Covid-19: Live Updates on Vaccine, Variant and Booster Shots
Senators Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, Angus King, independent of Maine, and John Hickenlooper, Democrat of Colorado, said on Thursday that they had tested positive for the coronavirus, adding to the number of breakthrough cases among lawmakers.
“Senator Wicker is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, is in good health and is being treated by his Tupelo-based physician,” his spokesman, Phillip Waller, said in a statement released by his office, adding that the senator was experiencing only mild symptoms.
The announcement from Mr. Wicker came as his home state has shattered previous records for new cases this week, and is now reporting more new cases relative to its population than any other state in the country. Mississippi is averaging 118 new cases a day for every 100,000 people, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
Mr. King’s statement said he was symptomatic but taking recommended precautions.
“While I am not feeling great, I’m definitely feeling much better than I would have without the vaccine,” he said. “I am taking this diagnosis very seriously, quarantining myself at home and telling the few people I’ve been in contact with to get tested in order to limit any further spread.”
Mr. Hickenlooper said on Twitter that he was experiencing limited symptoms and expressed gratitude to scientists who had developed the vaccine. He also encouraged vaccinated people to get booster shots in accordance with a plan that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week.
The Senate is in recess this week after adjourning early last Wednesday, leaving it unclear whether any of the men had been in recent contact with other lawmakers, as well as when or where they were first exposed. Their diagnoses brings to 11 the number of senators who have tested positive so far, according to news reports compiled by Ballotpedia, a political data website; more than 50 members of the House have tested positive.
Several other vaccinated politicians have recently announced breakthrough cases of their own, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said he tested positive for the virus after attending a gathering hosted by Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas tested positive and began receiving an antibody treatment, highlighting both the growing concerns over breakthrough cases in the United States and the political tensions over public health measures that Mr. Abbott has consistently opposed in his home state.
While Mr. Wicker has encouraged his constituents to get vaccinated and has applauded the national vaccination effort in official statements, he has also resisted elements of the Biden administration’s coronavirus response. In June, he introduced a resolution calling on the C.D.C. to end a mask mandate for vaccinated people on public transportation.
As the Delta variant spreads aggressively, infections in vaccinated people have been seen more frequently, though they are still rare. The surge and the rising frequency of breakthrough infections have prompted agencies to extend public health measures. The Transportation Security Administration said on Tuesday that the mask mandate would remain in effect on public transportation through Jan. 18.
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this item referred incorrectly to John Hickenlooper’s elected office. He is a senator, no longer a governor.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The Africa director at the World Health Organization, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, criticized the decisions by some wealthy nations to start administering coronavirus booster shots, saying the decisions “make a mockery of vaccine equity” when the African continent is still struggling to get vaccine supplies.
African countries continue to lag far behind other continents in inoculations, with only 2 percent of the continent’s 1.3 billion people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 so far. Though vaccine shipments have accelerated in recent weeks, African nations are still not getting nearly enough to meet their needs, Dr. Moeti said.
Instead of offering additional doses to their already fully vaccinated citizens, she said, rich countries should give priority to poor nations, some of which are being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Moves by some countries globally to introduce booster shots threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Africa,” Dr. Moeti said in an online news conference on Thursday. “As some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery of vaccine equity.”
The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on booster shots until the end of September to free up vaccine supplies for low-income nations. But several wealthy nations have said they would not wait that long. In the United States, the Biden administration said on Wednesday that it would provide booster shots to most Americans beginning as soon as Sept. 20. France and Germany also said they plan to offer shots to vulnerable populations, and Israel has already given third shots to more than a million residents.
President Biden said in a television interview broadcast on Thursday that he and his wife, Jill Biden, plan to get booster shots themselves, assuming federal regulators give the go-ahead.
Mr. Biden defended offering Americans an additional shot when many countries were struggling to deliver initial doses to their populations.
“We’re providing more to the rest of the world than all the rest of the world combined,” Mr. Biden said in the interview on ABC. “We’re keeping our part of the bargain.”
Africa has so far reported more than 7.3 million cases and 184,000 deaths from the coronavirus, according to the W.H.O. The virus is now surging in about two dozen African nations, pushing many governments to impose lockdowns, extend overnight curfews, close schools and limit public gatherings.
Health experts say the more contagious Delta variant, first detected in India, is responsible for most of the current spread on the continent. “While it took eight months for Alpha to spread to 30 countries, Delta has done so in half that time — only four months,” Dr. Moeti said, comparing Delta to a variant first detected in Britain.
Several African countries are also dealing with outbreaks of other diseases. This week, Ivory Coast confirmed its first Ebola case in almost 30 years. Guinea reported a case of the Marburg virus, the first ever found in West Africa. Uganda, which just emerged from a 42-day coronavirus lockdown, announced a polio outbreak.
Dr. Moeti urged wealthy nations to “rethink the idea of boosters” because of the danger that more dangerous variants will arise as the virus spreads in unvaccinated populations.
“Failure to vaccinate the most at-risk groups in all countries will result in needless deaths,” she said. “We say this every week, and it cannot be repeated enough.”
Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.
A small school district in Los Angeles County will require older students to be vaccinated for Covid-19 if they’re eligible, the district’s superintendent said in a letter to families this week.
Although California educators have already been ordered to be vaccinated or else face regular testing, the Culver City Unified School District is believed to be the first in the state — and possibly the nation — to require students 12 and older to be inoculated.
More mandates could be on the way after the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to the vaccine and allows children under 12 to get it. Both decisions are expected in the coming weeks.
The district also expanded masking requirements for some students and staff members and will require weekly Covid testing for both students and employees, regardless of their vaccine status.
The announcement came just before the start of the district’s school year on Thursday and in the midst of nationwide tumult over how to safely bring children — including millions who are too young to be eligible for vaccines — back to classrooms as the Delta variant of the coronavirus rages.
New cases and rising hospitalizations across the country have thrown into disarray what many hoped would be a fresh start, particularly in California, where many students had spent more than a year learning from home.
In California, successfully reopening schools has also become a political imperative for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall effort fueled in part by parents’ frustrations over prolonged school closures. In recent weeks, he has framed vaccine and indoor mask mandates at schools and other workplaces as prudent, science-driven precautions that his chief rivals, like the conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, would immediately remove.
The biggest California teachers’ unions supported the state’s vaccine mandate for educators, although some, like the large and powerful United Teachers Los Angeles, said that other measures were needed, too, and pointed to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s requirement for students and staff to be tested regularly.
Los Angeles Unified is one of the nation’s largest school districts with more than 628,000 students spread across 710 square miles.
Culver City Unified, by contrast, has around 7,100 students. According to local public health data, about 87 percent of Culver City’s 35,400 residents over the age of 12 have been vaccinated, one of the highest rates in Los Angeles County.
School administrators were working to figure out the best way to administer the required tests, the district said, and proof of vaccination would be due on Nov. 19.
“As we have all learned, we may need to change quickly to adapt to new information,” Quoc Tran, the district’s superintendent, said in the message to families. “We are excited to have everyone back for a safe school experience.”
The Los Angeles City Council passed on Wednesday a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for nearly 60,000 city workers, including police officers and firefighters, that did not include an option for regular testing.
Other major cities, states, companies, health care systems and the federal government have all passed different vaccine rules. But many, including New York City’s, allow people to skip the shots as long as they are regularly tested for the coronavirus.
Los Angeles’s rule, and one recently announced for much of Seattle’s municipal workforce, removes that option. Los Angeles will only allow medical or religious exemptions.
The vaccine mandate in Los Angeles reflects a broader trend toward harsher measures, from the White House down, to push the Americans who are still not vaccinated to get the shots as the Delta variant ravages the United States.
In much of the country cases and hospitalizations have reached levels not seen since last winter, and only 51 percent of the population is vaccinated so far, according to federal data.
Los Angeles, the second most populous U.S. city, was one of the hardest-hit parts of the country last winter, according to a New York Times database. Cases and hospitalizations have climbed sharply from their lows earlier this summer, but are still a fraction of their winter peaks.
Los Angeles County issued a vaccination requirement without a testing option for its 110,000 employees earlier this month.
The president of the Los Angeles City Council, Nury Martinez, said in an emailed statement that 42 city employees had died from Covid-19 and that requiring vaccinations was the right thing to do.
“How can we ask Angelenos to get vaccinated if we won’t ask it of our employees?” Ms. Martinez said. “No resident should be nervous that the city servant they are dealing with is unvaccinated and putting their health and possibly life at risk, and no city employee should have to worry about getting sick from their co-worker.”
The vaccine mandate ordinance still needs to be signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti to become law, but Harrison Wollman, the mayor’s press secretary, said on Thursday that the mayor would sign it soon. Once it is signed, city employees will have until Oct. 19 to be completely inoculated against the coronavirus.
“We need to do everything in our power to protect the health and safety of those who keep our City running and the Angelenos who rely on the services they provide every day,” Mr. Garcetti said in a statement. “This requirement is the surest way to achieve that and set an example for others to follow.”
The ordinance does not yet specify penalties for workers who do not comply. Ms. Martinez said that the city was negotiating with the many different unions that represent city workers about the proper penalties, but said she hoped that it would not involve the possibility of firing workers who do not comply.
Unions across the country have struggled to balance their workers’ safety with their workplace rights, and many of them support vaccines but oppose mandates.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, a union that represents nearly 10,000 members of the Los Angeles Police Department, said in a statement from its board of directors that the union was “extremely disappointed” with the new rule.
Parents of young children with disabilities are suing Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas over his ban on mask mandates in public schools, arguing that the executive order, signed in July, prevents their medically at-risk children from being able to attend school safely.
The federal lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas, opens another legal battlefront over pandemic policy in the state. Mr. Abbott’s ban suffered a series of setbacks in lower state courts before the State Supreme Court sided with him on Sunday, ruling that he had the authority to impose such a ban. The court has still to issue a final ruling on the ban’s validity.
President Biden announced this week that the Education Department would use its broad powers — including possible legal action — to deter states like Texas from barring universal mask mandates in classrooms.
The new lawsuit contends that Mr. Abbott’s ban violates federal anti-discrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504, which prohibit the exclusion of students with disabilities from public education. If the suit is successful, Dustin Rynders, a lawyer for Disability Rights Texas, believes that the case could set a national precedent.
“I think a victory in any court will give school districts a sense of ease in doing what they need to do to protect students,” Mr. Rynders said.
The state has had a consistently hard-line approach against Covid restrictions in schools, but in a reversal, the Texas Education Agency issued new guidance Thursday that requires schools to notify their local health department if a student tests positive. The school must then also notify students in the same classroom as well as extra curricular activities.
In response to questions about the lawsuit, Governor Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze wrote in an emailed statement that the governor “cares deeply about the health and safety of disabled students, as he does for all Texas students,” but did not otherwise address the issues the suit raised.
The office of the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, did not immediately respond to repeated requests for comment.
Mr. Paxton has defended the ban in state court, saying that “the Texas Disaster Act clearly states that the governor has the power to guide the state through emergencies, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Mr. Rynders said that the Americans with Disabilities Act’s broad protections apply even during emergencies, noting that shelters opened during natural disasters are required to be accessible to the disabled.
With Covid-19 cases soaring in Texas because of the Delta variant, Mr. Rynders said, parents face an “impossible” choice: risk their children’s health by sending them to school, or risk educational deprivation by keeping them home.
The 14 plaintiffs in the lawsuit are all children under 12, an age group that is not eligible for vaccination yet. One is Juliana Ramirez, 8. Her mother, Julia Longoria, said Juliana had been begging to go back to her school in San Antonio. Juliana had panic attacks during the pandemic, and her ADHD made her increasingly disengaged from online learning. But Juliana has asthma, and Ms. Longoria is immunocompromised, making a coronavirus infection especially dangerous for them both.
“We could just not send her to school, but that’s just denying her an education,” Ms. Longoria said. “There really wasn’t a good option. Every option put her at risk in some way.”
Ms. Longoria said she was “terrified” for her daughter. She believes masks, along with other safety protocols, would help prevent her daughter from getting sick.
Another plaintiff is Stephanie Paresky’s 8-year-old son, who has spina bifida, epilepsy, ADHD and bronchiectasis, a chronic lung condition that makes him vulnerable to infections.
During virtual learning, Ms. Paresky, a resident of Richardson, said her son fell behind in reading and math because he didn’t receive the same level of one-on-one services as he had before the pandemic. When the new school year began this month, she sent him back to his public school, which is requiring masks in defiance of the governor’s orders. His doctors told her he would not be able to attend safely if masks were not being worn.
Lawyers with Disability Rights Texas said they were confident of a favorable result in the case. But Mr. Paxton, the state attorney general, has said that he would continue to defend the governor’s mask-mandate ban, saying that “any school district, public university, or local government official that decides to defy the order will be taken to court.”
With I.C.U. beds filling up and the Delta variant of the coronavirus fueling a surge in new cases, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon announced on Thursday that all health care workers and school employees in the state will have to be fully vaccinated.
The move tightens the policy that Governor Brown, a Democrat, announced on Aug. 10, which allowed health care workers to work without being vaccinated if they were tested regularly. Faced with a worsening surge, Ms. Brown’s new policy takes away that option.
With an eye on the new academic year, Ms. Brown said all teachers, other staff members and volunteers in elementary and secondary schools must be fully vaccinated in order to protect young children and to prevent the mass student quarantines needed recently in the South.
The requirements take effect Oct. 18, or six weeks after the vaccines are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, whichever comes first.
“Our kids need to be protected, and they need to be in school,” Governor Brown said at a news conference, noting that children under 12 were not yet eligible for coronavirus vaccination. “And that’s why I’m willing to take the heat for this decision.”
Vaccine mandates have become a tense political battleground across the country, with about one-quarter of states — generally those led by Republicans — banning vaccine requirements for public employees, according to the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. In recent weeks, some Democratic officials have amped up pressure by requiring the shots for some workers.
Later on Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut announced that starting Sept. 27, long-term-care employees and state employees in hospital facilities must be vaccinated, while all other state employees, including teachers, will have to either be vaccinated or regularly tested. On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington announced vaccine requirements for all teachers and personnel in public, charter and private schools as a condition of employment.
Health officials in California ordered earlier this month that more than two million health care workers in the state would have to be inoculated, largely removing a regular-testing option.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California has allowed teachers in the state’s public and private schools to choose between vaccination and regular testing. City school systems in Los Angeles and Chicago have gone further, requiring staff vaccination with exemptions limited to people with disabling medical conditions or sincerely held religious objections.
Ms. Brown announced a statewide indoor mask mandate in Oregon last week, which took effect on Friday. Everyone older than 5 must now wear a mask in most indoor settings; children older than 2 must wear them on public transportation.
Ms. Brown noted on Thursday that more than 93 percent of Oregon’s hospital and I.C.U. beds were full, and emphasized that the patients hospitalized or dying from Covid-19 were overwhelmingly unvaccinated.
While more than half of Oregon residents are fully vaccinated, new cases have surged in the state to a daily average of 1,925 as of Wednesday, from 280 a month ago, according to a New York Times database. Governor Brown said that 845 Oregonians were hospitalized with severe cases of Covid-19, including 226 in intensive care.
“We are all at risk right now,” she said. “When our hospitals are full, there may not be a staffed bed for you if you have an unexpected medical emergency. When ambulances have nowhere to go, people die preventable deaths.”
The country superstar Garth Brooks has canceled his next five stadium tour dates, the latest and biggest concerts to be pulled as the touring industry scrambles in response to rising coronavirus infection rates.
“In July, I sincerely thought the pandemic was falling behind us,” Brooks said in a statement on Wednesday, four days after performing for about 90,000 fans in Lincoln, Neb. “Now, watching this new wave, I realize we are still in the fight and I must do my part.”
The tour, which had already played five cities over the last month, is canceling dates in Cincinnati, which had been scheduled for Sept. 18; Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 25; Baltimore, on Oct. 2; Foxborough, Mass., on Oct. 9; and one makeup date for a rained-out show in Nashville that had not been scheduled yet. Tickets will be refunded automatically, according to the statement.
Brooks’s announcement came after a slew of cancellations by artists including Stevie Nicks, Limp Bizkit, Korn and Lynyrd Skynyrd; the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, planned for October, was also shut down. The Detroit Jazz Festival, planned as an in-person event from Sept. 3 to 6, announced this week that it would “pivot to a virtual format” of livestreams.
For now, much of the concert industry is keeping its touring plans intact, and setting a variety of safety protocols for attendees as well as for the workers who run concert venues and manage touring productions. Live Nation and AEG Presents, the two corporations that dominate most of the touring and festival business, have each announced that their venues will require proof of vaccination or a negative test for attendees and staff, although that still leaves uncertainty about much of the business beyond their control.
New York City police officials, confronting a lagging vaccination rate among officers even as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in the city, warned officers that they would discipline unvaccinated personnel who do not wear masks while on duty.
The policy, which was announced in a bulletin this week and which the New York Post first reported on Wednesday, comes less than a month before a city mandate takes effect requiring city workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to weekly testing.
New York’s Police Department appears to have one of the lowest vaccination rates among city agencies. As of this week, about 47 percent of the department’s 36,000 uniformed and 15,000 civilian employees have been vaccinated, said Detective Annette Shelton, a spokeswoman.
As such, the mask guidance issued this week will likely apply to a large part of the police force.
Ms. Shelton said that officers who did not submit proof that they were vaccinated would be required to “wear a face covering at all times while working,” whether inside, outside or driving in police vehicles.
Those officers who did not comply would face “appropriate disciplinary action,” she said. She and other Police Department representatives did not respond to questions about what penalties officers might face.
The city’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, did not respond to requests for comment on the department’s guidance. It has also so far declined to comment on the city’s vaccine mandate, even as other unions have expressed opposition.
Eliza Shapiro contributed reporting.
All of the vaccines authorized in the United States provide strong protection against severe disease and death from Covid-19.
But the federal government’s recent booster recommendation was based on data suggesting that the protection provided by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines against infection and mild disease has been waning over time, officials said on Wednesday.
“Even though this new data affirms that vaccine protection remains high against the worst outcomes of Covid,” Dr. Murthy said at the briefing, “we are concerned that this pattern of decline we are seeing will continue in the months ahead, which could lead to reduced protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death.”
But less data is available on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was not authorized until the end of February, two months after Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the mRNA vaccines. (The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a modified adenovirus to deliver its instructions to human cells.) In addition, Johnson & Johnson vaccinations were temporarily paused while health officials investigated reports that a very small number of people had developed a rare blood-clotting condition after receiving the vaccine.
More than 150 million Americans have gotten mRNA vaccines, far exceeding the 14 million who have received the Johnson & Johnson shot, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Without robust data on the long-term effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it is hard for health officials to recommend boosters, said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. “If you’re doing data-driven decisions and you don’t have the data, what can you do?” he said. “This is sort of the dilemma. Public confidence in vaccines generally depends on seeing how the sausage is made, seeing that it is a data-driven, transparent process.”
New York’s digital vaccine app, the Excelsior Pass, will likely cost far more than originally expected, with projected costs nearing $27 million, according to newly obtained documents shared with The New York Times.
The pass is stepping into the spotlight this week as restaurants, museums, gyms and other indoor venues in New York City are asking customers — often for the first time — to show proof of at least one vaccine dose as part of a new city mandate.
More than 3.5 million people have already retrieved an Excelsior Pass, which consists of a QR code that can be stored on a smartphone or printed out, the state said. The app verifies applications against city and state vaccination records, and the code is generated the day after someone is considered fully vaccinated, which is 15 days after the final shot.
Through a Freedom of Information Request, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, an advocacy group that has expressed concern about the privacy and security implications of vaccine passports, received the latest contract between the state and I.B.M., which is developing the app.
In June, the advocacy group provided The Times with the original version of the contract between the state and I.B.M., which estimated the total cost of the project would be $17 million over three years. Even that was far more than the $2.5 million in development costs that Mr. Cuomo and his staff had publicly mentioned when announcing the arrival of the nation’s first government-sponsored digital app that verifies proof of vaccination.
The updated version of the contract, signed by the state’s Office of Information Technology Services in late June, adds up to another $10 million. New York, the contract states, had already incurred an extra $656,421 in charges for technical support and updates. And a Phase 2 of the project, which was mentioned but not described in detail in the original contract, ended up costing more than double than estimated, rising to $4.7 million from $2.2 million.
“We always said that Excelsior Pass would be a high-tech distraction from real public health measures, but we had no idea the price would go up this high,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the advocacy group’s executive director. “Even as New Yorkers find themselves on the hook for millions more, the app still isn’t able to do a lot of the basics.”
The governor’s office defended the contract, noting that it would only spend the full amount if the program continued to be successful. It said that so far the state had only spent a fraction of the total amount.
“The state amended the upper limit of the contract so we have the option — only to be undertaken if the pass continues to be a success — to further expand the pass’s critical role in supporting New York State’s economic recovery, including the potential to connect with neighboring states whose residents travel in and out of New York routinely as they live, work, and play,” said Jason Gough, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The contract lists some of the issues that software engineers were called in to fix, such as incorrect error messages and crashes. Engineers added foreign language capability, access for the visually impaired and, to address a common problem, made it so the phone number entered by a user does not need to match what is listed in the vaccine registries. The fixes are ongoing. Not until June, the contract indicates, did the app make it possible for someone who has periods in their name (like T.J.) to retrieve a pass.
Some users are still having trouble finding their passes, sometimes because the registries have outdated information listed, like an old ZIP code. In order to find a person’s vaccination record, the app checks his or her name, date of birth, ZIP code and county of vaccination against the vaccine registry, and nearly all information must match. Some 4 percent of users who tried to get passes in the app’s opening months were unable to, the state said.
Phase 2 of the contract included the development of what the state has called Excelsior Pass Plus, which launched on Aug. 4. The main enhancement of the Plus pass is that it now includes the date, place and type of vaccination in the QR code, instead of just verifying that a person is vaccinated. That information will be shared when the app is scanned, but it allows for a wider range of places to use it as vaccination proof.
American Airlines is accepting the pass for travel to some international destinations. Both the original and the Plus pass also allow users to show results of P.C.R. and antigen tests, the state said. About 400,000 Plus passes have been issued to date, the state said.
For now, both types of Excelsior passes are only available for people vaccinated in New York, and New York residents vaccinated out of state who ask their health care providers to upload that information to the New York vaccine registries.
But the contract lays out a new, previously undisclosed Phase 3, which is projected to cost $6.7 million. By this summer, the contract states, the app was expected to add the ability to track third doses. It was also to begin including data from New Jersey and Vermont, presumably to allow more people vaccinated in those states to get passes.
Mr. Gough, the governor’s spokesman, said that the extension to other states had not happened yet, so that money had not been spent. He also noted that the money so far spent on the program was expected to be reimbursed by the federal government.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican in a deeply blue state who has so far resisted issuing a mask mandate or vaccination requirement for schools, came under pressure this week for stricter regulations from the state’s largest teachers’ union.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association board of directors voted on Tuesday, 46 to 4, to adopt a vaccine requirement for all eligible students and staff, following up on a unanimous vote August 1 in favor of a mask mandate. The union’s president, Merrie Najimy, noted that Governor Baker has resisted taking these steps.
“Educators and our unions are doing everything in our power to ensure that public schools and colleges can open safely,” she said. “We continue to be alarmed by the failure of state political leaders to follow our example.”
She added, “it’s as if Governor Baker” and other state education officials “have learned nothing over the past year and a half.”
Governor Baker is facing a drumbeat of pressure on masking requirements; some of his fellow Republican governors in conservative states like Texas, Florida and Arizona have put up far stronger resistance, by issuing bans on mask and vaccine mandates.
Polling suggests strong support for a school mask mandate in the state, with 81 percent of Massachusetts voters in favor of the idea, and just 12 percent opposing it, according a survey released Thursday by The MassINC Polling Group.
Governor Baker, a Republican, has said he prefers to leave masking decisions to local officials, who “know these communities best.”
“Different communities are in different places,” he told WGBH, a radio station. “You have some communities in Massachusetts where 85 to 95 percent of all the kids and the middle and high school are vaccinated. You have many other districts in Massachusetts where the numbers are far, far smaller.”
On Thursday afternoon, however, Governor Baker announced a strict vaccine mandate for 42,000 state government workers, requiring them to show proof of vaccination by mid-October.
The United States has requested that the United Nations scale back the annual General Assembly meeting in New York next month, making it a mostly virtual gathering, to avoid the “superspreader” infection risks posed by the pandemic’s highly contagious Delta variant.
The request, made in a diplomatic note sent by the U.S. Mission to the other members of the global organization, appeared to assure that the world’s biggest diplomatic gathering would be similar to the mostly virtual one held in 2020, or perhaps be even more restricted.
The General Assembly meeting, which starts in mid-September, historically has been one of the busiest events at the United Nations headquarters, with heads of state and government from around the world converging in New York with their diplomatic entourages. The influx of V.I.P.’s creates enormous security challenges for the New York Police Department and routinely paralyzes traffic in Manhattan.
Though the United States is the host country, it does not dictate which foreign leaders visit the United Nations to address the General Assembly in what is known as the General Debate. But the organization defers to the host government authorities on matters of health requirements.
U.N. officials said earlier in the summer that the session in September, the 76th General Assembly, would be much more like the prepandemic version, with at least some foreign leaders attending the General Debate in person and many side events, conferences and social gatherings held face to face.
But as the risks posed by the rapidly spreading Delta variant have grown — even to people who have been fully vaccinated — the United States government has turned more cautious.
“The United States, as the host country of the U.N. Headquarters, bears a significant responsibility and we need your support to prevent UNGA 76 High-Level Week from being a superspreader event,” said the U.S. Mission’s diplomatic note, which was seen by The New York Times.
‘In light of current health concerns, heads of delegation should consider delivering their statements to the U. N. General Assembly’s General Debate by video,” the note said.
The note acknowledged that U.N. officials had put precautions in place including mandatory use of face masks and social distancing, and had given the leaders of all 193 members the option of delivering speeches by prerecorded video.
Nonetheless, the note said, “the United States needs to make clear our call, as the host country, for all U.N.-hosted meetings and side events, beyond the General Debate, to be fully virtual.”
It further recommended that the United Nations strengthen what has been an honor system for visitors to declare themselves virus free, saying the organization should require “confirmed negative Covid-19 status to enter U. N. Headquarters, and, if possible, vaccination.”
Should countries wish to send delegations next month, the note said, the United States requested that they be reduced to “the minimum number of travelers necessary.”
It remained unclear on Thursday whether President Biden would make his first General Assembly speech in person. Officials at the U.S. Mission said they had no information on Mr. Biden’s plans.
Paralympic officials in Tokyo on Thursday reported the first confirmed coronavirus case in the Olympic Village, five days before the Games are set to open.
The Olympic Village case is one of 16 total associated with the Paralympics so far.
The early Paralympic cases come as both Japan and Tokyo, the capital, are reporting record daily new cases. On Tuesday, the Japanese government extended the state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions until Sept. 12, a week after the end of the Paralympic Games. It also declared an emergency in seven more prefectures.
During the Olympic Games, which lasted from July 23 to Aug. 8, organizers recorded more than 500 cases within the so-called Olympic bubble. Only three of those people were admitted to the hospital, and no severe cases arose among those directly connected to the Olympics. Visitors from overseas were asked to travel only between their hotels and competition venues for their first 14 days in Japan, and athletes and others were tested daily. Those who tested positive were put into isolation and some athletes were even sidelined after a positive test. Paralympic athletes are expected to be under similar restrictions.
Just as with the Olympics, the Paralympics will allow almost no spectators, although the Tokyo organizers have said that they hope to admit limited numbers of students to some events. At a news conference this week, Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo organizing committee, said that organizers were implementing “watertight measures” to avoid large outbreaks.
There wasn’t a single I.C.U. bed available in Alabama on Wednesday, a possible sign of what other states may confront soon amid a deadly surge of new infections in parts of the United States with low vaccination rates.
I.C.U. beds, where hospitals’ critically ill patients are treated, are filling up across Southern states, and Alabama is one of the first to run out. The Alabama Hospital Association said on Wednesday night that there were “negative 29” I.C.U. beds available in the state, meaning there were more than two dozen people being forced to wait in emergency rooms for an open I.C.U. bed.
The situation has grown desperate in Alabama, one of several states reporting a wave of cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates.
In the week ending Aug. 12, one in five American I.C.U.s had reached or exceeded 95 percent of beds full. The crisis is concentrated in the South, with small pockets of high occupancy elsewhere in the country. The national average I.C.U. occupancy in 2010 was 67 percent, according to the Society of Critical Care Medicine, though the occupancy baseline changes depending on the place, time of year and size of hospital.
During other surges across the country, hospitals have been forced to improvise, expanding capacity by creating new I.C.U.s in areas normally used for other purposes, like cardiac or neurological care, and even hallways or spare rooms. Experts say maintaining existing standards of care for the sickest patients may be difficult or impossible at hospitals with more than 95 percent I.C.U. occupancy.
Alabama has never before faced this sort of I.C.U. crisis during the pandemic, the state health officer, Dr. Scott Harris, said on Wednesday in a television interview with WSFA12 News. Such patients are still being treated elsewhere in hospitals, including in “perhaps a regular room on a floor that’s been converted into an I.C.U.,” he said.
But the strain on hospitals threatens to overwhelm staff already stretched thin and endanger the quality of care for non-Covid patients, he said.
“In most parts of the state, the average person who has a heart attack today or is involved in a serious automobile accident, it’s going to be difficult,” Dr. Harris said. “The hospitals are going to have to be real creative in finding a place to be able to care for that patient.”
Last week, at least two hospitals in Houston were so overwhelmed with virus patients that officials erected overflow tents outside. Elsewhere in Texas, in Austin, hospitals were nearly out of beds in their intensive care units. And in San Antonio, cases reached levels not seen in months, with children as young as 2 months old tethered to supplemental oxygen.
Arkansas hospitals were also close to capacity.
Only 47 percent of people in Alabama are at least partially vaccinated, far lower than the national rate of 60 percent, according to a New York Times database.
On Monday, the seven-day hospitalization average hit 2,603, up from a low of 252 on June 26. Only January’s numbers were higher, when the seven-day average peaked at more than 3,300 on Jan. 10.
Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama said last month that the surge in new cases was attributable to the large number of people who remain unvaccinated. On Friday, she reinstated Alabama’s state of emergency, which had expired in early July, in an effort to expand hospital capacity.
Dan Levin contributed reporting.