increase. Vaccination rates in the country have stalled, with less than half of Americans fully immunized, giving the virus plenty of room to spread.

Ali Allawi and his daughters Lana and Mila Allawi wore protective face masks as they fed birds on the Georgetown waterfront during a Sunday afternoon outing in Washington, D.C., last week.
Credit…Sarah Silbiger for The New York Times

As the Delta variant spreads among the unvaccinated, many fully vaccinated people are also beginning to worry. Is it time to mask up again?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, most experts agree that masks remain a wise precaution in certain settings for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Here are answers to common questions about how you can protect yourself and lower your risk for a breakthrough infection.

To decide whether a mask is needed, first ask yourself these questions.

  • Are the people I’m with also vaccinated?

  • What’s the case rate and vaccination rate in my community?

  • Will I be in a poorly ventilated indoor space, or outside? Will the increased risk of exposure last for a few minutes or for hours?

  • What’s my personal risk (or the risk for those around me) for complications from Covid-19?

Experts agree that if everyone you’re with is vaccinated and symptom-free, you don’t need to wear a mask.

“I don’t wear a mask hanging out with other vaccinated people,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “I don’t even think about it. I’m going to the office with a bunch of people, and they’re all vaccinated. I’m not worried about it.”

The answer depends on your personal risk tolerance and the level of vaccinations and Covid-19 cases in your community. The more time you spend with unvaccinated people in enclosed spaces for long periods of time, the higher your risk of crossing paths with the Delta variant, or any other variants that may crop up.

But even with the Delta variant, full vaccination appears to be about 90 percent effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization from Covid-19. If you are at very high risk for complications from Covid-19, however, you should consider avoiding risky situations and wearing a mask when the vaccination status of those around you is unknown.

Breakthrough infections get a lot of attention because vaccinated people talk about them on social media. When clusters of breakthrough infections happen, they also are reported in science journals or the media.

But it’s important to remember that while breakthrough cases are relatively rare, they can still occur no matter what vaccine you get.

“No vaccines are 100 percent effective at preventing illness in vaccinated people,” the C.D.C. states on its website. “There will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized or die from Covid-19.”





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