Covid-19: Fauci Says Ending Mask Mandates Is ‘Risky’

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Credit…Matthew Busch for The New York Times

With millions of Americans vaccinated and states dropping mask and dining restrictions at the one-year mark of the pandemic, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned on Sunday against loosening restrictions prematurely, despite the recent week-over-week decreases in new coronavirus cases.

“Even though the decline was steep, we absolutely need to avoid the urge to say ‘Oh, everything is going great,’” said Dr. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”

“When you get a plateau at a level around 60,000 new infections per day, there’s always the risk of another surge,” he said. “And that’s the thing we really want to avoid, because we are going in the right direction.”

Dr. Fauci cited what is happening in Italy, where much of the country will lock down again on Monday, and other parts of Europe. “They had a diminution of cases, they plateaued, and they pulled back on public health measures,” he said. Restaurants and some bars reopened, he said, and “the younger people particularly stopped wearing masks, and then, all of a sudden, you have a surge that went right back up. And that’s where we are right now.”

Rescinding mask mandates in the U.S., as some states have already done, is “risky business,” he warned.

Asked on the CNN program “State of the Union” about questions that remain unanswered a year into the pandemic, Dr. Fauci mentioned the effect of coronavirus variants, some of which are more contagious and have emerged in Europe, Latin America and the United States. He said the available vaccines would protect against severe disease, death and hospitalization.

“So, the best way that we can avoid any threat from variants is do two things,” he said. “Get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can, and to continue with the public health measures, until we get this broad umbrella of protection over society, that the level of infection is very low.”

Dr. Fauci was asked about recent public opinion polls showing growing public confidence in the vaccines. A new CBS News/YouGov poll found declining resistance to vaccination among Black and Hispanic Americans, but it identified differences along political lines, with higher rates of resistance among Republicans, especially younger ones.

Over all, 55 percent of Americans in the survey said they would get vaccinated or had already been vaccinated. That included 57 percent of white Americans, 51 percent of Black Americans and 52 percent of Hispanic Americans, the poll found.

By contrast, about 23 percent of Black Americans said they would not get the vaccine; as did 23 percent of white Americans and 20 percent of Hispanic Americans, the poll indicated.

On the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who heads a new federal task force on health equity, called the polling results “great news.”

“You see vaccine confidence growing in all groups around the country,” Dr. Nunez-Smith said. “It is very promising.”

Even so, polarized attitudes aligned with political affiliation have stiffened: About 71 percent of Democrats said they had been vaccinated or would get shots, while only 47 percent of Republicans said the same. One-third of Republicans said they would say no to the vaccine, compared with only 10 percent of Democrats.

Dr. Fauci said he was perplexed and troubled by the partisan trend. “It makes absolutely no sense,” he said. “We’ve got to dissociate political persuasion from what’s common sense, no-brainer public health things.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Dr. Fauci was asked about a public-service message on vaccination that included other former presidents but not Donald J. Trump. He was then asked whether Mr. Trump, who was quietly vaccinated in January before leaving office, should publicly endorse immunization.

“I think it would make all the difference in the world,” Dr. Fauci said, adding: “He’s a very widely popular person among Republicans. If he came out and said, go and get vaccinated, it’s really important for your health, the health of your family and the health of the country, it seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close followers would listen to him.”

In an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando last month, Mr. Trump did say, “Everyone should go get your shot,” but that message was largely overlooked by the former president’s characteristic focus on divisive political matters.

Anna Artist, 6, working on her classwork at St. Mary’s School, a Catholic school in Lee, Mass., last month.
Credit…Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle, via Associated Press

School shutdowns have been a divisive topic since the pandemic erupted, and a new study has ignited debate over the six-foot rule of social distancing and whether it can be relaxed in classroom settings, which would ease the way for children to return to schools.

The new study, published last week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, suggests public schools may be able to reopen safely for in-person instruction as long as children maintain three feet of distance between them, and with other mitigation measures maintained, such as wearing masks.

Jill Biden and members of her husband’s administration have been traveling in a concerted campaign for reopening schools safely while parents and educators have grown increasingly frustrated by the off-again, on-again policies from district to district.

Asked about the new report by Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, agreed the study appeared to indicate three feet would be sufficient distance to curb transmission of the virus.

No official guidance on shortening the recommended six-foot rule has yet been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although Dr. Fauci said the agency is studying the data.

“What the C.D.C. wants to do is accumulate data, and when data shows ability to be three feet, they will act accordingly,” Dr. Fauci said. He added that the agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, was aware of the new research, and that the C.D.C. was also conducting its own studies. “I don’t want to get ahead of official guidelines,” he said.

While the C.D.C.’s advice remains at six feet of social distancing between students, the World Health Organization has recommended a meter or 3.3 feet of distancing, and the study found the latter was enough to limit school-related cases. The C.D.C. recommendations call for six feet of social distancing in schools in counties with high coronavirus transmission rates. C.D.C. officials could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Some experts have said that tempering social distancing recommendations could be an important step toward getting children back into classrooms. Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, suggested on Twitter that the C.D.C. guidance may be changing, and that is “good. Because 6 ft doesn’t protect teachers. But it does keep kids out of school.”

“Want to open schools safely? Masks. Ventilation. Testing. Vaccinating teachers/staff. That’s the list,” Dr. Jha wrote.

The new study, published on Wednesday, compared the incidence rates of virus cases among students and staff members in Massachusetts school districts that required at least six feet of separation with those that required only three feet of distance, and found no statistically significant differences in infection rates among staff members or students.

The researchers, who controlled for community rates of coronavirus in their analysis, concluded that lower physical distancing policies can safely be adopted in school settings, as long as other measures like universal masking are in place.

The study’s authors examined the rates of infection among staff members and students at some 242 school districts in Massachusetts, with varying levels of in-person instruction from Sept. 24 to Jan. 27.

Children are less likely to require hospitalization when infected with the coronavirus, and children under 10 are less likely to get infected than teenagers. But the true incidence of infections may not be known because children and adolescents are far less likely than adults to develop severe illness and are less likely to be tested.

Postal workers must navigate a patchwork of policies to determine whether they can get a shot.
Credit…Joshua Bright for The New York Times

Beleaguered in the pandemic and thrust into the spotlight by the 2020 election, the United States Postal Service now finds itself competing for its share of the vaccine.

The Postal Service has endured tumultuous months amid a significant increase in online shopping, understaffing, government funding issues and an explosion of mail-in ballots during a contentious election. Thousands of postal workers have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 150 have died. Still, fewer than half of the states across the country — at least 22 — have begun administering shots to Postal Service workers, at least in some counties, even as they rapidly expand access to more groups of people, according to a New York Times survey.

Postal workers are among several categories of essential workers that a committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that states prioritize early. In a letter penned to the Biden administration in January, Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, noted that “numerous states have not followed this recommendation and have chosen to place postal workers further down in the order of those with early access to the vaccine.”

Postal workers might not have to wait too much longer to be vaccinated. On Thursday, President Biden promised to bring cohesion to the national rollout, directing states to make every adult eligible by May 1, and announcing a series of initiatives to ramp up the pace of vaccinations.

Postal workers must navigate a patchwork of policies to determine whether they can get a shot. In Virginia, they can get the vaccine along with private mail carriers. And Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas announced that postal workers in his state could get the vaccine as of Monday. However, they are not yet eligible in Maine, Texas and Washington.

In a live video last month, Mr. Dimondstein lamented the lack of a collective government response on behalf of the Postal Service.

“It’s chaos,” he said. “You’ve got to find your own way.”

In the past month alone, the rate of U.S. vaccinations has ramped up over 50 percent, to an average of about 2.5 million shots a day as of Saturday, up from an average of about 1.6 million shots a day on Feb. 13, according to a New York Times database. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday that about 68.9 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 36.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated.

Students on the Duke University campus in Durham, N.C., will have to stay in their rooms for at least a week except for essential errands. 
Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

Duke University ordered thousands of students Saturday evening to quarantine for at least a week because of a coronavirus outbreak at the school.

More than 180 students have tested positive in the last week, and an additional 200 people were already in isolation after contact tracing, the university order said.

In a statement on Sunday, Duke said the new cases were “almost all linked to unsanctioned fraternity recruitment events that took place off campus.”

“This stay-in-place order is the direct result of individual behavior in violation of Duke’s requirements for in-person activity,” the statement said, adding, “Those who are found responsible for organizing and hosting these events will be held accountable.”

Under the order, students who live on the campus in Durham, N.C., must stay in their rooms except for essential errands like picking up food; they may walk outdoors in groups of no more than three. Students living elsewhere were told not to go to campus and were “strongly encouraged” to limit their movements and activities off campus. All classes will be taught online.

In all, the order covers 6,000 undergraduates who are in or near Durham, the university said. Graduate and professional classes will continue as planned.

Students across the country have had their college experiences upended as the pandemic has dragged on for more than a year, and the virus has continued to spread on campus and in surrounding communities. Since Jan. 1, more than 120,000 cases have been linked to American colleges and universities, according to a New York Times database.

When rumors circulated on Saturday that the order was coming, students rushed to stock up on food and other supplies for their rooms, the campus newspaper reported.

Leah Boyd, 19, a sophomore who covered the events for the paper, said she and several friends walked around campus on Saturday to “soak up our last hour or so of freedom.” She said they were worried that the lockdown would be extended to last longer than a week.

Another reporter for the paper, Nadia Bey, 19, said that while most students understood the need for restrictions, “I think the stress is really getting to us.”

Students who are careful about safety rules are starting to resent those who are not, Ms. Boyd said: “They’re tired of sacrificing their social lives, getting to see their families, getting to go to in-person classes, for other people to still be acting irresponsible.”

An online petition calling on the university to sue the Durham Interfraternity Council for “reckless endangerment” gathered more than 1,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

After closing down last spring, Duke allowed freshmen and sophomores back into campus housing in the fall, and juniors and seniors in January. It garnered praise for its coronavirus testing program. But a coronavirus case sent the whole men’s basketball team into quarantine, forcing the team to withdraw from its conference tournament and dooming it to miss the N.C.A.A. tournament for the first time since 1995.

“The thing is, as much as you test, if you’re still gathering in large groups, if you’re still being unsafe, if you’re still not following the rest of the protocol, the amount of testing you do doesn’t matter,” Ms. Boyd said. “You’re still going to end up in situations like this.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, and Larry Schwartz at a meeting in Albany, N.Y., in 2014, when Mr. Schwartz was a top aide to Mr. Cuomo. He is now the governor’s vaccine czar. 
Credit…Mike Groll/Associated Press

For most of his tenure, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has relied on a set of close advisers who act as both political enforcers and point people on government operations. He did the same at the height of the pandemic, calling on some of his most trusted emissaries to help coordinate the state’s coronavirus response.

With Mr. Cuomo facing concurrent scandals over accusations of sexual abuse and calls for his resignation, though, that pattern is raising alarms.

Larry Schwartz, a former top aide to the governor who now leads the state’s vaccination efforts, has also apparently been acting as a political operative, asking state Democratic leaders to support the governor while continuing to discuss the urgent business of immunization. At least two Democratic county executives said they had received such calls.

One of the county executives, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that after Mr. Schwartz had discussed the governor’s political situation, he then pivoted directly to a conversation about vaccine distribution.

The mixing of politics and the state’s vaccination program threatened to further complicate Mr. Cuomo’s efforts to forge ahead with the day-to-day business of government despite the deep uncertainty about his future.

And it threw a spotlight on a concern that local officials have voiced quietly in recent months: that the Cuomo administration saw its control over the vaccine supply as a means to reward or punish local officials.

In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Schwartz said that he had never mixed vaccination policy with political considerations.

“All decisions regarding vaccines are done based on public health considerations, not politics,” Mr. Schwartz’s statement said. “At no time has politics ever entered into the discussion or decision making regarding vaccines. I have never discussed vaccines in a political context, and anyone who thinks that is seriously mistaken.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mourners gathered at Canarsie Cemetery in Brooklyn last May for the funeral of Claudette Hyppolite, 73, who died with the coronavirus.
Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

One year after its first coronavirus-related death, New York City held a virtual memorial event on Sunday honoring the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have died of the virus.

The virtual ceremony, which included names and photographs of the deceased, was streamed online on the city’s website and on social media platforms at 7:45 p.m. Families are being encouraged to submit photographs of their loved ones.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 30,000 people are known to have died in New York City from the virus.

“We constantly talk about moving forward and our recovery, but we’ve got to take time to remember the people we’ve lost,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a news conference Monday.

The city’s first confirmed death, an 82-year-old woman with emphysema, was reported on March 14, 2020.

The next day, the city shut down schools, restaurants and bars. There were about 5,600 reported cases of the virus in the city at the time, but researchers have said that the virus was probably spreading earlier than residents realized.

New York soon became the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States. Morgues, funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries were overwhelmed with bodies.

When asked if the city would create a permanent memorial to commemorate victims of virus, Mr. de Blasio said on Monday that the city would develop a plan for “a place that people can gather and remember their loved ones.”

A dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine being administered in Dublin last month.
Credit…Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Ireland suspended use of the Covid-19 vaccine by Oxford-AstraZeneca on Sunday, citing reports of unusual blood clotting problems among people who recently received the shots in Norway.

The decision followed a new advisory from Norway on Saturday that four people given the AstraZeneca vaccine had experienced blood clotting issues and all had low platelet counts. Leading public health agencies, including the World Health Organization, point out that millions of people have received the vaccine without experiencing such blood clotting issues, and that experts have not found a causative link between any of the vaccines and the conditions.

Ireland’s health minister, Stephen Donnelly, said on Twitter that the suspension was a “precautionary step.”

Regulators like the European Medicines Agency are investigating whether there is evidence of any link.

AstraZeneca defended its vaccine on Sunday, saying that the company is continually monitoring its safety.

“Around 17 million people in the E.U. and U.K. have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population,” Ann Taylor, the company’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.

Prof. Karina Butler, the chairwoman of Ireland’s immunization advisory committee, said the panel’s recommendation was made while agencies were investigating. “We will continue to monitor the situation, and if we can be satisfied that these events are coincidental and not caused by this vaccine, we will reassess the situation.”

No such cases have been reported to Ireland’s medicine regulators, with over 117,000 doses of the vaccine administered in the country. Of the newest reports in Norway, one patient died from an unexpected brain hemorrhage, and the three others with severe cases of blood clots or brain hemorrhages were being treated in a hospital, according to the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

That agency issued an advisory for people under age 50 who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the past two weeks, and who feel increasingly unwell with several large blue patches on their skin more than three days after vaccination, to consult doctors or other medical advice as soon as possible.

Ireland joined other European countries in halting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the past week as a precaution because of concerns over the risk of blood clots. Thailand and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also delayed their rollouts of the vaccine in recent days. On Sunday, Italy’s northern region of Piedmont said it would temporarily stop administering the AstraZeneca vaccine, a day after a teacher there died after receiving the shot.

The European Medicines Agency, which is investigating the relationship, said Wednesday that 30 cases of obstructive blood clots had been reported in the nearly five million people who received the shot — a rate no higher than that seen in the general population — and that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the risks. AstraZeneca has said that its safety data of more than 10 million records does not show evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis.

In its statement, AstraZeneca also said that as of March 8, the company was aware of 15 reports of deep-vein thrombosis and 22 of pulmonary embolism among those who had received the vaccine across the European Union and Britain.

“This is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed Covid vaccines,” the company said.


In Milan, the police imposed one-way pedestrian paths on Sunday in the Darsena and Navigli area, one of the busiest parts of the city.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Italians enjoyed the last weekend outdoors before three-quarters of the population goes into a strict lockdown on Monday, when the government puts in place restrictive measures to fight the rise in coronavirus infections.

A more contagious variant first identified in Britain, combined with a slow vaccine rollout, led to a 15 percent increase in cases in Italy last week.

“I am aware that today’s measures will have an impact on children’s education, on the economy but also on the psychological state of us all,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Friday. “But they are necessary to avoid a worsening that will make inevitable even more stringent measures.”

Most regions in northern Italy, as well as Lazio and Marche in central Italy and Campania and Puglia in the south, will shut schools and forbid residents from leaving their homes except for work, health or necessity. Among business activities, only supermarkets, pharmacies and a few other stores will stay open, while restaurants will be closed.

In the rest of the country, residents will not be allowed to leave their municipality except for certain reasons, but schools and many stores will stay open.

“We believe that only with widespread vaccinations will we be able to avoid measures like these,” Mr. Draghi added.

Fewer than two million people in the country have been fully vaccinated so far, partly because of late deliveries from pharmaceutical companies, but also because of logistical problems in some regions. Italy, a country of about 60 million people, is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world: More than 3.2 million people have contracted the virus, more than 100,000 of whom have died.

Last Saturday, the government said it aimed to vaccinate at least 80 percent of the population by September. The plan, designed by an army general picked by Mr. Draghi for his expertise in logistics, envisioned administering up to 500,000 doses a day and also hiring junior doctors and dentists to give the injections in a variety of facilities, such as military barracks, production sites, schools and gyms.

According to a government document, vaccination capacity is expected to increase in coming months. Deliveries are set to rise from 15.7 million doses in the first quarter to 52.5 million from April to June, peaking at almost 85 million in the third quarter. After canceling or limiting supplies for weeks, Pfizer-BioNTech should increase deliveries in the near future, while AstraZeneca is still planning a slower rollout of vaccines to Italy. The Piedmont region, however, suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday, a precautionary measure pending investigations into the risk of blood clots.

The entire country will be on lockdown for the Easter weekend early next month to prevent the usual large family reunions. As with the restrictions at Christmas, people will still be allowed to leave their homes once a day.

In other news from around the world:

  • Spain on Sunday marked the first anniversary of the state of emergency that was declared during the pandemic’s early days, amid continued worries about the virus’s spread, divergent lockdown measures and some protests over its economic impact. Musicians, actors, theater technicians and other culture professionals held street demonstrations in several Spanish cities to protest the lack of support they say the sector has received. Since last March, the pandemic has killed more than 72,000 people in Spain — one of Europe’s highest death tolls — according to a New York Times database. But Spain’s numbers have improved since January, prompting some regions to ease restrictions. On Monday, northeastern Catalonia will allow more residents to travel across the region and stores will be allowed to open on weekends again.

  • In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Sunday that the country has to “use all weapons available to avoid a lockdown,” urging people to get vaccinated and tested for the virus. The French government has so far rejected pressure from health experts to institute a third national lockdown as cases and deaths climb, Reuters reported. The country has imposed a nationwide 6 p.m. curfew and weekend lockdowns in some regions where cases are spiking. On Saturday, the seven-day average of reported cases in France reached 23,273, up from 18,755 a month ago. “The situation is not getting better,” Mr. Castex said in an interview on the livestreaming platform Twitch.

Mike Nguyen looked at the anti-Asian graffiti defacing his restaurant in San Antonio on Sunday morning. Friends came later in the day to help him remove it.
Credit…Tyler Prince/214 Digital

A noodle restaurant in San Antonio was defaced with anti-Asian graffiti over the weekend, days after its owner publicly criticized the Texas governor’s decision to lift a statewide mask mandate.

Mike Nguyen, owner of the Noodle Tree restaurant, said an employee had texted him photographs of the vandalism on Sunday morning. The restaurant’s windows and outdoor furniture had been spray-painted in bright red with messages like “Kung Flu,” “Commie” and “Go back 2 China.”

Mr. Nguyen said he believed it was done in retaliation for comments he made on CNN on Thursday questioning Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to loosen restrictions in Texas.

“One hundred percent, they are connected,” he said. “Someone is trying to intimidate me or deter me from opening today.”

Noodle Tree opened anyway, and was serving customers Sunday afternoon as friends of Mr. Nguyen used glass cleaner and razor blades to scrape off the offensive messages.

“I am not even Chinese,” Mr. Nguyen, 33, said with a laugh. “I’m actually half Vietnamese, half French.”

The episode added to a pattern of anti-Asian discrimination, harassment and violence in the United States that has intensified since the pandemic began. Mr. Nguyen said he believed such behavior was even more widespread than reported.

“I’m sure other Asian-Americans are being attacked — they are just not reporting,” he said. “With this stuff, I’ve been through a lot worse.”

Mr. Nguyen said he received death threats through social media after his appearance on CNN, during which he said he thought ending the mask mandate was unnecessary, “selfish” and “cowardly.”

Leaving it up to businesses to tell their customers to wear masks was bound to cause conflict, he said on Sunday.

“But look,” he said, pointing to the friends who were helping to clean up the storefront. “This is what Texans do, this is what San Antonians do. We look out for each other.”

President Biden addressing the nation about the American Rescue Plan Act from the White House on Thursday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Stimulus payments have started to land in Americans’ bank accounts, just days after President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue bill into law.

The Internal Revenue Service announced on Friday that people would start receiving direct deposits over the weekend as the Biden administration rushes to get money to people who have been struggling throughout the pandemic. More batches will be sent out in the next few weeks, with some payments arriving by mail as checks or debit cards.

Johanna Suarez, a 21-year-old sophomore at Houston Community College, said she received her $1,400 payment on Saturday morning. She plans to use some of the money to buy books for school and pay for a dental procedure to remove her wisdom teeth.

Ms. Suarez said she needed the payment because her insurance does not cover dental costs. As an adult dependent, she qualified for the stimulus payment for the first time. (The previous two rounds of stimulus payments required dependents to be younger than 17 to be eligible, leaving out many college students.)

“The stimulus check was a little bit of a saving grace,” Ms. Suarez said.

Mr. Biden signed the pandemic relief bill, which prompted the payments, on Thursday afternoon. The payments provide up to $1,400 per individual, including dependents. The amounts are reduced for individuals making more than $75,000 and for married couples who earn more than $150,000. People earning more than $80,000 or couples making more than $160,000 are not eligible for payments.

David Gordon, 40, said he saw a post on Twitter about the stimulus payments and checked his bank account at about 8:30 a.m. on Saturday to find a $1,400 deposit in the account that he shares with his wife.

Mr. Gordon, an assistant attorney general for the state of Texas, used some of his payment to donate $400 to a charity organization that supports cyclists. He also spent about $250 on plants at a garden nursery after a recent winter storm destroyed the ones in his yard.

Although he said he was not an ardent supporter of Mr. Biden and his centrist positions, he said the payments were a “good thing for the country.”

Lilliana Cardiel, a 48-year-old supply chain manager at the University Medical Center of El Paso, said she received her payment at about 1 a.m. early Saturday. She was surprised to get her payment so early, after the last two rounds of stimulus checks took more than a week to arrive.

She put the $4,200 — which she received for her daughter, grandmother and herself — toward her savings account for emergencies. “I’ve been saving all of my stimulus checks,” Ms. Cardiel said. “It’s money I can count on.”

Recipients can check the status of their payments on the I.R.S. website starting Monday.

People wait to receive a dose of the Moderna vaccine at the Ingersoll Houses Community Center gym in Brooklyn last week.
Credit…Brittainy Newman for The New York Times

About 20 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot as the pace of inoculations in the United States sharply climbs. Here is a look at the vaccines that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and where some other vaccine candidates stand.

Three: from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer’s was the first, in December, with Moderna’s following shortly after; each is given in two shots spaced three to four weeks apart. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, authorized last month, is given in one dose.

Not yet. When it was authorized on Feb. 27, Biden administration officials cautioned that supplies would be limited for the first month, with 3.9 million shots initially and 16 million more by the end of March.

Johnson & Johnson pledged last year to deliver 37 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June, but it is still working on getting production up to that scale. A recent deal with Merck is meant to increase manufacturing and packaging capacity.

President Biden said last week that the federal government would order another 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s shot.

Novavax could apply for emergency use authorization for its two-shot vaccine in late April. It offers robust protection, though it was not as effective against a variant circulating rapidly in South Africa as it was against other versions. Novavax could deliver 110 million doses by the end of June if the F.D.A. clears the vaccine for use.

AstraZeneca, whose vaccine is authorized in more than 70 countries, has not yet reported results from its U.S. clinical trial, nor has it applied for authorization in the U.S.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, has run into some problems. European countries have suspended use of it over concerns about blood clots, although no evidence has been found of any causal link. Some people in Germany are also declining to receive it because of its lower overall efficacy in clinical trials, compared with other vaccines.

Mr. Biden said he would direct all states to expand eligibility to include every adult — roughly 260 million people — by May 1. No vaccine is authorized yet for children.




Yo-Yo Ma Plays Mini-Concert at Massachusetts Vaccination Site

The world-renowned cellist used the 15-minute observation period after receiving his second Covid-19 vaccine shot on Saturday to perform for others waiting at the Berkshire Community College site.

[cello music] [applause]

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The world-renowned cellist used the 15-minute observation period after receiving his second Covid-19 vaccine shot on Saturday to perform for others waiting at the Berkshire Community College site.CreditCredit…Bilal Hussein/Associated Press

The world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma gave a surprise concert on Saturday at a vaccination site in Massachusetts.

Mr. Ma, 65, who lives in the Berkshires part time, was spending 15 minutes in observation after receiving his second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Mass. He “wanted to give something back,” Richard Hall of the Berkshire Covid-19 Vaccine Collaborative told The Berkshire Eagle.

Clips shared on Facebook by the community college show the masked musician seated with his cello against a wall, away from other people under observation after being vaccinated. The songs included “Ave Maria” and Bach’s Prelude in G Major.

His post-vaccination performance came one year to the day after he first posted on Twitter about his project #SongsOfComfort, sharing a recording of himself playing Dvorak in an effort to reassure an anxious public as lockdowns began in the United States and elsewhere. Other musicians, both professional and amateur, soon joined in. In December, Ma and the British pianist Kathryn Stott released “Songs of Comfort and Hope,” an album that was inspired by the project.

Last year, Mr. Ma also gave a series of pop-up performances with the classical pianist Emanuel Ax for small groups of bus drivers, firefighters, health care providers and other essential workers in the Berkshires region.

“People need each other for support beyond the immediate staples of life,” Mr. Ma told The New York Times in November. “They need music.”

Vaccine trials are underway at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, South Africa. Pharmaceutical companies conduct relatively few trials in poorer countries.
Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times

The revelation last month that a coronavirus variant in South Africa was dampening the effect of one of the world’s most potent vaccines was a sobering one.

That finding — from a South African trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot — exposed how quickly the virus had managed to dodge human antibodies, ending what some researchers have described as the world’s honeymoon period with Covid-19 vaccines and setting back hopes for containing the pandemic.

As countries adjust to that jarring turn of fortune, the story of how scientists uncovered the dangers of the variant in South Africa has put a spotlight on the global vaccine trials that were indispensable in warning the world.

“Historically, people might have thought a problem in a country like South Africa would stay in South Africa,” said Mark Feinberg, the chief executive of IAVI, a nonprofit scientific research group. “But we’ve seen how quickly variants are cropping up all around the world. Even wealthy countries have to pay a lot of attention to the evolving landscape all around the world.”

Once afterthoughts in the vaccine race, those global trials have saved the world from sleepwalking into year two of the coronavirus, oblivious to the way the pathogen could blunt the body’s immune response, scientists said. They also hold lessons about how vaccine makers can fight new variants this year and redress longstanding health inequities.

The deck is often stacked against medicine trials in poorer countries: Drug and vaccine makers gravitate to their biggest commercial markets, often avoiding the expense and the uncertainty of testing products in the global south. Less than 3 percent of clinical trials are held in Africa.

Yet the emergence of new variants in South Africa and Brazil has shown that vaccine makers cannot afford to wait years, as they often used to, before testing whether shots made for rich countries work in poorer ones, too.

“If you don’t identify and react to what’s happening in some supposedly far-flung continent, it significantly impacts global health,” said Clare Cutland, a vaccine scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who coordinated the Oxford trial. “These results highlighted to the world that we’re not dealing with a single pathogen that sits there and does nothing — it’s constantly mutating.”

Despite offering minimal protection against mild or moderate cases caused by the variant in South Africa, the Oxford vaccine is likely to keep those patients from becoming severely ill, averting a surge of hospitalizations and deaths. Lab studies have generated a mix of hopeful and more worrisome results about how much the variant interferes with Pfizer and Moderna’s shots.

Nevertheless, vaccine makers are racing to test updated booster shots. And countries are trying to isolate cases of the variant, which the South African trials showed may also be able to reinfect people.

So long as the Oxford vaccine and others prevent severe disease, even in cases of the variant, the world can live with the virus, scientists said. But the trial in South Africa nevertheless underscored the need to stamp out the virus before it mutates further. Without it, scientists said, the world could have been blind to what was coming.