Covid-19 News: Live Updates on Vaccines, Variants and Cases – The New York Times

Luis Arellano receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine inside JBS USA’s beef plant in Greeley, Colo., this month.
Credit…Pool photo by Alex McIntyre

Employees at food processing facilities, which had some of the country’s largest known coronavirus outbreaks early in the pandemic, are now eligible for vaccines in at least 26 states, a New York Times survey found.

The expansion of vaccines to food processing workers comes amid rapid widening of eligibility, especially for essential workers at greater risk of contracting the virus. Almost every state is vaccinating some subset of frontline workers, but the list of eligible professions varies widely. In at least six states, food processing workers are eligible in certain counties but not in others.

Meat and poultry processing facilities have largely remained open even as large outbreaks infected thousands of workers and killed dozens in the first months of the pandemic. The virus started to spread rapidly in meatpacking facilities as assembly-line workers stood side by side in tight quarters.

A JBS USA pork production plant in Worthington, Minn., with more than 700 recorded coronavirus cases held a mass vaccination event on Friday. JBS USA, a subsidiary of JBS S.A., a Brazilian company that is the world’s largest meat-processing firm, has offered employees who receive the vaccine $100 incentives.

“There was a lot of skepticism among members, for a lot of different reasons,” said Matt Utecht, who represents the Worthington workers as president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663 union. He said union representatives went to the facility repeatedly in recent months to share information about the vaccine, and signed up about 1,500 of the union’s roughly 1,850 members.

“It’s been a daily grind of educating, talking, communicating,” he said.

The production and distribution of vaccines has been steadily ramping up in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday that about 79.4 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 43 million people who have been fully vaccinated. About 2.25 million doses are given each day on average, up from less than a million two months ago.

With demand for vaccines still outpacing supply, states have faced competing interests in deciding which groups to prioritize. Eligibility opened to many food processing workers in early March across much of the Midwest, where meatpacking and food production are a major part of the economy and often a source of employment for recent immigrants.

In Kansas, where food processing workers are now eligible for the vaccine, nearly 4,000 reported cases have been tied to outbreaks in meatpacking plants, more than in any other setting except long-term care centers and correctional facilities.

“This is a livelihood that supports a number of immigrant populations,” said Marci Nielsen, the Kansas governor’s chief adviser on Covid-19. “And it was very important for the governor to send out a signal that she wants to keep those families safe and to keep these industries open.”

Bonnie G. Wong and

A prayer service at the Islamic Center in Sandy, Utah, last year. At least one American mosque is having a popup vaccination event to give members the chance to get two shots before Ramadan begins.
Credit…Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune, via Associated Press

With Ramadan less than a month away, some Muslim organizations in the United States have begun addressing a critical question: whether the dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast prohibits Muslims from receiving vaccine injections during daylight hours.

The executive director of the Islamic Society of North America, Basharat Saleem, said that numerous scholars of Islamic law had been consulted on the matter.

“The answer is no,” he said. “It does not break the fast.”

The group joined with dozens of others last year in organizing a National Muslim Task Force on Covid-19, which has taken advisement from Muslim jurists. They were in general agreement, Mr. Saleem said, that getting a Covid-19 vaccine was acceptable during Ramadan or at any other time. A shot “will not invalidate the fast because it has no nutritional value and it is injected into the muscle,” the task force announced, a ruling that in the past has covered flu shots and other vaccinations.

Whether vaccinations are permitted during Ramadan is not only a concern among Muslims, and perhaps not even the chief one; there have been questions around the world as well about the presence of forbidden ingredients, such as pork products, in the vaccines. Some have also expressed misgivings about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine similar to those of some Catholic leaders, given that cells used in its development and production had a remote connection to abortion.

Muslim health care workers, even those who have been publicly urging people to get vaccinated, have acknowledged the ethical difficulties.

“These decisions are a matter of personal conscience,” said Dr. Hasan Shanawani, the president of American Muslim Health Professionals and a practicing pulmonologist in Michigan. But the preservation of life is one of the highest principles in Islam, he said, and given the current scarcity of vaccines in many places, the ethics, to him, were straightforward.

Declining a vaccine means “potentially putting all of us at risk,” said Dr. Shanawani, who has treated hundreds of Covid-19 patients over the past year. “Take the vaccine that’s available to you. God is the most forgiving.” When the present emergency has passed, he added, then a person can be more discriminating about which vaccine to take.

Haaris Ahmad, the president of a large and diverse mosque in the Detroit suburbs, said he had heard all of these concerns. He has assured members of the mosque that scholars are in broad agreement that a vaccination would not break the Ramadan fast, and he has also told people that if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the only readily available option, they should take it.

But he also acknowledged that people would rather not have to think about these things, especially during the holiest month of the Muslim calendar. So his mosque is hosting a vaccine clinic next Monday night, which would allow people to get in two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine just before Ramadan begins in mid-April. And while the event was initially advertised with general language about vaccines, Mr. Ahmad said, the latest flier includes more explicit guidance about what will not be on offer at the clinic: “NOTE,” it reads, “Not J&J.”

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Police Break Up Spring Break Crowds in Miami Beach

The police fired pepper balls to disperse crowds after an 8 p.m. curfew went into effect on Saturday. Local Miami officials said people had flocked to the city because of its relatively few coronavirus restrictions.

[yelling; sirens]

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The police fired pepper balls to disperse crowds after an 8 p.m. curfew went into effect on Saturday. Local Miami officials said people had flocked to the city because of its relatively few coronavirus restrictions.CreditCredit…Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA, via Shutterstock

Miami Beach officials struggled to enforce a new 8 p.m. curfew on Saturday in the city’s South Beach entertainment district. Videos on social media showed hundreds of people gathered outside after dark on Saturday and law enforcement dispersing crowds.

In trying to control crowds and taking a subject into custody, the Miami Beach police said they used pepper balls. Two officers were also injured and taken to a hospital, according a departmental tweet. Police arrested at least a dozen people, according to CNN.

The city of Miami Beach, worried about the bigger than usual crowds filling the streets of South Beach and the threat of a resurgent coronavirus, declared a state of emergency and moved up its curfew on Saturday in an effort to shut down late-night spring break partying that it said had gotten out of control.

Law enforcement officials said many people had been drawn to the city this year for spring break, because it, like the state at large, has relatively few virus restrictions. Hotel rooms and flights have also been deeply discounted, to make up for the months of lost time.

“It looked like a rock concert,” Raul J. Aguila, the interim city manager, said in a hastily called news conference on Saturday afternoon after crowds overwhelmed the streets on Friday. “You couldn’t see pavement, and you couldn’t see grass.”

The emergency measures, initially installed for 72 hours, were extended at meeting on Sunday until March 22, with the city manager empowered to extend it twice more, ending on April 13. David Richardson, a commissioner at the meeting, said the issue the city is facing “is far greater than spring break and that’s why we are experiencing the large number of crowds that we are.”

Earlier in the meeting, Mr. Richardson said, “I believe it’s a lot of pent-up demand from the pandemic and people wanting to get out and our state has been advertised as publicly advertised as being open, so that’s contributing to the issue.”

Miami-Dade County already has a countywide curfew in place at midnight.

Florida reopened months before the rest of the country, long before the recent wave of states like Texas that have lifted all or most lockdown restrictions and mask mandates.

Miami-Dade County has recently endured one of the nation’s worst outbreaks, and more than 32,000 Floridians have died from the virus, an unthinkable cost that the state’s leaders rarely acknowledge. The state is also thought to have the highest concentration of B.1.1.7, the more contagious and possibly more lethal virus variant first identified in Britain.

The new measures do not require hotels in Miami Beach to close, but guests are being asked to stay on hotel premises after curfew, and restaurants, bars and sidewalk cafes must close by 8 p.m.

Miami Beach’s entertainment district includes the iconic Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, as well as Washington Avenue and Española Way, from Fifth through 16th Streets. The police have begun blocking people who are not city residents, hotel guests or employees who work on South Beach from driving into the city along the MacArthur, Venetian and Julia Tuttle causeways beginning at 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel takes personal credit for the country’s vaccination campaign, which has fully vaccinated about half the population of nine million.
Credit…Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

JERUSALEM — Vaccinated Israelis are working out in gyms and dining in restaurants. They’re partying at nightclubs and cheering at soccer matches by the thousands.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking credit for bringing Israel “back to life,” as he calls it, and banking on the country’s giddy, post-pandemic .

But nothing is quite that simple in Israeli politics.

Even as most Israelis appreciate the government’s impressive, world-leading vaccination campaign, many worry that the grand social and economic reopening may prove premature and suspect that the timing is political.

Instead of public health professionals making transparent decisions about reopening, “decisions are made at the last minute, at night, by the cabinet,” said Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health in Jerusalem. “The timing, right before the election, is intended to declare mission accomplished.”

The parliamentary election on Tuesday will be the country’s fourth in two years. For Mr. Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, his best chance of avoiding conviction lies in heading a new right-wing government, analysts say, and he has staked everything on his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

He takes personal credit for the country’s vaccination campaign, which has fully vaccinated about half the population of nine million with the vaccine by Pfizer — outpacing the rest of the world — and has declared victory over the virus.

“Israel is the world champion in vaccinations, the first country in the world to exit from the health corona and the economic corona,” he said at a pre-election conference last week.

Mr. Netanyahu has presented himself as the only candidate who could have pulled off the deal with Pfizer to secure the early delivery of millions of vaccines, boasting of his personal appeals to Pfizer’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, who, as a son of Holocaust survivors, has great affinity for Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu even posted a clip from “South Park,” the American animated sitcom, acknowledging Israel’s vaccination supremacy.

But experts said his claim that the virus was in the rearview mirror was overly optimistic.

A pharmacist preparing a Covid-19 vaccine at the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah, Okla., this month.
Credit…Shane Brown for The New York Times

The rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, achieved at record speed and financed by massive public funding in the United States, the European Union and Britain, represents a great triumph of the pandemic. Governments partnered with drugmakers, pouring in billions of dollars to procure raw materials, finance clinical trials and retrofit factories. Billions more were committed to buy the finished product.

But this Western success has created stark inequity. Residents of wealthy and middle-income countries have received about 90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered so far. Under current projections, many of the rest will have to wait years.

A growing chorus of health officials and advocacy groups worldwide are calling for Western governments to use aggressive powers — most of them rarely or never used before — to force companies to publish vaccine recipes, share their know-how and ramp up manufacturing.

The prospect of billions of people waiting years to be vaccinated poses a health threat to even the richest countries. One example: In Britain, where the vaccine rollout has been strong, health officials are tracking a virus variant that emerged in South Africa, where vaccine coverage is weak. That variant may be able to blunt the effect of vaccines, meaning even vaccinated people might get sick.

But on March 30, a U.S. patent is expected to be issued on a five-year-old invention in a National Institutes of Health lab that swaps a pair of amino acids in the coronavirus spike protein. This feat of molecular engineering is at the heart of at least five major Covid-19 vaccines. And the United States government will control that patent.

The new patent presents an opportunity — and some argue the last best chance — to exact leverage over the drug companies producing the vaccines and pressure them to expand access to less affluent countries.

Pierluigi Marchionne, a veteran police officer in Rome, directing the light traffic last week in the ordinarily jammed Piazza Venezia.
Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

ROME — If, as it’s said, all roads lead to Rome, then they intersect at Piazza Venezia, the downtown hub of the Italian capital, watched over by a traffic officer on a pedestal who choreographs streamlined circulation out of automotive chaos.

For many Romans and tourists alike, those traffic controllers are as much a symbol of the Eternal City as are the Colosseum or the Pantheon.

That may explain the media frenzy last week over the return of the pedestal (plus its traffic cop) after a yearlong hiatus while the piazza was being repaved — even though there was not much traffic to direct, because of the widespread lockdown that began last week in hopes of containing a surge in coronavirus cases.

“In this difficult period, I think that it was seen as a sign of something returning to normal,” said Fabio Grillo, 53, who, with 16 years under his belt, is the senior member of the team of four or five municipal police officers who direct traffic from the Piazza Venezia pedestal.

In rain or sleet, or sweltering through Rome’s sultry summers, officers have directed traffic from the Piazza Venezia pedestal near the mouth of the Via del Corso, one of Rome’s main streets, for as long as anyone can remember. And the gestures they make with their white-gloved hands are things that all Italian motorists dutifully memorize for their driver’s tests. (Important note: Two hands straight out with the palms facing motorists is equivalent to a red light.)

“It’s been compared to conducting an orchestra,” Mr. Grillo said.

Apart from regular traffic, Piazza Venezia is also a crossroads that leads to City Hall, the Parliament, Italy’s presidential palace and a national monument where visiting heads of state routinely pay homage — which all contributes to the tangle at the hub.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

A crowded market in Mumbai, India, on Friday. The surrounding state of Maharashtra is at the center of a new coronavirus outbreak.
Credit…Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

The coronavirus, once seemingly in retreat in India, is again rippling across the country. On Sunday, the government reported almost 44,000 new cases, the highest number in almost four months.

The outbreak is centered in the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, the country’s financial hub. Entire districts of the state have gone back into lockdown. Scientists are investigating whether a new strain found there is more virulent, like variants found in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.

Officials are under pressure to aggressively ramp up testing and vaccination, especially in Mumbai, to avoid disruptions like the dramatic nationwide lockdown last year, which resulted in a recession.

But less than 3 percent of India’s population of 1.3 billion has received a jab, including about half of health care workers.

The campaign has also been plagued by public skepticism. The government approved a domestically developed vaccine, called Covaxin, before its safety and efficacy trials were even over, though preliminary findings since then have suggested it works.

The other jab available in India is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which was suspended in some countries after a number of patients reported blood clots and strokes, though scientists haven’t found a link between the shots and the patients’ conditions.

In other developments around the world:

  • The Philippines reported record-breaking numbers of new coronavirus infections over the weekend, leading the government to place metropolitan Manila and four surrounding provinces under the second-highest level of lockdown for the next two weeks. On Saturday, officials reported 7,999 cases, the most the country has had in a single day. In response, President Rodrigo Duterte approved restrictions that were recommended by the government’s coronavirus task force, including a ban on all mass gatherings and a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Nonessential travel to or from the area is banned. The restrictions will disrupt in-person religious services for Holy Week, a popular travel period, for the second year in a row.

  • South Africa’s health ministry said the country has concluded the sale of its unused AstraZeneca’s vaccine to 14 other, unnamed African Union member states, Reuters reported on Sunday. The country paused the use of the vaccine last month after a small trial showed it offered only minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the dominant local variant of the virus. At the time, South Africa had received 1 million AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute of India and the delivery of another 500,000 was pending.

  • Ballots were being cast in the Republic of Congo on Sunday even as the leading opposition candidate for president, Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, 61, was in a Covid hospital unit and awaiting transfer to France for further treatment, The Associated Press reported. President Denis Sassou N’Guesso is expected to extend his 36 years in power. A video circulating on social media showed Mr. Kolelas in a hospital bed, wearing an oxygen mask and with a blood pressure cuff. “My dear compatriots, I am in trouble; I am fighting death,” he said, speaking in French. “However, I ask you to stand up and vote for change.”

A vaccination clinic in Mississauga, Ontario, this month. The United States has said it will send millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, which it has not yet approved for use, to Canada and Mexico.
Credit…Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

To many Canadians, it seemed decidedly unneighborly. Canada’s initial coronavirus vaccination program moved at a stately pace over the winter, while inoculations in the United States raced ahead. But Washington was unwilling to share any of its stockpile of tens of millions of doses of a vaccine it had yet to approve for use by Americans.

Last week, that shifted. After weeks of suggesting that any vaccine diplomacy was well into the future, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Thursday that the United States was planning to share 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Canada and 2.5 million doses with Mexico.

The White House announcement seemed to catch Ottawa officials off guard. Hours passed before Anita Anand, the cabinet minister responsible for buying vaccines, issued a statement that read more like an insurance policy than a note of thanks.

“After numerous discussions with the Biden administration, Canada is in the process of finalizing an exchange agreement,” it read in part.

Ms. Anand and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had little more to add on Friday afternoon, saying only that the talks were still underway and that the details would come later.

From Ms. Psaki’s remarks, it appears that the United States will officially just be lending Canada and Mexico the vaccines. It is unclear whether they will ultimately have to be replaced in kind or if the loan will be of the forgivable nature. She also said that the United States might soon share surpluses of other vaccines.

A New York City testing site this month. 
Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

New York has joined a growing list of more than a dozen states that have confirmed at least one case of a worrisome coronavirus variant first found in Brazil.

The variant of concern, known as P.1, is highly contagious and has in some cases reinfected people who had already recovered from the coronavirus. About 48 cases of the variant have now been reported in at least 16 states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is now in at least 25 other countries.

Scientists expect that variants will soon become the dominant source of infection in the United States. The country has been racing to vaccinate as many people as possible before that happens, even as some states are loosening lockdown restrictions.

Florida has recorded 21 cases of the P.1 variant, the most of any state, according to the latest C.D.C. data. At least 49 states and Puerto Rico have reported about 5,500 cases of the variant first identified in Britain, which could soon be the dominant form of the virus in the United States. Another 180 cases of a variant first found in South Africa have also been reported.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Saturday that the state’s first P.1 case was identified by scientists at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City in a Brooklyn resident in their 90s with no travel history.

“The detection of the Brazilian variant here in New York further underscores the importance of taking all the appropriate steps to continue to protect your health,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.

Scientists are concerned about the P.1 variant because it shares many mutations with the variant that is now dominant in South Africa, known as B.1.351. Vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer still protect against that variant, but they are slightly less effective. The vaccines are expected to perform similarly against P.1.

The pace of vaccinations has been ramping up in the United States. About 79.4 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Saturday, the C.D.C. said. In New York, at least 25 percent of the population has received at least one dose.

The P.1 variant was first reported in Japan in December, in four people who had traveled from Brazil. It quickly became dominant in Manaus, the largest city in the country’s Amazon region, and spread to other South American cities. It reached the United States in January, appearing first in Minnesota.

Three studies offered a glimpse into the variant’s rise in Brazil, most likely escalating in the winter and fueling a record-breaking increase in coronavirus cases, in part because of its increased contagiousness. It also had the ability to infect some people who had immunity from previous bouts of Covid-19.

Pharmacy technicians filling syringes with vaccine in Portland, Maine, this month.
Credit…Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Melanie Allen, a high school English teacher, was in a bind. She works in one state and lives in another. And both denied her a Covid-19 vaccine.

Ms. Allen, who lives in Chatham, N.H., but works in Maine, said she was told that she was not eligible for a vaccine by officials in both states. Although teachers are now eligible for vaccination in every state, her New Hampshire residency blocked her from receiving the vaccine in Maine, she said.

And in New Hampshire, she was told she is not eligible because she does not teach in the state and, at 45, does not meet the age requirement.

And so, she waited.

On Friday, Ms. Allen finally got her first shot after a health center in Maine decided to vaccinate teachers no matter where they lived.

“Even though the states haven’t officially changed their tune,” she said, “it was heartening to see that the local community was stepping in to make sure the right thing happened.”

About half of the states have residency requirements for vaccinations, though most allow out-of-state workers to receive a shot if they meet other eligibility conditions, said Jennifer Kates, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focused on national health issues.

Connecticut, for example, allows workers who live in other states to receive the vaccine if they can prove that they work in an approved industry.

States including Florida and New Hampshire limited the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines to residents in hopes of stemming complaints of “vaccine tourism,” where a person could drive across a state line for a shot that they would not be eligible for back home.

Although most states allow nonresident workers to be inoculated, Ms. Kates said people living in one state and working in another might run into snags as they navigate the scheduling process.

“When you have such a patchwork of requirements,” Ms. Kates said, “it’s like a puzzle, and people who really want to get vaccinated are trying to figure how they can get that last piece of the puzzle.”

what we learned

Bridget Hayward, a nurse in Alexandria, Va., has been dealing with the long-term effects of Covid-19 for a year.
Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

New studies trying to better understand the coronavirus and its effects have come in this week.

A large study in Denmark found that the vast majority of people who recover from Covid-19 remain shielded from the virus for at least six months, researchers reported on Wednesday. Reinfections can happen, but they are rare. The study suggests that immunity to a natural infection is unpredictable and uneven, and it underscores the importance of vaccinating everyone — especially older people, experts said.

“You can certainly not rely on a past infection as protecting you from being ill again, and possibly quite ill if you are in the elderly segment,” said Steen Ethelberg, an epidemiologist at Statens Serum Institut, Denmark’s public health agency.

Scientists have said that reinfections are likely to be asymptomatic or mild because the immune system will suppress the virus before it can do much damage. The researchers also did not assess the possibility of reinfection with newer variants of the virus.

New research has also begun studying the effects of the vaccine on patients with long-term Covid-19 symptoms. It is too soon to tell whether the shots have a broad beneficial effect on patients with continuing issues, sometimes known as “long-haulers,” but scientists are intrigued in the phenomenon after patients in the United States and Britain have reported alleviated symptoms after receiving the second dose of the vaccine.

Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease physician at Columbia University, said about 40 percent of the long-term Covid patients he’s been treating cite symptom improvement after the vaccine.

And this month, a small study by British researchers that has not yet been peer reviewed found that eight months after people were hospitalized for Covid-19, those who were vaccinated experienced improvement in more long Covid symptoms than those who were not yet vaccinated. The 44 vaccinated patients in the study were older and had more underlying medical conditions, since people with those characteristics qualified for vaccines earlier.

Additional information comes from two surveys of several hundred people with long Covid symptoms, many of whom were never hospitalized for the disease.

Here’s what else we learned this week:

  • Who can get vaccinated and who cannot? Around the world, eligibility requirements vary drastically. Age is a defining requirement in most places, but income and connections can be far more important in others.

  • Prisons in the United States were hard hit by the coronavirus, but a state-by-state patchwork of vaccine rules has left prison inmates with different outlooks even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended prioritizing them.

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Covid-19 News: Live Updates on Vaccines, Variants and Cases – The New York Times

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