Covid-19 News: Live Updates – The New York Times

President Biden at the White House on Tuesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden’s call on Tuesday to have every school employee receive at least one vaccine shot by the end of this month has elevated his push to reopen schools even before the nation is fully inoculated. At the White House’s direction, vaccinations will be available at local pharmacies through a federal program. But with the states setting priorities for eligibility otherwise, there remains a limit on actually getting shots in arms.

To amplify Mr. Biden’s push, the first lady, Jill Biden, and the newly confirmed education secretary, Miguel Cardona, traveled on Wednesday to the secretary’s home state, Connecticut, to tour an elementary school and a middle school in Meriden, where he grew up. Mr. Cardona left his job as the state’s education commissioner to join Mr. Biden’s cabinet. They will then travel to Waterford, Pa., to meet with parents.

Parents across the country are frustrated with the pace of reopening, and in some cases, are starting to rebel. Nationally, fewer than half of students are attending public schools that offer traditional in-person instruction full time. And many teachers have rejected plans to return to the classroom without being vaccinated.

Even so, most schools are already operating at least partially in person, and evidence suggests that they are doing so relatively safely. Research shows in-school virus spread can be mitigated with simple safety measures like masking, distancing, hand-washing and open windows.

“Let’s treat in-person learning like an essential service that it is,” Mr. Biden said on Tuesday, even as he noted that not every school employee would be able to get a vaccine next week. “And that means getting essential workers who provide that service — educators, school staff, child care workers — get them vaccinated immediately.”

Educators will be able to sign up to receive a vaccine through a local drug store as part of a federal program in which shots are delivered directly to pharmacies, Mr. Biden said.

At least 34 states and the District of Columbia are already vaccinating school workers to some extent, according to a New York Times database. Others were quick to fall in line after Mr. Biden announced his plan. On Tuesday, Washington State added educators and licensed child care workers to its top tier for priority, accelerating its plan by a few weeks.

In guidelines issued last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged that elementary and secondary schools be reopened as soon as possible, and offered a step-by-step plan to get students back in classrooms. While the agency recommended giving teachers priority, it said that vaccination should “nevertheless not be considered a condition for reopening schools for in-person instruction.”

Many schools are already fully open in areas with substantial or high community transmission, where the agency suggests schools be open only in hybrid mode or in distance-learning mode. The agency says those schools can remain open if mitigation strategies are consistently implemented, students and staff are masked, and monitoring of cases in school suggests limited transmission.

The agency’s guidelines say that six feet of distancing between individuals is required at substantial and high levels of community transmission. Many school buildings cannot accommodate that, which may lead some districts to stick with a hybrid instruction model when they might otherwise have gone to full in-person instruction.

Many local teachers’ unions remain adamantly opposed to restarting in-person learning now, saying that school districts do not have the resources or the inclination to follow C.D.C. guidance on coronavirus safety. Without vaccinations, the unions say, adults in schools would remain vulnerable to serious illness or death from Covid-19 because children, while much less prone to illness, can nevertheless readily carry the virus. Studies suggest that children under 10 transmit the virus about half as efficiently as adults do, but older children may be much like adults.

The unions have a ready ear in the White House. Ms. Biden, a community college professor, is a member of the National Education Association, and the president has a long history with the unions. Ms. Biden and Mr. Cardona were scheduled to meet with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, in Connecticut, and with Becky Pringle, the N.E.A. president, in Pennsylvania.

Epidemiological models have shown that vaccinating teachers could greatly reduce infections in schools. “It should be an absolute priority,” said Carl Bergstrom, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Still, requiring that teachers be vaccinated could greatly slow the pace of school reopenings, he and other experts acknowledged.

Teachers’ unions want not just vaccination, but also that districts improve ventilation and ensure six feet of distancing — two measures that have been shown to reduce the spread of the virus. (The C.D.C. guidelines emphasize six feet of distance only when prevalence of the virus is high, and nodded only briefly to the need for ventilation.) The unions have also insisted that schools not open until the infection rates in their communities are very low.

Katie Rogers contributed reporting.

Tracy Davie, left, and Renee Thevenot, both wearing masks, shopping in Austin, Texas, in January.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Tuesday that he was ending his statewide mask mandate, effective March 10, and that all businesses in the state could then operate with no capacity limits.

“I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%” he tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “EVERYTHING.”

Mr. Abbott took the action after federal health officials warned governors not to ease restrictions yet because progress across the country in reducing coronavirus cases appears to have stalled in the last week.

“To be clear, Covid has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” Mr. Abbott said. “Covid still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe.”

Even so, he said, “state mandates are no longer needed” because advanced treatments are now available for people with Covid-19, the state is able to test large numbers of people for the virus each day and 5.7 million vaccine shots have already been given to Texans.

Speaking to reporters at a Chamber of Commerce event in Lubbock on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said that most of the mandates issued during the peak of the pandemic in the state would be lifted; he did not specify which mandates would remain. He said top elected officials in each county could still impose certain restrictions locally if hospitals in their region became dangerously full, but could not jail anyone for violating them.

“People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” he said.

Target and Macy’s said on Tuesday that they would continue requiring customers and employees to wear masks, Reuters reported. General Motors and Toyota said their employees in the state would also still be required to wear masks.

Democratic leaders in the state reacted swiftly and harshly to the announcement. “What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous,” Gilberto Hinojosa, the state party chairman, said in a statement, adding, “This will kill Texans. Our country’s infectious-disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down, even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn’t care.”

In states like Florida and South Dakota, schools and businesses have been widely open for months, and many local and state officials across the country have been easing restrictions since last summer. Still, the pace of reopenings has quickened considerably in the past few days.

In Chicago, tens of thousands of children returned to public school this week, while snow-covered parks and playgrounds around the city that have been shuttered since last March were opened. Restaurants in Massachusetts were allowed to operate without capacity limits, and South Carolina erased its limits on large gatherings.

The Biden administration has warned states not to relax restrictions too soon, despite the recent decline in cases. “We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” the director of the C.D.C., Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said at a White House virus briefing on Monday.

The nation as a whole has been averaging more than 67,000 new cases a day lately, more than at any time during the spring and summer waves of cases, according to a New York Times database.

Texas was among the first states to ease restrictions after the first wave, a move that epidemiologists believe was premature and led to the summer surge across the Sunbelt.

Though conditions in the state and the nation have improved from a huge surge over the holidays, the coronavirus is still spreading rapidly in Texas. The state has been averaging about 7,600 new cases a day recently, rebounding from a drop in February when a severe storm disrupted testing. Texas is among the top 10 states in recent spread, averaging 27 cases for every 100,000 people.

And Texans are still dying of Covid-19 in significant numbers: The state reported an average of 227 Covid-19 deaths a day over the past week, more than any other state except California.

Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston and the top elected official in Harris County, Lina Hidalgo, both Democrats, wrote to Mr. Abbott on Tuesday before his announcement, asking the governor not to end the mask mandate and calling such a move “premature and harmful.”

“We must continue the proven public health interventions most responsible for our positive case trends, and not allow overconfidence to endanger our own successes,” they wrote.

Mr. Abbott made his reopening announcement in a Mexican restaurant, on the anniversary of Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico in 1836.

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this item misspelled Lina Hidalgo’s given name.

Justina Roberta Santos, 84, received a coronavirus vaccine during a campaign to inoculate older people with mobility issues, in Rocinha, Brazil, last month.
Credit…Dado Galdieri for The New York Times

Covid-19 has already left a trail of death and despair in Brazil, one of the worst in the world. And now, the country is battling a more contagious variant, even as Brazilians toss away precautionary measures that could keep them safe.

On Tuesday, Brazil recorded more than 1,700 Covid-19 deaths, its highest single-day toll of the pandemic.

Preliminary studies suggest that the variant that swept through the city of Manaus appears able to infect some people who have already recovered from other versions of the virus. And the variant has slipped Brazil’s borders, showing up in small numbers in the United States and other countries.

Although trials of a number of vaccines indicate that they can protect against severe illness even when they do not prevent infection with the variant, most of the world has not been inoculated. That means even people who had recovered and thought they were safe for now might still be at risk, and that world leaders might, once again, be lifting restrictions too soon.

“You need vaccines to get in the way of these things,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, speaking of variants that might cause reinfections.

Brazilians hoped that they had seen the worst of the outbreak last year. Manaus, capital of the northern state of Amazonas, was hit so hard in April and May that scientists believed the city may have reached herd immunity.

But then in September, cases in the state began rising again. By January, scientists had discovered that a new variant, which became known as P.1, had become dominant in the state. Within weeks, its danger became clear as hospitals in the city ran out of oxygen amid a crush of patients, leading scores to suffocate to death.

Throughout the pandemic, researchers have said that Covid-19 reinfections appear to be extremely rare, which has allowed people who recover to presume they have immunity, at least for a while. But that was before P.1 appeared.

One way to tamp down the surge would be through vaccinations, but the rollout in Brazil has been slow.

Brazil began vaccinating health care professionals and older adults in late January. But the government has failed to secure a large enough number of doses. Wealthier countries have snapped up most of the supply, while President Jair Bolsonaro has been skeptical both of the disease’s impact and of vaccines.

Margareth Dalcolmo, a pulmonologist at Fiocruz, a prominent scientific research center, said that Brazil’s failure to mount a robust inoculation campaign had set the stage for the current crisis.

“We should be vaccinating more than a million people per day,” she said. “We aren’t, not because we don’t know how to do it, but because we don’t have enough vaccines.”

Other countries should take heed, said Ester Sabino, an infectious-disease researcher at the University of São Paulo who is among the leading experts on the P.1 variant.

“You can vaccinate your whole population and control the problem only for a short period if, in another place in the world, a new variant appears,” she said. “It will get there one day.”

Video

transcript

transcript

Dolly Parton Receives Coronavirus Vaccine and Urges Fans to Follow

On Tuesday, the country singer Dolly Parton received “a dose of her own medicine,” a shot of the Moderna vaccine, which she helped fund when she donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

I’m finally going to get my vaccine. I’m so excited. I’ve been waiting a while. I’m old enough to get it. And I’m smart enough to get it. So I’m very happy that I’m going to get my Moderna shot today. And I want to tell everybody that you should get out there and do it, too. I haven’t changed one of my songs to fit the occasion. It goes vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine. I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Well, it didn’t take this long to film “9 to 5.” I’m still waiting while I’ve been waiting since December. I’ve been alone herein line. All right. Think you got it? I got it. OK, that didn’t hurt just a little bit, but that was from the alcohol pad, I think. Yeah. OK. All right.

Video player loading
On Tuesday, the country singer Dolly Parton received “a dose of her own medicine,” a shot of the Moderna vaccine, which she helped fund when she donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.CreditCredit…@Dollyparton, via Reuters

The country music star Dolly Parton has another new gig: Singing the praises of coronavirus shots and getting vaccinated on camera.

Last year, Ms. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which worked with the drug maker Moderna to develop one of the first coronavirus vaccines to be authorized in the United States. The federal government eventually invested $1 billion in the creation and testing of the vaccine, but the leader of the research effort, Dr. Mark Denison, said that the singer’s donation had funded its critical early stages.

On Tuesday, Ms. Parton, 75, received a Moderna shot at Vanderbilt Health in Tennessee. “Dolly gets a dose of her own medicine,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Well, hey, it’s me,” she says to her fans in an accompanying video, a minute before a doctor arrives to inoculate her. “I’m finally gonna get my vaccine.”

“I’m so excited,” she added in the video, which racked up more than a million views within about four hours. “I’ve been waiting a while. I’m old enough to get it, and I’m smart enough to get it.”

She also broke into song (naturally), replacing the word “Jolene” in one of her best-known choruses with “vaccine.”

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” she sang, embellishing the last one with her trademark Tennessee lilt. “I’m begging of you please don’t hesitate.”

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” she added, “because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”

Just before the doctor arrived to inoculate her — or “pop me in my arm,” as she put it — she doubled down on her message.

“I know I’m trying to be funny now, but I’m dead serious about the vaccine,” she said. “I think we all want to get back to normal — whatever that is — and that would be a great shot in the arm, wouldn’t it?”

“I just want to say to all of you cowards out there: Don’t be such a chicken squat,” she added. “Get out there and get your shot.”

Global Roundup

In Berlin last week. Medical experts have warned that Germany is at the beginning of a third wave of the pandemic.
Credit…Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and governors of the country’s states were to meet on Tuesday to talk about what an extension to the nation’s 11-week lockdown could look like. Some governors and federal lawmakers have been calling for an easing of measures. The current restrictions are set to expire next week.

But medical experts have warned that Germany is at the beginning of a third wave of the pandemic, driven in part by more infectious variants, and that continued restrictions are likely.

Christian Drosten, the chief virologist at the Charité hospital in Berlin and a government adviser, said during a podcast on Tuesday, “We are walking into a situation with our eyes closed.”

While some schools in Germany have reopened, most students are not on full schedules. Nonessential businesses are closed nationwide and restaurants have been shuttered since November, when the government first began a “lockdown light,” which proved ineffective in halting growing cases. Restrictions were tightened in December.

Despite the measures, there has been a slight increase in new infections. On Tuesday, the German health authorities registered about 9,000 new cases, about 1,000 more than the same day the week before. A New York Times database puts the seven-day average at 8,172; two weeks ago, it was 6,121.

After meeting with governors on Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Merkel is expected to announce an extension of the lockdown until at least March 28, though businesses like bookstores and flower stores are expected to join hairdressers in being able to open under strict distancing guidelines.

In other news from around the world:

  • In the Netherlands, a pipe bomb exploded at a coronavirus testing center on Wednesday, causing damage but no injuries, the public broadcaster NOS reported. The blast at the center in the town of Bovenkarspel was caused by a “metal pipe that exploded,” Erwin Sintenie, a police spokesman, said. The lone security guard present when the device was detonated was unhurt, though windows were broken, the police said. There have been multiple, and at times violent, protests in the Netherlands against coronavirus restrictions. In January, a testing center in the town of Urk was set alight after the government imposed a curfew.

  • The Greek government is introducing new lockdown restrictions, including extended curfews and stricter terms for leaving the house for exercise, amid an upward trend of coronavirus cases. Over the past week, there has been an average of 1,686 cases per day in Greece, according to a New York Times database. Vassilis Kikilias, the health minister, has warned that hospitals in Athens are at emergency levels because of the increase in patients with Covid-19. The use of military and private hospital facilities will be expanded to cope with the increase in patients, he said.

  • North Korea is expected to receive about 1.7 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shots by the end of May, according to a report released on Tuesday by Covax, an international body established to promote global access to coronavirus vaccines. The AstraZeneca doses are among about 237 million that Covax says it expects to distribute worldwide over the same period. The North’s state news media has long insisted that the country has no confirmed Covid-19 cases, but outside experts are skeptical.

  • Pelé, the Brazilian former soccer star, said in an Instagram post that he had received a coronavirus vaccine. He noted that the pandemic was “not over yet,” and urged his nearly six million followers to continue wearing masks and taking other safety precautions. “This will pass if we can think of others and help each other,” he wrote. Brazil has reported more than 10.5 million cases and 257,000 deaths, some of the highest tallies in the world.

  • Bharat Biotech, an Indian pharmaceutical company, said on Wednesday that its vaccine, Covaxin, had shown 81 percent efficacy in interim trials. The announcement came two months after Indian regulators approved the shots for emergency use despite a lack of published data showing that they were safe and effective.

People waited in line Sunday with the hope of receiving leftover Covid-19 vaccine doses that would otherwise expire and be tossed out each day at the Kedren Community Health Center on in Los Angeles.
Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

After weeks of waiting, Judy Franke’s vaccine breakthrough came when her phone rang at 8 p.m. one freezing February night. There were rumors of extra doses at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Ms. Franke, 73, had an hour to get there. No guarantees.

“I called my daughter and she said, ‘I’m putting my boots on right now,’” said Ms. Franke, a retired teacher with a weakened immune system.

Credit…Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times

The clamor for hard-to-get vaccines has created armies of anxious Americans who haunt pharmacies at the end of the day in search of an extra, expiring dose and drive from clinic to clinic hoping that someone was a no-show to their appointment.

Some pharmacists have even given them a nickname: Vaccine lurkers.

Even with inoculation rates accelerating and new vaccines entering the market, finding a shot remains out of reach for many, nearly three months into the country’s vaccination campaign. Websites crash. Appointments are scarce.

The leftover shots exist because the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have a limited life span once they are thawed and mixed. When no-shows or miscalculations leave pharmacies and clinics with extras, they have mere hours to use the vaccines or risk having to throw them away.

And so, tens of thousands of people have banded together on social-media groups. They trade tips about which Walmarts have extra doses. They report on whether besieged pharmacies are even answering the phone. They speculate about whether a looming blizzard might keep enough people home to free up a slot.

“It’s like buying Bruce Springsteen tickets,” said Maura Caldwell, who started a Facebook page called Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters to help people navigate the search for appointments. The group has about 20,000 members.

Health experts said the scavenger hunt for leftovers highlighted the persistent disparities in the U.S. vaccination rollout, where access to lifesaving medicine can hinge on computer savvy, personal connections and the ability to drop everything to snag an expiring dose.

In Minnesota, when Ms. Franke arrived at the convention center, there were about 20 other people already milling around in the lobby, she said, and a health worker quickly emerged to inform them that there were no leftovers.

But many in the crowd stuck around, and after a half-hour, the vaccination team allowed people 65 and older, teachers and emergency responders to get their shots. Ms. Franke lined up and said she cried with relief on the car ride home to the suburbs.

Medical staff checking an empty ward reserved for Covid patients at a hospital in Bucharest, Romania, last week.
Credit…Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

As vaccination programs continue to be rolled out around the world, many countries are now turning their attention to the pent-up demand for non-Covid-19 health care, which fell by the wayside during months of crisis response.

In Romania, there is a deep concern about an overwhelmed health care system as many people suffering from other health issues have been without care, or missing regular medical appointments, over the past year. That includes cancer patients and those with HIV.

Victor Cauni, interim manager of one of the largest hospitals in the capital, Bucharest, said that the urology ward had gone from performing 400 to 500 medical interventions a month in recent years to barely 50 in total in the past year.

“Whether we like it or not, we have more patients with many other illnesses compared to Covid patients,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press last week. “We need to open for them at least partially. We’re discriminating against patients with serious conditions.”

Health care scandals in Romania in recent years have also left many people cautious about seeking treatment at hospitals, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic. Since November, fires in two hospitals treating coronavirus patients have left more than 20 people dead.

Romania’s spending on its health care system is among the lowest in the European Union, with just 5.2 percent of its G.D.P. allocated toward it. The average in the bloc is around 10 percent.

The Romanian Health Ministry organized a call last month with hospital administrators about the need to evaluate infrastructure and potentially create separate channels for coronavirus patients so that other patients could receive treatment. The ministry is also assessing the ability to use some hospitals solely for the treatment of patients with severe cases of the virus, and return others to handling only patients being treated for other conditions.

“I think it’s only in the second half of this year that we’re going to really understand what happened last year in terms of access to health care,” said Vlad Voiculescu, the Romanian health minister.

Mr. Voiculescu noted that access to treatment had been limited for some patients, especially those in rural and smaller urban areas where hospitals of 300 or 400 beds had been transformed into coronavirus support hospitals.

“This cannot go on,” he said, adding that some hospitals were already set to return to more general usage.

Romania has largely kept the spread of the coronavirus in check, putting in place tight restrictions early on that limited the number of infections. Still, there have been more than 800,000 confirmed cases and more than 20,500 deaths in the country, which has a population of around 19 million.

Like the rest of the world, Romania is bracing for another potential wave in cases, with concerning variants of the virus on the rise.

“We have the vaccination campaign,” Mr. Voiculescu said, adding, “We do have the mechanisms in place for more precautionary measures if there’s going to be another wave.”

Jacori Owens-Shuler, an industrial designer, back at work in the Vivint Innovation Center in Lehi, Utah, last month.
Credit…Kim Raff for The New York Times

Corporate executives around the United States are wrestling with how to reopen offices as the pandemic starts to loosen its grip. Businesses — and many employees — are eager to return to some kind of normal work life: going back to the office, grabbing lunch at their favorite restaurant or stopping for drinks after work.

While coronavirus cases are declining and vaccinations are rising, many companies have not committed to a time and strategy for bringing employees back. The most important variable, many executives said, is how long it will take for most workers to be vaccinated.

Another major consideration revolves around the children of employees. Companies say they can’t make firm decisions until they know when local schools will reopen for in-person learning.

Then there is a larger question: Does it make sense to go back to the way things were before the pandemic, given that people have become accustomed to the rhythms of remote work?

More than 55 percent of people surveyed by the consulting firm PwC late last year said that they would prefer to work remotely at least three days a week after the pandemic recedes. But their bosses appear to have somewhat different preferences — 68 percent of employers said that they believed employees needed to be in the office at least three days a week to maintain corporate culture.

Some companies that have begun trying to get workers back to the office — like Vivint, a home-security business based in Provo, Utah, that has more than 10,000 employees across the United States — say they are doing so on a voluntary basis.

Vivint is allowing 40 percent of its 4,000 employees in Utah to return, though only about 20 percent have chosen to do so regularly.

To accommodate social distancing, Vivint has restricted access to each building to a single entrance, where employees have their temperature taken. Signs remind employees to wear masks at all times, and the company has limited capacity in conference rooms.

Vivint also has an on-site clinic that has been offering 15-minute rapid virus tests to employees and their families.

The company hopes to use the clinic to distribute coronavirus vaccines to its workers when Utah allows it to do so.

“We’ve never faced a worker shortage like this in my 40 years,” said Peter Hall at his orchard in Shepparton, Australia. “I suspect for each lot of crop, we’ll just not get there in time.”
Credit…Asanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York Times

The pandemic has exposed the unstable foundation of Australia’s agriculture industry, a $54 billion-a-year goliath that has long been underpinned by the work of young, transient foreigners.

Border closures and other measures to keep the coronavirus out of the country have left Australia with a deficit of 26,000 farmworkers, according to the nation’s top agriculture association. As a result, tens of millions of dollars in crops have gone to waste from coast to coast.

“We’ve never faced a worker shortage like this in my 40 years,” said Peter Hall, who owns an orchard in southeastern Australia. “I suspect for each lot of crop, we’ll just not get there in time.”

This enormous crop destruction has fueled rising calls for Australia to rethink how it secures farm labor, with many pushing for an immigration overhaul that would give agricultural workers a pathway to permanent residency.

Since 2005, the government has steered young travelers to farms by offering extensions of working holiday visas from one year to two for those who have completed three months of work in agriculture. Backpackers can earn extensions by working in other industries like construction or mining, but 90 percent do so through farm work.

In a normal year, more than 200,000 backpackers would come to Australia, making up 80 percent of the country’s harvest work force, according to industry groups.

Now, there are just 45,000 in the country, according to government data, and attempts to fill the labor shortage with unemployed Australians have been largely unsuccessful.

The federal government has flown in workers from nearby Pacific islands, which have largely avoided the pandemic. But with border restrictions in place, the arrangements have sometimes been convoluted.

Nationwide, only about 2,400 workers have been flown into the country since the borders were shut, according to the National Farmers’ Federation.

President Biden gave updates on the pandemic at the White House on Tuesday. He said his government had provided support to Johnson & Johnson to enable the company and its partners to make vaccines around the clock.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden said on Tuesday that the United States was “on track” to have enough supply of coronavirus vaccines “for every adult in America by the end of May,” accelerating his effort to deliver the nation from the worst public health crisis in a century.

In a brief speech at the White House, Mr. Biden said his administration had provided support to Johnson & Johnson that would enable the company and its partners to make vaccines around the clock. The administration had also brokered a deal in which the pharmaceutical giant Merck would help manufacture the new Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

Merck is the world’s second-largest vaccine manufacturer, though its own attempt at a coronavirus vaccine was unsuccessful. Officials described the partnership between the two competitors as historic and said it harked back to Mr. Biden’s vision of a wartime effort to fight the coronavirus, similar to the manufacturing campaigns when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.

Originally, Johnson & Johnson’s $1 billion contract, negotiated last year when Donald J. Trump was president, called for the company to deliver enough doses for 87 million Americans by the end of May. Added to pledges from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech to deliver enough doses to cover a total of 200 million Americans by that date, the contract would have given the country enough vaccine for all adults 18 and older.

But Johnson & Johnson and its partners fell behind in their manufacturing. Although the company was supposed to deliver its first 37 million doses by the end of March, it said that it would be able to deliver only 20 million doses by that date, which made Biden aides nervous.

In late January, Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, and Dr. David Kessler, who is managing vaccine distribution for the White House, reached out to top officials at the company, including Alex Gorsky, its chief executive, with a blunt message: This is unacceptable.

That led to a series of negotiations in February in which administration officials repeatedly pressured Johnson & Johnson to accept that they needed help, while urging Merck to be part of the solution, according to two administration officials who participated in the discussions.

In a statement on Tuesday, Merck said that the federal government would pay it up to $269 million to adapt and make available its existing facilities to produce coronavirus vaccines.

One federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said other steps that the administration took would move up Johnson & Johnson’s manufacturing timeline.

Those steps, said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, included providing a team of experts to monitor manufacturing and logistical support from the Defense Department. In addition, the president will invoke the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law, to give Johnson & Johnson access to supplies necessary to make and package vaccines.

“This is a type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. He thanked Merck and Johnson & Johnson for “stepping up and being good corporate citizens during this crisis.”

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

Offices in Manhattan. Property taxes can make up 30 percent or more of the money that cities and towns take in and use to fund schools, police forces and other public services.
Credit…Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Dormant offices, malls and restaurants have turned cities around the country into ghost towns. They foreshadow a fiscal time bomb for municipal budgets, which are heavily reliant on property taxes and are facing real-estate revenue losses of as much as 10 percent in 2021, according to government finance officials.

While many states had stronger-than-expected revenue in 2020, a sharp decline in the value of commercial properties is expected to take a big bite out of city budgets when those empty buildings are assessed in the coming months. For states, property taxes account for just about 1 percent of tax revenue, but they can make up 30 percent or more of the taxes that cities and towns take in and use to fund local schools, police forces and other public services.

The coming fiscal strain has local officials from both parties pleading with the Biden administration and members of Congress to quickly approve relief for local governments.

Lawmakers in Washington are negotiating over a stimulus package that could provide as much as $350 billion to states and cities. The aid would come after a year of clashes between Democrats and Republicans over whether assistance for local governments is warranted or if it’s simply a bailout for poorly managed states.

On Saturday, the House passed a $1.9 trillion bill that would provide aid to cities and states and garnered no Republican support. The Senate is expected to take up the bill this week with a vote that is likely to break down along similar party lines. Republicans have continued to object to significant aid for states, saying most are in decent financial shape and cherry-picking data to support their argument, such as revised budget estimates that show improvement because of previous rounds of federal stimulus, including generous unemployment benefits.

For local officials from both parties, however, the help cannot come soon enough and they have been making their concerns known to Treasury officials and members of Congress.

The pandemic has upended America’s commercial property sector. In cities across the country, skyscrapers are dark, shopping centers are shuttered and restaurants have been relegated to takeout service. Social-distancing measures have redefined workplaces and accelerated the trend of telecommuting.

American cities are facing red ink for a broad swath of reasons but the pain is unevenly distributed. In some cases, a rise in residential real-estate values will make up for the commercial property downturn, and some segments, such as warehouses, have been doing well as online shopping lifts demand for distribution centers. States that do not have income taxes, such as Florida and Texas, are more vulnerable to fluctuations in real-estate values.

People waiting in a line this week stretching around the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Midtown Manhattan’s west side, to receive a coronavirus vaccine at the site which has been converted into a mass vaccination center in New York City.
Credit…Mike Segar/Reuters

Three mass vaccination sites across New York State will begin administering doses overnight, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said this week, as officials seek to use an influx of new vaccines manufactured by Johnson & Johnson to significantly expand the vaccination effort.

The state said Tuesday it expected to receive about 164,800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. By running the three mass vaccination sites around the clock, the state said it will distribute those doses “as quickly as possible.”

Mr. Cuomo said there would then be a lag before the state receives its next allocation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“This pilot plan will maximize the initial doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and get as many shots in arms as possible,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Two of the sites will be in New York City: Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Javits Center in Manhattan.

Vaccinations at Yankee Stadium will begin on Thursday, and doses there are reserved for Bronx residents who meet the current eligibility requirements. The site, which had been open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., will now also schedule vaccine appointments from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. People can schedule their appointments starting today at somosvaccinations.com or by calling 1-833-SomosNY.

Starting on Friday, Javits Center in Manhattan will be open for overnight vaccinations from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and the New York State Fair site in Syracuse, N.Y., will be open from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

New York residents can start making appointments for overnight vaccinations at both sites starting on Thursday at 8 a.m. by visiting this state website or by calling the state hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX.

The overnight vaccinations reflect how the addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not only expanding the overall supply of doses, but giving rise to novel ways of reaching people.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would primarily use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to start a new program for in-home vaccinations for homebound older people who might otherwise not be able to make appointments. The vaccine is a single shot, which makes it easier to administer, and it is also easier to transport, he said.

“We’ll reserve as much as we can for that,” Mr. de Blasio said of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “The rest of it we’ll be using as part of our general effort.”

Dr. Mitchell Katz, the city’s public hospitals chief, said that the city’s public health system expected to receive its first doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Thursday.

Mr. de Blasio, who has not yet been inoculated, said that he planned to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “in a very public way” to boost confidence in it. Though the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech showed a somewhat higher efficacy rate in clinical trials, studies show that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides strong protection against severe disease and death from Covid-19, and may reduce the spread of the virus by vaccinated people.

A woman walks outside the National Stadium, the main venue for the opening and closing ceremonies for the Summer Olympics Games in Tokyo on February 11, 2021.
Credit…Philip Fong/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics will decide by the end of March if they will allow international spectators to attend the Games this summer in Japan. The timetable was revealed at a news conference on Wednesday by Seiko Hashimoto, the organizing committee president, who acknowledged the ongoing coronavirus pandemic meant a total ban on overseas fans remained a possibility.

“When we think of the current situation, whether it is Japan or overseas, we are under a very difficult situation,” Hashimoto said. “That is a fact. In the end the decision about spectators will be whether we can maintain a safe and secure Games.”

Officials in Japan are scrambling to find a safe way to host the Olympics, which were postponed for one year last summer because of the pandemic. Concerns about ballooning costs and the prospect of thousands of overseas travelers entering the country have soured much of the country on the effort. The project took another hit last month when Yoshiro Mori, the previous president of the Tokyo Olympics, was forced to step down after making sexist comments at a meeting. On Wednesday, the organizing committee — at a news conference where it was represented by an all-woman group of officials — announced that 12 additional members, all of them women, would join its executive board. Out of 45 board members, 19 are now women.

In an effort to alleviate concerns around safety, Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, reiterated on Wednesday that the I.O.C. was urging all countries to find ways, within the rules of their national vaccination programs, to have their Olympic athletes vaccinated before the start of the Games.

“I can inform you that a considerable number of national Olympic committees have already secured this pre-Tokyo vaccination, and a very considerable number of national Olympic committees are in good contact with their respective governments to allow for this vaccination for Tokyo after the first wave of the risk population has been vaccinated,” Bach said.

The propriety of moving athletes and coaches to the front of vaccination lines has split the Olympic movement. Some countries, including Israel, Mexico and India, have said they will do so, and a few already vaccinating their athletes. Others, including the United States, Britain and Italy, have said their athletes will wait their turn.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *