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

Here’s what you need to know:

Credit…Jason Redmond/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Covid-19 vaccine card given out in College Park, Ga., last month.
Credit…Erik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

Florida has banned state and local government agencies and businesses from requiring so-called vaccine passports, or documentation proving that someone has been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order on Friday prohibiting businesses from requiring patrons or customers to show vaccine documentation, or risk losing grants or contracts funded by the state. It was not immediately clear how the order applied to state and local government agencies.

Requiring proof of vaccination, the order says, would “reduce individual freedom” and “harm patient privacy,” as well as “create two classes of citizens based on vaccination.”

There has been much discussion about vaccine passports, a way to show proof that someone has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, though the passports raise daunting political, ethical and privilege questions. The Biden administration has made clear that it will neither issue nor require the passports, but Republicans have seized on the issue as an example of government overreach.

Mr. DeSantis is seizing on this theme, as the Biden administration tries to set standards for the many private companies that are developing apps and other means of digital verification of coronavirus vaccination. One of Mr. Biden’s executive orders aimed at curbing the virus crisis called for government agencies to “assess the feasibility of linking Covid-19 vaccination to International Certificates of Vaccination or Prophylaxis” and creating electronic versions of them. A wide range of businesses, especially cruise lines and airlines, are eager to have a way for their customers to show proof of vaccination, especially as the number of new virus cases rises across the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that about 101.8 million people — nearly one-third of the total U.S. population — had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. As of Friday, an average of nearly three million shots a day were being administered, according to data reported by the C.D.C.

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” Mr. DeSantis said at a news conference on Monday.

Some other Republican governors have also come out against the passport concept. Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska issued a statement Wednesday saying that the state would not participate in any vaccine passport program, and Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri told reporters Thursday that he would not require vaccine passports in the state but was also not opposed to private companies adopting them.

The C.D.C. has issued guidance for fully vaccinated people that allows for the resumption of some activities in private settings. And on Friday, the agency said fully vaccinated Americans can travel “at low risk to themselves,” though federal health officials have urged people not to travel at all, unless they absolutely must.

In New York, however, the state recently introduced a digital tool to allow people to easily show that they have either tested negative for the coronavirus or have been vaccinated in order to gain entry into some events and venues.

Walmart, last month, joined an international effort to provide standardized digital vaccination credentials to people. The company joins a push already backed by major health centers and tech companies including Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, Cerner, Epic Systems, the Mitre Corporation and the Mayo Clinic.

Some colleges and universities have also begun setting vaccine requirements for the next school year. Cornell University issued a statement on Friday saying that vaccinations would be required for in-person attendance in the fall, and Rutgers University in New Jersey said last week that all students would need to be fully vaccinated to be allowed to return to campus in the fall, baring religious or medical reasons.

Mr. DeSantis’s order is likely to draw legal challenges, raising questions about the impact of two Supreme Court decisions. In Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the high court in 1905 upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws. That ruling for more than a century has let public schools require proof of vaccinations of its students, with some exceptions for religious objections.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who had refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple on narrow grounds, and other courts have struggled with how to balance state laws barring discrimination against constitutional rights like free speech and the free exercise of religion. It is not clear that Florida businesses could invoke a constitutional right to refuse to comply with the new measure.

Some venues and events in Florida had already made plans to require vaccinations. The Miami Heat basketball team said it would give prime seating to vaccinated fans. The South Beach Wine & Food Festival said it would require proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to attend. Nova Southeastern University said it would mandate vaccinations for all faculty and staff members as of Aug. 1 to participate in on-campus learning.

It was not immediately clear on Friday what those businesses would do in response to the governor’s order.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People waited outside Gare de Lyon station in Paris on Friday.
Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

France headed into its third national lockdown on Saturday as the nation approaches painful milestones a year into the pandemic and struggles to vaccinate its population.

The latest restrictions will severely limit travel across France, confine people’s movements in their communities and shut down schools. Even though President Emmanuel Macron pledged that this would be France’s last national lockdown before life returns to normal, there was no clear light at the end of the tunnel. Infections are soaring as France’s total deaths from the epidemic nears 100,000, and, like in the rest of the European Union, progress on the vaccination campaign remains painfully slow.

“There is a bit of weariness,” said Muriel Sallandre, who was catching a train in Paris on Friday to visit her parents in western France but was planning to return in a few days. “The absence of perspective, being dependent on the government’s messages — all that is ultimately a little depressing.”

Mr. Macron announced the lockdown after months of resisting advice from epidemiologists and pressure from political rivals. He had bet unsuccessfully that, despite rising infections and new powerful variants, a national lockdown could be avoided if enough people got vaccinated at a steady pace.

In other virus news around the world:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what else we learned this week:

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

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

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

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