As U.S. Sees Encouraging News Overall, the Northeast Is Looking Like an Outlier

Here’s what you need to know:

Credit…Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

As Americans celebrate a slowing spread of the coronavirus, including in many former hot spots in the South and the Midwest, trends in the Northeast have experts and public officials on edge.

In New York and New Jersey, new cases per capita are at least double the national average. New cases rates are raising concern in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, as well. And, as of last week, a variant of the virus that was first detected in New York City recently made up a growing proportion of new cases there.

The new variants have most likely undercut the city’s efforts to lower the rate of positive test results, city health officials said this week, though they added that the city’s strategy for curbing the spread of the virus has not changed.

Despite expansive vaccination efforts, the citywide seven-day average rate of positive test results has not been able to dip below six percent in months, according to city data. Still, officials have noted improvements in the trajectory of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

As of Tuesday, New York State was reporting a seven-day average of 35 new virus cases a day for every 100,000 residents, according to a New York Times database, trailing only New Jersey, at 41 cases per 100,000. (The nation as a whole was averaging 17 new cases per 100,000 people.)

New York City, at 44 cases per 100,000, is adding new cases at a per capita rate more than five times higher than that of Los Angeles County.

Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said a scarcity of data had prevented researchers from definitively linking the trends in the Northeast to the variant first detected in New York City, called B.1.526.

“The U.S. is very limited right now in its sequencing data,” he said. “We really are flying blind.”

The cause for the Northeast’s troubles not entirely unclear, but it most likely results from a combination of factors, said Dr. Stephen J. Thomas, Upstate Medical University’s chief of infectious disease.

While variants might be playing a role, a willingness to gather in groups, unmasked, might also be increasing as the weather warms and more people become vaccinated, he said.

“I think it is a race against time,” Dr. Thomas said. “Every single person that we can get vaccinated or every single person that we can get a mask on is one less opportunity that a variant has.”

Although the rate of new cases is either plateauing or increasing in several Northeastern states, public officials are moving ahead with plans to ease restrictions.

Starting Friday, Rhode Island will allow restaurants to serve at 75 percent occupancy, up from 25 percent. Indoor dining in New Jersey and New York City will go to 50 percent capacity that same day. Outside New York City, indoor dining across the state can expand on Friday as well, to 75 percent, from 50 percent.

During an appearance on CBS’ “Face The Nation” on Sunday, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said the next two weeks will be crucial for New York City in particular. If the rate of cases has been impacted by the B.1.526 variant, “that would cause a lot of concerns.”

The B.1.526 variant was recently, in New York City, outcompeting another contagious variant first detected in Britain, and it can contain a mutation that can stifle the ability of antibodies to combat the virus.

It remains unclear whether that mutation in the B.1.526 variant is leading people to be reinfected, Dr. Gottlieb said. But even as other regions see a high prevalence of the variant first detected in Britain, those states are not experiencing the kind of impact New York City is facing, he said.

“You’re seeing sort of a backup in New York that you’re not seeing in other parts of the country,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “It’s still early, but there’s a lot of reasons to be concerned about the trends in New York City.”

Juliana Kim and Troy Closson contributed reporting.

Video

transcript

transcript

C.D.C. Addresses Virus Testing Inequality

On Wednesday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced a new initiative to address inequalities in testing, which she argued will be key to halting community transmission of the coronavirus.

Importantly, until now, limited test capacity has resulted in our use of tests for largely diagnostic purposes when someone presents with symptoms or has been exposed. Only in selected places have we capitalized on the benefits of how testing can be used as a screening intervention with frequent tests to identify asymptomatic disease and prevent clusters before they start. To end this pandemic, everyone must have equal access to affordable and timely testing, with fast turnaround time for results to identify infections and reduce community spread. So I’m proud to share the C.D.C. is announcing new funding for $2.25 billion in grants to public health departments — on average, $20 million per grant to more than 100 health departments to address Covid-19 health disparities and advance health equity among people who are at high risk and underserved, including racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural areas. A large component of this funding will focus on strategies to improve testing and contact tracing, along with funding to support continued implementation and prevention strategies for Covid-19.

Video player loading
On Wednesday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced a new initiative to address inequalities in testing, which she argued will be key to halting community transmission of the coronavirus.CreditCredit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration, moving to address a lag in coronavirus testing that is hindering the economy and the reopening of schools, said Wednesday that it would invest $10 billion to screen students and educators with the goal of returning to in-person learning by the end of the school year.

Congress approved the expenditure when it passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will distribute the money to states in early April and will spend an additional $2.25 billion to expand testing in underserved communities beyond the schools, officials said.

How far those moves will go toward reopening schools and reviving the economy is unclear. Experts say the United States does not have nearly enough rapid tests to conduct the kind of routine screening the administration envisions to allow students and teachers to return to the classroom safely.

“This isn’t going to move the needle,” said Michael Mina, an immunologist and epidemiologist at Harvard, who argued that onerous Food and Drug Administration regulations were worsening the coronavirus crisis by preventing new types of rapid antigen tests from being approved.

“The states don’t just need money,” Dr. Mina said. “The states don’t just need advice from the C.D.C. The states need the test to be available.”

The measures come as coronavirus testing declines nationwide. Some states have converted mass testing sites to mass vaccination centers, and their overtaxed health departments do not have the bandwidth for both.

Between Feb. 1 and March 15, as the infection rate dropped and Americans focused on vaccinations, the average number of daily coronavirus tests dropped 24 percent, according to statistics maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

Jennifer B. Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist who wrote about the decline in an opinion piece in The New York Times, said in an interview that aggressive testing remained vital to ending the pandemic, especially as more contagious variants emerged and states relaxed their lockdown measures.

“I understand why states are focusing on vaccines,” Dr. Nuzzo said. “It’s very important that we prioritize the rollout of vaccines, but not at the complete expense of testing.”

Experts including Dr. Nuzzo and Dr. Mina say the United States has never fully deployed testing as an effective tool for tracking and containing the virus. The administration initiatives in the schools are intended to do that by testing asymptomatic people to detect outbreaks before they explode.

Reopening schools has been a top priority, and a contentious one. With millions of American children still limited to virtual learning, education experts say that many are suffering, psychologically as well as academically.

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

Mr. Biden’s education secretary, Miguel A. Cardona, said Wednesday that the department would have a “national reopening summit for schools” next week, and would outline “best practices from across the country on how to do this safely and how to do it quickly.”

Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

Mr. Biden, who initially called for all schools to reopen within 100 days of his inauguration, later narrowed that goal to elementary and middle schools, and has set the reopening benchmark at “the majority of schools,” or 51 percent. But there are still many hurdles, including easing the fears and frustrations of parents and convincing teachers’ unions that returning is safe.

Credit…Pete Kiehart for The New York Times

The $2.25 billion for testing in is intended to address the racial disparities laid bare by the pandemic. Black and Latino people are far more likely than white people to get infected with the virus and to die from Covid-19, and those disparities extend to testing, experts say. In addition, the vaccination rate for Black people in the United States is half that of white people, and the gap for Hispanic people is even larger, according to a Times analysis. The money will be given in grants to public health agencies to improve their ability to test for and track the virus.

Emily Anthes contributed reporting from New York.

An empty Montmartre district in Paris last April. The European Union hopes to restore the summer tourism market this year.
Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

The European Union proposed a Covid-19 certificate on Wednesday that would allow people to travel more freely, a move aimed at saving the summer tourist season for member states that depend on it economically.

The proposed document, known as a Digital Green Certificate, would allow residents of member nations to travel at will within the bloc if they have proof of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative test result or a documented recovery from the coronavirus.

The certificates would be free and would be available in digital or paper format.

“The Digital Green Certificate will not be a precondition to free movement, and it will not discriminate in any way,” said Didier Reynders, the bloc’s top official for justice, adding that the aim was to “gradually restore free movement within the E.U. and avoid fragmentation.”

Freedom of movement is a cornerstone of the bloc, but travel restrictions are traditionally under the purview of national governments. The commission’s plan is a bid to coordinate what has become a patchwork of national measures that are hindering travel within the bloc.

Under the proposed rules, national governments could decide which travel restrictions, such as obligatory quarantine, would be lifted for certificate holders.

The proposals, which require approval by the European Parliament and the majority of member states, come as many European countries are experiencing a third wave of infections and an inoculation effort that has been slowed by doubts over AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine. Several countries have suspended use of the vaccine at least temporarily, confusing citizens and possibly increasing resistance to vaccinations.

The hope is to make the certificates operational by mid-June in order to salvage the summer season.

Just under 10 percent of European Union residents have been vaccinated, leaving the bloc far behind Britain and the United States.

As the European Union was offering its proposal to allow greater freedom of movement, Kwasi Kwarteng, the British business secretary, said the government was continuing to look at ways that would allow people to travel.

“We are having conversations all the time about what the next steps should be,” he told the BBC, adding that the government was stressing on the importance of allowing people to travel safely.

An earlier version of this item misstated where the Digital Green Certificate would be valid. The document would be used for travel in all European Union member countries, not in all countries of the border-free Schengen area, which excludes some E.U. members and includes some nonmembers.

Workers lined up Tuesday to take coronavirus tests in the South Korean city of Ansan, south of Seoul.
Credit…Yonhap/EPA, via Shutterstock

The authorities in Seoul, the South Korean capital, issued mixed messages on Thursday about a contentious plan to test all foreign workers in the city for the coronavirus, leading to criticisms that the proposal was xenophobic and discriminatory.

On Wednesday, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced that hundreds of thousands of foreigners in the city would be required to undergo testing after a spike in infections among foreign workers.

Officials said that all companies that employ at least one foreigner had 15 days from Wednesday to send their workers for testing or face fines of up to 2 million won, about $1,700.

The announcement was met with anger, as diplomats and Korean politicians called for the order to be revoked.

“The administrative order of the Seoul city government is an unfair racist act against foreigners, and it is so ridiculous,” Lee Sang-min, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party, wrote on Facebook. “It is a human rights violation that would disgrace South Korea internationally.”

But as some city authorities insisted that the tests were mandatory, other officials indicated they were recommended, but not required.

An official in the city’s labor department said the tests were optional, but if workers did not submit to testing and were later found to be infected, they could face financial penalties, including paying for treatment for anyone they made sick.

The mixed messages led to confusion, even as hundreds of workers flocked to designated testing sites across the city. The government said it could test up to 3,600 foreigners a day over the next two weeks.

Park Yoo-mi, a city quarantine officer, told reporters on Wednesday that a recent cluster among foreign workers had prompted the city to order the testing.

“The coronavirus cases of foreigners count 6.3 percent of entire cases in Seoul from January to March this year, and the number keeps increasing” she said.

Last week, the authorities in Gyeonggi, the province that surrounds the capital, issued a similar order for foreign workers to undergo testing.

Graham Nelson, a political counselor at the British Embassy in Seoul, criticized the plan, likening discrimination to a disease.

“Both coronavirus and discrimination are fatal diseases,” Mr. Graham wrote on Twitter. “Many foreigners are expressing concerns on the movement of regions, including Gyeonggi province, Seoul city and South Jeolla province, requiring only foreigners for testing.”

Schoolchildren in Edison, N.J., learning about social distancing in November. The C.D.C. may change its  recommendation to decrease the appropriate space separating students in a classroom.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said again on Wednesday that the agency is reviewing its guidance that calls for at least six feet of social distance for schools in areas that report high coronavirus transmission rates, with an eye to possibly reducing it. A change like that might make it possible for many more schools to bring back students full time.

But one major stakeholder, the American Federation of Teachers, is staunchly opposed to changing the recommendation now and is planning to try to persuade the agency not to take that step.

In an interview, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and a close ally of President Biden, described herself as “very concerned” about the prospect of a change on the C.D.C.’s part.

“The problem is, it is a debate about convenience, not a debate about safety,” Ms. Weingarten said.

“All of a sudden, because we can’t squeeze in every single kid if it’s six feet, that miraculously there’s now studies that say three feet are fine,” she said. “And what’s going to happen is, people are just not going to trust it.”

The C.D.C.’s existing recommendation makes it impossible for many schools to accommodate all their students full time. In the Chicago public schools, for example, most kindergarten through eighth grade students go to class in person only two days per week.

With concerns rising about the societal costs of students’ not being in the classroom full time, some experts have begun questioning the basis for the six-foot guidance. Their case has been bolstered by a study recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases that found that in Massachusetts, when students and staff were masked, there was no significant difference in infection rates in schools that required at least six feet of distance and those that required only three feet.

“As soon as our guidance came out, it became very clear that six feet was among the things that was keeping schools closed,” the C.D.C. director, Rochelle Walensky, told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday. “And in that context, science evolves.”

Ms. Weingarten, who said her union has asked for a meeting with Biden administration officials on the issue, said that instead of reducing distancing, districts should instead find additional space to accommodate students six feet apart. She also asserted that reducing the distancing requirement would pose myriad logistical challenges for schools, throwing reopening plans into disarray.

“What’s going to happen in a place where all of a sudden you have double the number of kids that you had last week next week?” she said. “What are the protocols going to be for going to the bathroom? What are the protocols going to be for going up and down stairs?”

Becky Pringle, president of the other major national teachers’ union, the National Education Association, was more muted in her concerns about changing the guidance, but said that additional research was needed.

The Met Orchestra performing in 2017.
Credit…Richard Termine for The New York Times

For the first time in nearly a year, the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra will receive paychecks again after they voted on Wednesday to come to the bargaining table in return for partial pay.

In the first step to unraveling what has become a bitter dispute with the company, the musicians, represented by Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, will receive up to $1,543 a week for eight weeks while they negotiate longer-term pay cuts with the Met. The company was already having financial problems when the pandemic struck, and has suffered heavy losses since it closed its doors.

More than a tenth of the Met’s musicians have retired since the virus shuttered the opera nearly a year ago. Another 40 percent have moved out of the New York area. Still, others have taken odd jobs or sold their equipment to make ends meet.

The Met has insisted that lasting cuts will have to be made to keep the company afloat — management said the virus has cost it $150 million in earned revenues. Under the deal for partial pay that members accepted on Wednesday, the checks could be extended after eight weeks if negotiations are productive, according to an email from the Met to the orchestra.

The Met offered the same deal to its choristers, dancers, stage managers and other employees represented by the American Guild of Musical Artists. Those employees accepted the offer at the end of January. The lockout of the company’s stagehands, which occurred in December after their union rejected a proposal for substantial pay cuts, continues.

Across the country, the pocketbooks of performing artists and venues have been hammered by the virus, and organizations including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic have negotiated reduced pay for their employees. Many worry that it could take years for Met box office sales to rebound, even with vaccines becoming more accessible.

In a note to Met employees on Friday, the company’s general manager, Peter Gelb, wrote that the accelerated rate of vaccinations represented a “light at the end of the tunnel,” but added that the company needed to “come to terms with the economic necessities” that the pandemic has dealt it. The opera has not announced when its next season will begin.

The vast majority of people who recover from Covid-19 remain shielded from the virus for at least six months, researchers reported on Wednesday in a large study from Denmark.

Prior infection with the coronavirus reduced the chances of a second bout by about 80 percent in people under 65, but only by about half in those older than 65. But those results, published in the journal Lancet, were tempered by many caveats.

The number of infected older people in the study was small. The researchers did not have any information beyond the test results, so it’s possible that only people who were mildly ill the first time became infected again and that the second infections were largely symptom-free.

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.

Still, 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 Denmark’s public health agency.

A woman receives a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a drive-through vaccination center on the outskirts of Milan.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

The World Health Organization and the head of the European Commission urged European countries to use the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and expressed confidence that it was safe, as investigations continue into unusual cases of side effects that led several countries to pause administering the shots.

The head of the W.H.O.’s vaccines department, Dr. Kate O’Brien, said cases of blood clots reported among millions of Europeans who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine were rare. And, she said, it was not unusual that some of those vaccinated should suffer blood clots resulting from other health conditions. No causative link has yet emerged between the vaccine and blood clots or severe bleeding.

“At this point the benefit-risk assessment is to continue with vaccination,” Dr. O’Brien said, repeating the responses both organizations have offered as some member countries have paused administering doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine following some reports of fatal brain hemorrhaging, blood clots and unusual bleeding in a handful of people who received it.

The European Union’s top drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency, is expected to give its assessment of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Thursday. It has so far also pushed back against concerns about the shot, saying there was no sign that it caused dangerous problems. On Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, said, “I trust AstraZeneca, I trust the vaccines.” She added that she was “convinced that the statement will clarify the situation.”

Germany, France, Italy and Spain are the prominent European countries to recently halt their rollouts of the AstraZeneca shots this week. More than a dozen countries have either partly or fully suspended the vaccine’s use while the cases are investigated. Most of the countries said they were doing so as a precaution until leading health agencies could review the cases.

Even if experts ultimately conclude there may be an association between the blood clots and the vaccine “these are very rare events,” Dr. O’Brien said.

Blood clots, thick blobs of blood that can block circulation, form in response to injuries and can also be caused by many illnesses, including cancer and genetic disorders, certain drugs and prolonged sitting or bed rest. If a blood clot travels to the brain, it can be deadly.

The suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in some countries comes at a time when the region is facing a third wave of the virus and further slows Europe’s vaccination campaign, already lagging because of shortages. No E.U. country is currently on pace to vaccinate 70 percent of its population by September.

Ms. von der Leyen said Europe’s vaccination campaign would pick up speed, with 55 million doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 200 million of the Pfizer vaccine, 35 million of the Moderna vaccine, and 70 million of AstraZeneca expected in the coming months.

A United Nations convoy carrying coronavirus vaccines passed through the Ofer crossing Wednesday on its way to a Palestinian health ministry warehouse near Ramallah in the West Bank.
Credit…Nasser Nasser/Associated Press

JERUSALEM — The occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip received their first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines on Wednesday from the global vaccine sharing initiative Covax, paving the way for Palestinian authorities to start inoculating residents on a wider scale.

The Health Ministry of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority said the vaccines would be administered starting Sunday to medical teams, dialysis and cancer patients, and people who are 75 or older.

The ministry said the shipment included 37,440 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which will be used right away; and 24,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which it initially said would be stored until the World Health Organization issued a scientific opinion on the vaccine’s safety.

Later Wednesday, after the W.H.O. recommended the continued use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Palestinian health minister, Mai al-Kaila, said the Palestinians would follow that recommendation.

Tor Wennesland, the top United Nations envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called the shipment “a key step in our fight against #Covid19 in the #WestBank & #Gaza.”

The West Bank now faces what Palestinian officials have called the most challenging public health situation since the pandemic first emerged in the territory last year. Occupancy in coronavirus wards has surged, and the authorities have announced a “comprehensive lockdown” between Monday and Saturday. An average of 1,767 new coronavirus cases have been recorded daily over the past week, according to official figures.

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank said that before Wednesday, it had received only 12,000 vaccine doses. Officials in Gaza said they had received a total of 62,000 doses, including 2,000 from the Palestinian Authority and 60,000 from the United Arab Emirates.

Israeli security officials said that about 20,000 of the doses that arrived from Covax on Wednesday went to Gaza.

Israel has faced criticism for providing Israeli citizens with significantly greater access to vaccines than it has allowed for Palestinians living under its occupation.

Last week, Israel started inoculating tens of thousands of Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel or in Jewish settlements — the first substantial amount of vaccine it has made available to Palestinians living in the West Bank.

More than 150 million students and educators are using Google Classroom app.
Credit…Friedemann Vogel/EPA, via Shutterstock

After a tough year of toggling between remote and in-person schooling, many students, teachers and their families feel burned out from pandemic learning. But companies that market digital learning tools to schools are enjoying a windfall.

Venture and equity financing for education technology start-ups has more than doubled, surging to $12.6 billion worldwide last year from $4.8 billion in 2019, according to a report from CB Insights, a firm that tracks start-ups and venture capital.

Yet as more districts reopen for in-person instruction, the billions of dollars that schools and venture capitalists have sunk into education technology are about to get tested.

“There’s definitely going to be a shakeout over the next year,” said Matthew Gross, the chief executive of Newsela, a popular reading lesson app for schools.

A number of ed-tech start-ups reporting record growth had sizable school audiences before the pandemic. Then last spring, as school districts switched to remote learning, many education apps hit on a common pandemic growth strategy: They temporarily made their premium services free to teachers for the rest of the school year.

“What unfolded from there was massive adoption,” said Tory Patterson, a managing director at Owl Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in education start-ups like Newsela. Once the school year ended, he said, ed-tech start-ups began trying to convert school districts into paying customers, and “we saw pretty broad-based uptake of those offers.”

Some consumer tech giants that provided free services to schools also reaped benefits, gaining audience share and getting millions of students accustomed to using their product.

The worldwide audience for Google Classroom, Google’s free class assignment and grading app, has skyrocketed to more than 150 million students and educators, up from 40 million early last year. And Zoom Video Communications says it has provided free services during the pandemic to more than 125,000 schools in 25 countries.

Whether tools that teachers have come to rely on for remote learning can maintain their popularity will now hinge on how useful the apps are in the classroom.

A doctor waiting to administer vaccinations in south London.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

LONDON — Britain’s National Health Service warned Wednesday of a “significant reduction” in vaccine supplies from manufacturers that would last for a month, meaning no new appointments for first doses will be made for April.

England is currently vaccinating anyone 50 and older, but vaccination centers and pharmacies have been told to close unfilled bookings beginning March 29 and to decline making appointments for all of April, according to a letter sent to local vaccination sites and centers.

It was unclear what had caused the drop in vaccine supplies.

Britain has vaccinated more than 25 million people, including more than 500,000 on Tuesday alone, the health secretary, Matt Hancock said at a news conference on Wednesday.

The program has given Britain a post-Brexit success, as the European Union struggles to get its people inoculated.

Mr. Hancock stressed the importance of vaccinating the most vulnerable groups, including people at high risk for health reasons or because of their age, retirement home residents and workers, social care workers and those will learning disabilities, among others.

In explaining the hiatus, he said: “Vaccine supply is always lumpy, and we regularly send out technical letters” to explain “the ups and downs of the supply over the future weeks.”

When he was pressed about when people under 50 might get their shots, he reiterated his support for vaccinating those over 50. Mr. Hancock is 42.

But he said the government was committed to to all adults being able to get a vaccine by the end of July.

Britain was hit hard by the virus. It has reported more than 4.2 million cases and more than 125,800 deaths.

England is slowly emerging from a national lockdown that began in early January, after the discovery of a new more transmissible variant of the virus that contributed to a vicious second wave of illnesses and deaths.

Video

transcript

transcript

E.U. Chief Criticizes AstraZeneca on Delivery Delays

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, accused AstraZeneca of underdelivering coronavirus vaccines, and said the E.U. was ready to use “whatever tool” to ensure it gets “its fair share.”

AstraZeneca has unfortunately underproduced and underdelivered, and this painfully, of course, reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign. Open roads run in both directions, and this is why we need to ensure that there is reciprocity and proportionality. And I want to be clear on reciprocity. If the situation does not change, we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness. So we are exporting a lot to countries that are themselves producing vaccines. And we think this is an invitation to be open, so that we also see exports from those countries coming back to the European Union. In other words, we want reliable deliveries of vaccines. We want to increase in the contracts. We want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports, and we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that.

Video player loading
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, accused AstraZeneca of underdelivering coronavirus vaccines, and said the E.U. was ready to use “whatever tool” to ensure it gets “its fair share.”CreditCredit…Pool photo by John Thys

The European Commission is ready to use “whatever tool” to make sure Europe gets “its fair share of vaccines,” the president of the commission warned on Wednesday, but she stopped short of a direct threat to ban exports of European-made vaccines.

The remarks by President Ursula von der Leyen suggested that a global diplomatic struggle over vaccine supplies was escalating.

Ms. von der Leyen complained that “other vaccine-producing countries” were importing European-made vaccines while hoarding their own output. She singled out Britain, which she said had imported 10 million doses from the E.U. in recent weeks.

“It is hard to explain to our citizens why vaccines produced in the E.U. are going to other countries that are also producing vaccines, but hardly anything is coming back,” Ms. von der Leyen said.

The European Union’s vaccination campaign has been sluggish so far, lagging behind other developed countries. Short supplies have often been cited as a reason.

Ms. von der Leyen’s remarks were the latest salvo in a long-running feud between Brussels and London over vaccines, aggravated by a bitter dispute between the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, and the vaccine maker AstraZeneca. The dispute led to the bloc adopting a mechanism that allows its members to block vaccine exports to nonmember countries when the manufacturer has not filled all its orders at home.

Ms. von der Leyen stressed on Wednesday that the mechanism had been used to block only one export permit so far, out of 314 requests. “But open roads run in both directions,” she said. “If the situation does not change, we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine producing countries dependent on their level of openness.”

Recently published data showed that large quantities of vaccine made in the European Union have been exported to Britain, Canada and the United States.

“I am not ruling out anything for now, because we have to make sure that Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible,” Ms. von der Leyen said.

Serbia’s largest vaccination center this month at the Belgrade Fair, a sprawling exhibition complex in the Serbian capital.
Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Stained for years by its brutal role in the horrific Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, Serbia is now basking in the glow of success in a good campaign: the quest to get its people vaccinated.

Serbia has raced ahead of the far richer and usually better-organized countries in Europe to offer all adult citizens not only free inoculations, but also a smorgasbord of five vaccines to choose from.

The country’s unusual surfeit of vaccines has been a public relations triumph for the increasingly authoritarian government of President Aleksandar Vucic. It has burnished his own and his country’s image, weakened his already beleaguered opponents and added a new twist to the complex geopolitics of vaccines.

Serbia, with a population under seven million, placed bets across the board, sealing initial deals for more than 11 million doses with Russia and China, whose products have not been approved by European regulators, as well as with Western drug companies.

It reached its first vaccine deal, covering 2.2 million doses, with Pfizer in August and quickly followed up with contracts for millions more from Russia and China.

As a result, Serbia has become the best vaccinator in Europe after Britain, data collected by OurWorldInData shows. It had administered 29.5 doses for every 100 people as of last week compared with just 10.5 in Germany, a country long viewed as a model of efficiency and good governance, and 10.7 in France.

Serbia’s prime minister, Ana Brnabic, attributed her country’s success to its decision to “treat this as a health issue, not a political issue. We negotiated with all, regardless of whether East or West.”

Serbia’s readiness to embrace non-Western vaccines so far shunned by the European Union could backfire if they turn out to be duds. Sinopharm, unlike Western vaccine makers, has not published detailed data from Phase 3 trials. Data it has released suggest that its product is less effective than Western coronavirus vaccines.

Many Serbians, apparently reassured by the vaccination drive, have also lowered their guard against the risk of infection. The daily number of new cases has more than doubled since early February, prompting the government to order all businesses other than food stores and pharmacies to close last weekend.

Waiting at a drive-through vaccination site at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., on Tuesday.
Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

Not long ago, Covid-19 vaccines were available only to the most vulnerable Americans and some essential workers. That is quickly changing as vaccine production and distribution ramp up and more states begin to heed a call from President Biden to expand access to all adults by May.

States are also racing to stay ahead of the growing number of virus variants, some of which are more contagious and possibly even more deadly.

At least four states — Maine, Virginia, North Carolina and Wisconsin — and Washington, D.C., have said that they will expand eligibility to their general population by May 1, the deadline that Mr. Biden set last week. Other states — including Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana and Utah — hope to do so this month or next.

In Mississippi and Alaska, everyone age 16 or older is eligible, and Arizona and Michigan have made the vaccines available to all adults in some counties.

Mr. Biden said last week that he was directing the federal government to secure an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. With three vaccines now in use, Mr. Biden has said that the United States will have secured enough doses by the end of May for shots to be available for all adults.


Eligible only in some counties


Eligible only in some counties


Eligible only in some counties

Several states have already been expanding eligibility for vaccinations. In Ohio, vaccines will open to anyone 40 and up as of Friday, and to more residents with certain medical conditions. Indiana extended access to people 45 and older, effective immediately.

In Massachusetts, residents 60 years and older, as well as people who work in small spaces and those whose work requires regular public interaction, will be eligible for a vaccine on March 22, the state announced Wednesday. Residents 55 and older with certain medical conditions will be eligible on April 5, and everyone else 16 years and older will be eligible on April 19.

Coloradans age 50 and up will be eligible for a shot on Friday, along with anyone 16 years and older with certain medical conditions. Wisconsin said on Tuesday that residents 16 years and up with certain medical conditions would be eligible a week earlier than initially planned.

On Monday, Texans age 50 and older and Georgians over 55 became eligible for vaccines. And in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness, such as those with heart disease or diabetes, were now eligible, as are people who live in certain congregate settings.

In New York State, residents 60 and older are eligible to receive a vaccine, and more frontline workers became eligible on Wednesday, including government employees, building services workers and employees of nonprofit groups.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has yet to announce how or when the state will expand eligibility to all adults. On Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo, 63, received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a church in Harlem, which he framed as an effort to boost vaccination rates among the state’s Black communities.

Since vaccinations began in December, the federal government has delivered nearly 143 million vaccine doses to states and territories, and more than 77 percent have been administered, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country is averaging about 2.4 million shots a day, compared with well under one million a day in January.

As of Tuesday, 65 percent of the country’s older population had received at least one vaccine dose, according to C.D.C. data, with 37 percent fully vaccinated.

The main square in Warsaw’s Old Town neighborhood, ordinarily a tourist hub, was deserted on Monday. 
Credit…Pawel Supernak/EPA, via Shutterstock

Poland, which has seen a significant upswing in coronavirus cases, will tighten restrictions nationwide starting on Saturday.

Hotels, shopping malls, theaters, museums, cinemas, swimming pools, gyms and sports facilities will be shuttered until April 9 at least, the government said on Wednesday.

A more easily transmissible variant of the virus, first discovered in Britain, is responsible in large part for the most recent rise in cases, the government said.

Schools will move entirely online. The government is recommending that people work from home if possible.

“If this move does not result in easing the pandemic, or at least in slowing down the third wave, the next steps would be a typical lockdow,” which would entail “closing absolutely everything,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said at a news conference, according to Reuters.

The tighter restrictions will last through the Easter holiday, which Roman Catholics will celebrate this year on April 4. Most Poles are Catholic.

President Andrzej Duda of Poland tested positive for the virus in October. The country also experienced a strong outbreak of the virus in the autumn. More recently, Polish officials have been using local lockdowns to try to control outbreaks.

Poland has reported just under 2 million coronavirus cases and about 48,000 Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times database.

The country, with a population of nearly 38 million, says it has administered nearly 4.6 million vaccine doses so far.

A protest over masks and Covid vaccines outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta on Saturday.
Credit…Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Former President Donald J. Trump recommended in a nationally televised interview on Tuesday evening that Americans who are reluctant to be vaccinated against the coronavirus should go ahead with inoculations.

Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, were vaccinated in January. And vaccine proponents have called on him to speak out in favor of the shots to his supporters — many of whom remain reluctant, polls show.

Speaking to Maria Bartiromo on “Fox News Primetime,” Mr. Trump said, “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it — and a lot of those people voted for me frankly.”

He added: “It is a safe vaccine, and it is something that works.”

While there are degrees of opposition to coronavirus vaccination among a number of groups, polling suggests that the opinions break substantially along partisan lines.

A third of Republicans said in a CBS News poll that they would not be vaccinated — compared with 10 percent of Democrats — and another 20 percent of Republicans said they were unsure. Other polls have found similar trends.

Mr. Trump encouraged attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., late last month to get vaccinated.

Still, Mr. Trump — whose tenure during the pandemic was often marked by railing against recommendations from medical experts — said on Tuesday that “we have our freedoms and we have to live by that, and I agree with that also.”

With President Biden’s administration readying television and internet advertising and other efforts to promote vaccination, the challenge for the White House is complicated by perceptions of Mr. Trump’s stance on the vaccine.

Asked about the issue on Monday at the White House, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump’s help promoting vaccination was less important than getting trusted community figures on board.

“I discussed it with my team, and they say the thing that has more impact than anything Trump would say to the MAGA folks is what the local doctor, what the local preachers, what the local people in the community say,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Mr. Trump’s supporters and campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Grace Sundstrom, a senior in Des Moines, wrote her college essay about correspondence she had with Alden, a nursing home resident.
Credit…via Grace Sundstrom

This year perhaps more than ever, the college essay has served as a canvas for high school seniors to reflect on a turbulent and, for many, sorrowful year. It has been a psychiatrist’s couch, a road map to a more hopeful future, a chance to pour out intimate feelings about loneliness and injustice.

In response to a request from The New York Times, more than 900 seniors submitted the personal essays they wrote for their college applications. Reading them is like a taking a trip through two of the biggest news events of recent decades: the devastation wrought by the coronavirus, and the rise of a new civil rights movement.

In the wake of the high-profile deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers, students shared how they had wrestled with racism in their own lives. Many dipped their feet into the politics of protest.

And in the midst of the most far-reaching pandemic in a century, they described the isolation and loss that have pervaded every aspect of their lives since schools suddenly shut down a year ago. They sought to articulate how they have managed while cut off from friends and activities.

The coronavirus was the most common theme in the essays submitted to The Times, appearing in 393 essays, more than 40 percent. Next was the value of family, coming up in 351 essays, but often in the context of other issues, like the pandemic and race. Racial justice and protest figured in 342 essays.

Family was not the only eternal verity to appear. Love came up in 286 essays; science in 128; art in 110; music in 109; and honor in 32. Personal tragedy also loomed large, with 30 essays about cancer alone.

Some students resisted the lure of current events and wrote quirky essays about captaining a fishing boat on Cape Cod or hosting dinner parties. A few wrote poetry. Perhaps surprisingly, politics and the 2020 election were not of great interest.

Eight of the 10 ZIP codes with the highest rate of eviction filings were in the Bronx, according to an analysis of records by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.
Credit…Anna Watts for The New York Times

New York City landlords are seeking evictions nearly four times more often in the neighborhoods hit hardest by Covid-19 — predominantly Black and Latino communities that have borne the brunt of both health and housing crises since the virus swept the city last year, according to a new report.

The findings were the latest indication that thousands of the city’s most vulnerable residents could be forcibly removed from their homes as early as May, when a statewide pause on evictions is set to expire.

In New York City, about 40,000 residential tenants have been taken to court for eviction proceedings in the last year, with an average claim of $8,150, according to an analysis of state records by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of housing nonprofits.

The neighborhoods with the highest Covid-19 death rates, the top 25 percent, received 15,517 eviction filings, while areas with the lowest death rates, in the bottom 25 percent, had 4,224 cases, through late February. Roughly 68 percent of residents in the hardest-hit ZIP codes were people of color, more than twice the share in the least-affected areas.

Marisol Morales, 55, moved to the United States from Panama in 1991, and has lived for 11 years in a two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. She lost her part-time job as a cook last spring and has been unable to pay her subsidized $1,647 rent for several months. Her landlord is now suing her.

“An affordable apartment does not exist in New York,” Ms. Morales said.

NYC will reopen indoor fitness classes on Monday. In this photo from Aug. 30, Marco Guanilo, the owner of Momentum Fitness, prepares to bring equipment to Central Park for outdoor classes. 
Credit…Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

Indoor fitness classes in New York City will be allowed to resume on Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news conference on Wednesday.

New York will also lift restrictions Monday in so-called “yellow zones,” areas where the state imposed stricter restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of troubling coronavirus data.

Only five yellow zones remained in the state as of Wednesday: two in the Bronx, one in Queens, one in Manhattan and one in Orange County, north of New York City.

In those areas, restaurants were limited to serving just 4 people at a table, and non-residential gatherings were capped at 25 people — even as the state moved to allow larger events like weddings and reopen arts and entertainment venues.

Mr. Cuomo also said that on April 5, the state would end an 11 p.m. curfew on casinos, movie theaters, bowling alleys, billiard halls and gyms. It will leave a similar curfew on restaurants, bars and catered events in place.

As of Tuesday, New York State was reporting a seven-day average of 35 new virus cases a day for every 100,000 residents, according to a New York Times database, trailing only New Jersey, at 41 cases per 100,000. (The nation as a whole was averaging 17 new cases per 100,000 people.)

New York City, at 44 cases per 100,000, is adding new cases at a per capita rate more than five times higher than that of Los Angeles County.

The announcement on indoor exercise classes came after a number of fitness studio owners protested outside City Hall on Tuesday.

When the governor ordered local governments to allow gyms across the state to reopen last September, he allowed local officials to decide whether or not to also permit the return of indoor fitness classes. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City declined to do so, citing fears of an increased risk of transmission in those spaces.

Last month, a group of fitness studios sued Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Cuomo for the right to reopen.

Fitness classes will be capped at 33 percent capacity, like gyms in the state, and patrons will be required to wear face coverings while exercising.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advised fitness centers to take a variety of measures to prevent outbreaks, including enforcing proper mask use while working out and keeping patrons six feet apart. It also said fitness facilities should ensure they have good ventilation. Gyms in New York are required to meet certain air filtration and ventilation standards.

The C.D.C. found that heavy breathing during intense physical activity in confined indoor spaces could increase chances of transmission, and fitness teachers who shouted exercise instructions to members may also have contributed to the spread.

Credit…Marie Eriel Hobro for The New York Times

People who get Covid-19 shots at thousands of Walmart and Sam’s Club stores may soon be able to verify their vaccination status at airports, schools and other locations using a health passport app on their smartphones.

The retail giant said on Wednesday that it had signed on to 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.

“Walmart is the first huge-scale administrator of vaccines that is committing to giving people a secure, verifiable record of their vaccinations,” said Paul Meyer, the chief executive of the Commons Project Foundation, a nonprofit in Geneva that has developed health passport apps. “We think many others will follow.”

Credit…Commons Project

The company said people who get Covid shots at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores will be able to use free health passport apps to verify their vaccination records and then generate smartphone codes that could allow them to board a plane or enter a sports area.

The apps include Health Pass developed by Clear, a security company that uses biometric technology to confirm people’s identities at airports, and CommonPass, developed by the Commons Project.

JetBlue and Lufthansa are already using the CommonPass app to verify passengers’ negative virus test results before they can board certain flights.

Debbie McCarty, director of the Yukon Flats Health Center, administered the Moderna coronavirus vaccine to Linda Fields at her home in Fort Yukon, Alaska, last month.
Credit…Ash Adams for The New York Times

Even though the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on people of color and on low-income communities, Americans in wealthier counties have been getting vaccinated against the coronavirus at higher rates than those who live in more distressed, impoverished counties, federal health researchers reported on Wednesday.

The study, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, examined data on some 50 million residents in 49 states and the District of Columbia who had received at least one Covid-19 vaccine by March 1; the U.S. vaccination campaign began in mid-December. The authors analyzed vaccination coverage by county according to the C.D.C.’s social vulnerability index, a comprehensive measure that takes into account income, household composition, disability, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and facility with English, as well as the quality of housing and car ownership.

Over all, vaccination coverage was higher, at 15.8 percent, in counties that were better off than in counties that scored highest on social vulnerability, where vaccination coverage was 13.9 percent.

There was variability among counties, and some states were exceptions: Arizona and Montana, for example, had higher vaccination coverage in more distressed counties than in less vulnerable counties. Three other states — Alaska, Minnesota and West Virginia — also had higher vaccination coverage in disadvantaged countries than in better-off counties, according to select measures in the index.

The study’s authors called on communities to track vaccination rates and to take steps to ensure equity for those most affected by Covid-19. Federal researchers called on communities to investigate the causes of vaccination disparities, and to figure out the role played by access problems, including a lack of vaccine supply, or such challenges as vaccine hesitancy.

According to a New York Times analysis of state-reported race and ethnicity information, the vaccination rate for Black people in the United States is half that of white people, and the gap for Hispanic people is even larger. Public health experts have said that obstacles to vaccine access deserve much of the blame for vaccination disparities.

Black and Hispanic people in the United States are less likely than their white counterparts to have internet access reliable enough to make online appointments; to have work schedules flexible enough to take any available opening; and to have access to dependable transportation to vaccine sites, among other factors. A lack of access to information about the vaccine through trusted providers can also lead to uncertainty and an unwillingness to get a shot.

States that have been successful at getting vaccines to vulnerable communities made it a priority to inoculate people of color during the early stages of the rollout, the authors noted. These states actively monitored and addressed barriers to vaccination in vulnerable communities, directed vaccine to distressed communities, offered free transportation to vaccination sites, and collaborated with community partners, like the Indian Health Service.