Covid-19 Live Updates – The New York Times
A Florida court on Friday rejected an effort by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials to prevent mask mandates in schools during the state’s worst Covid-19 outbreak yet.
Judge John C. Cooper of the state’s Second Judicial Circuit said that Florida’s school districts may impose strict mask mandates on students to curb the spread of the coronavirus, handing a defeat to Governor DeSantis, whose administration has vehemently insisted on leaving masking decisions to children’s parents.
In a lengthy ruling from the bench, Judge Cooper sided with parents of students in various school districts who had argued that Florida’s Constitution requires keeping schoolchildren safe and secure, and masks would help accomplish that in a pandemic. Florida had previously indicated that it would appeal any adverse ruling to a more conservative appellate court.
Lawyers for Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, and the Florida Department of Education had countered that a “parents’ bill of rights” enacted by state lawmakers earlier this year gave parents the right to decide if their child should wear a mask. Judge Cooper disagreed, saying the new law “doesn’t ban mask mandates” and in fact gives school districts the discretion to impose them.
“I’m a parent — parents’ rights are very important,” Judge Cooper said. “But they’re not without some reasonable limitation, depending upon safety, reasonableness and a compelling state need.”
In a statement, the Department of Education said it would appeal.
Join Dr. Anthony Fauci and Times journalists (who are parents themselves) for a vital Q&A session for parents, educators and students everywhere.
“We are immensely disappointed that the ruling issued today by the Second Judicial Circuit discards the rule of law,” said Jared M. Ochs, a spokesman. “This decision conflicts with basic and established rights of parents to make private health care and education decisions for children.”
The ruling, delivered over nearly two hours on Friday, came after a high-profile trial was held via Zoom over the course of four days this week. At one point, more than 2,000 people watched Judge Cooper deliver his ruling in a livestream on YouTube.
Judge Cooper granted an injunction against the Department of Education — but not the governor — blocking it from punishing local school boards. Florida had threatened to withhold funding from two school districts, Alachua and Broward, which were the first to impose strict mask mandates, in an amount equal to school board members’ monthly salaries.
Other Republican governors who have banned school mask mandates, including Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, are also facing legal challenges.
Florida is experiencing its worst moment of the pandemic after a brutal summer surge fueled by the Delta variant that has left more people testing positive for, hospitalized with and dying from the virus than ever before. More children in the state are hospitalized with Covid-19 than at any other point. This week in Orange County, where Orlando is, children between the ages of 5 and 14 made up about 20 percent of new virus cases.
Classes have started over the past few weeks, prompting 10 of the state’s 67 countywide school districts, covering about half of the state’s 2.8 million students, to defy the state and require masks with limited medical exemptions. Other districts made masks voluntary or allowed parents to opt out for any reason.
Florida has allowed parents to apply for private school vouchers if they consider mask mandates to be “harassment” of their children.
Half of the 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States have gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, announced on Friday, a promising development in a group that has been hit harder by the Delta variant than earlier forms of the virus.
“This is critical progress as millions of kids head back to school, and, in fact, the vaccination rate among adolescents is growing faster than any other age group,” Mr. Zients said at a news conference with the White House Covid-19 Response Team. “And we will continue to do everything we can to get this group of adolescents vaccinated.”
The pace of vaccinations has picked up in recent weeks after the extremely contagious Delta variant drove a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths around the country — all of which have reached levels not seen since last winter.
And vaccinating adolescents is particularly important now that schools are reopening, said Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because children who are younger than 12 are not yet authorized to receive any of the vaccines and inoculating as many people around them as possible will help keep them safe.
“It’s human nature to protect our children above all else, and the best way to protect them is to get everyone who is eligible vaccinated and surround children who are not yet vaccine-eligible with people who are vaccinated to effectively shield them from Covid harm,” Dr. Walensky said. She added that widespread vaccination, coupled with measures like masking and social distancing, would help keep children safe in a school setting.
Earlier this week the F.D.A. granted full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine for those ages 16 and older, but it is not yet clear when such an approval, which can make it easier to impose vaccine mandates, might be granted for adolescents and younger children.
The C.D.C. released on Friday a report on vaccine uptake in adolescents around the country, based on vaccine administration data from the District of Columbia and every state except Idaho taken from Dec. 14, 2020, to July 31, 2021.
It noted several possible limitations, including that adolescents who received their shots from different entities might not have been reported as completing their course of treatment, but concluded that vaccinating teenagers was key to a safer return to school, especially because of the Delta variant.
The study indicated that vaccination uptake varied widely by state, with adolescents in the Northeast and on the West Coast most likely to be inoculated, and those ages 16 to 17 more likely to be vaccinated than those 12 to 15. This is probably because the vaccine has been authorized for the older subset for months longer.
Some teenagers reported receiving vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson even though they have not been authorized for adolescents.
The study recommended “concerted outreach” to adolescents and their parents, and “school-based vaccination programs, such as those for seasonal influenza and routine adolescent vaccination,” to get more shots in arms.
Caleb Wallace, a leader in the anti-mask movement in central Texas, became infected with the coronavirus and has been lying in an intensive care unit for the past three weeks, clinging to life, his wife Jessica said on social media.
“He’s not doing good,” Mrs. Wallace wrote in an Aug. 25 Facebook post. “They called and said they’ve run out of options for him and asked if I would consent to a do not resuscitate. And it would be up to us when to stop treatments.”
Mr. Wallace, who is 30, checked into the Shannon Medical Center in San Angelo, Texas, on July 30. Mrs. Wallace, who is pregnant with the couple’s fourth child, set up a GoFundMe page that has collected over $23,000, to cover the cost of medical bills.
Earlier that month, Mr. Wallace, who lives in San Angelo and works at a company that sells welding equipment, had organized a “Freedom Rally” for people who were “sick of the government being in control of our lives.”
He founded the San Angelo Freedom Defenders, a group that hosted a rally to end “Covid-19 tyranny” according to a YouTube interview with him.
“They believed the coronavirus was a hoax and they felt that the government was being too heavy-handed when it came to masks,” San Angelo’s mayor, Brenda Gunter, said in an interview. Ms. Gunter said she had spoken to Mr. Wallace and members of the San Angelo Freedom Defenders in the last year as they held protests and rallies in the city.
In an interview with the San Angelo Standard-Times, Mrs. Wallace said when her husband first felt ill, he took a mix of vitamin C, zinc, aspirin and ivermectin — a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms in both people and animals that has been touted as coronavirus treatment but was recently proven ineffective against the virus.
In April, Mr. Wallace penned a letter to the San Angelo Independent School District demanding they “rescind ALL COVID-related policies immediately,” and questioning the science and efficacy of masks for school children.
Despite her husband’s political and pandemic views, Mrs. Wallace said she personally wears a mask. She told the Standard-Times that “whether he was a hard-core conservative or not, he was an amazing man.”
During the state’s record-breaking winter storm in February, Mr. Wallace and his father Russell volunteered to drive out to residents trapped in their homes. Mayor Gunter rode with Mr. Wallace.
“When we are called to action, we forget about those differences and just do the right thing,” she said. The mayor told the Standard-Times that Mr. Wallace “had an overwhelming love for this city and its citizens.”
Shannon Medical Center currently has 70 percent of its intensive care beds full. This August, Tom Green County, which contains San Angelo, has see its seven-day average of new cases rise to the highest level since November 2020, according to a New York Times database.
American intelligence agencies have not been able to determine if the coronavirus pandemic was the result of an accidental leak from a lab or if it emerged more naturally, according to declassified portions of a report to the White House released on Friday.
The nation’s spy agencies, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said, are unlikely to reach a conclusion without more cooperation from China or a new source of information.
As debates about the origins of the pandemic intensified, Mr. Biden ordered the nation’s intelligence agencies three months ago to draft a report on the source of the virus.
After the review, the National Intelligence Council and four other intelligence community elements reported that they believe the virus that causes Covid was most likely created by “natural exposure to an infected animal through an animal infected with it, or close progenitor virus.”
Before the review was conducted, only two agencies favored the natural exposure theory. But the new report said the intelligence council and other agencies favoring the natural theory only had low confidence in their conclusions — a sign that the intelligence behind the assessment was not strong and that conclusions could change.
On the other side of the debate, one agency, with moderate confidence, said it had concluded that the pandemic was the result of “a laboratory-associated incident.” According to the declassified report, analysts at that agency gave weight to the risky nature of work on coronaviruses. The agency also said the accident likely involved “experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
The intelligence agencies all agree that the virus was unlikely to be created as any kind of biological weapon, the same stance the U.S. government has maintained for more than a year. The agencies also agree that the initial exposures that caused the outbreak occurred “no later than November 2019,” according to the declassified conclusions.
Critical to the debate over the virus origins, American intelligence officials do not believe the Chinese officials knew about it at the time of the outbreak, the report said.
India has given at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot to more than half of the eligible population, a milestone in a country that initially struggled to roll out enough doses for its 1.4 billion people.
The country’s health ministry said it was ramping up its vaccination drive and working with regional governments to accelerate the pace of inoculation as they race to stave off another wave of infections.
India is still recording about 33,000 cases a day. With more than 32 million total Covid-19 cases, the country is second only to the United States in terms of number of cases and the third to record more than 400,000 total deaths. Scientists widely believe the official figures vastly undercount the toll.
So far, the country has fully vaccinated around 15 percent of the eligible population since the beginning of the drive in January. Health officials said they have given more than 610 million doses of three approved vaccines.
India’s vaccine supplies will get a major lift when the country begins using Zydus Cadila’s DNA-based vaccine beginning in the first week of October. Health ministry officials say over 473 million people have received the first dose and another 138 million have received both shots. That covers just over 50 percent of India’s adult population based on the country’s projected midyear count for 2020.
The country’s daily vaccination drive also ramped up in August with over 5.2 million administered, compared with 4.3 million shots administered in July.
Government officials have said they are aiming to vaccinate all Indians by the end of this year. But some Indian states are still struggling with the vaccination drive because of the resource disparities and the sheer size of the population.
Officials are cautioning against relaxing attitudes, one reason behind the devastating second wave of the coronavirus that struck earlier this year.
Balram Bhargava, the director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, a top government science body, said on Thursday that although vaccines reduce the severity and reduce chances of hospitalization, people should continue with wearing masks. Relaxed attitudes, he said, could have disastrous consequences.
“Only fully vaccinated people should attend social gatherings,” he said. “The second wave is still on in India. In some states, an upsurge is being observed in a few districts.”
People who are infected with the highly contagious Delta variant are twice as likely to be hospitalized as those who are infected with the Alpha variant, according to a large new British study.
The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases on Friday, is an analysis of more than 40,000 coronavirus infections in England. It adds to evidence suggesting that Delta may cause more severe illness than other variants do.
Fewer than 2 percent of the infections occurred in fully vaccinated people, and there was not enough data to draw firm conclusions about hospitalization risks in that group specifically, the researchers said.
“The main takeaway is that if you have an unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated population, then an outbreak of Delta can lead to a higher burden on hospitals, on health care, than an Alpha outbreak would,” said Anne Presanis, a senior statistician at the University of Cambridge and one of the study’s lead authors.
The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, is roughly twice as infectious as the original virus and as much as 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was first identified in Britain.
In the new study, researchers analyzed the health data of people who tested positive for the virus in England between March 29 and May 23, as Delta was spreading through the country. Seventy-four percent of people were unvaccinated, 24.2 percent were partially vaccinated and 1.8 percent were fully vaccinated.
Genetic sequencing confirmed that 80 percent of the study participants had been infected with the Alpha variant, while 20 percent had been infected with Delta.
For both groups, the risk of hospitalization was small, the researchers found. Just 2.2 percent of people with Alpha and 2.3 percent of those with Delta were admitted to the hospital within two weeks of testing positive for the virus.
But people infected the Delta variant with were younger, on average. When the researchers adjusted for age and other factors that are known to affect disease severity, they found that when Delta caused the infection, the overall risk of being hospitalized was more than two times as high.
When the researchers broke down the data by vaccination status, they confirmed that Delta doubled the risk of hospitalization for those who were unvaccinated or had received their first dose less than three weeks prior. The fully vaccinated group was too small to be rigorously analyzed on its own, the researchers said.
“We already know that vaccination offers excellent protection against Delta, and as this variant accounts for over 98 percent of Covid-19 cases in the U.K., it is vital that those who have not received two doses of vaccine do so as soon as possible,” Dr. Gavin Dabrera, a lead author of the paper and an epidemiologist at Public Health England, said in a statement.
The largest published study to date of certain post-vaccine side effects found that people were at slightly higher than normal risk of blood clots after receiving an AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech shot. But the same clotting conditions were substantially more likely to occur — and over longer periods — among people infected with the coronavirus, the study found.
Coupled with another study this week from Israel, the data, published on Thursday night in The British Medical Journal, added to the growing evidence that though the coronavirus vaccines are associated with certain rare side effects, those risks are dwarfed by the risks from Covid-19.
The study was based on the electronic health records of more than 29 million people in England. It went beyond previous analyses in finding a link not only between very rare clotting conditions and the AstraZeneca vaccine, but also between those conditions and the Pfizer vaccine. Earlier studies had detected increased clotting risks after the AstraZeneca vaccine, but not after the Pfizer shot.
In interviews, the new paper’s co-authors said that the numbers of those cases they detected — involving clots blocking a vein that drains blood from the brain — were small enough that further studies were needed. Even the increased risk of those clots was far outweighed by people’s chances of developing them after contracting the virus itself, the study said.
“Although there are some risks, clearly the risks of these events are very rare,” said Aziz Sheikh, a co-author of the study and a professor of primary care research at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “And the biggest point is that the risks associated with Covid-19 are orders of magnitude higher, really.”
The study examined the electronic health records of people given a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine during the first five months of England’s inoculation campaign. Of those 29 million people, nearly 1.8 million people also tested positive for the coronavirus before or after being vaccinated. The study compared the risk of blood clots shortly after vaccination to the risk during other periods, as well as to the weeks after someone developed Covid-19.
After a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, people were at slightly increased risk of certain blood clots, as well as a condition characterized by a low level of platelets that can leave them prone to abnormal bleeding. A first shot of the Pfizer vaccine appeared to put people at slightly elevated risk of strokes caused by blockages within a blood vessel.
And both vaccines were linked, though at low numbers, to the very rare clots that prevent blood from draining out of the brain.
Even so, those risks were far smaller than those linked to developing Covid-19. For example, the authors said, for every 10 million people given a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, about 66 more people than normal would develop clots starting in a vein. But among the same number infected with the virus itself, 12,614 more people than normal would develop those clots.
In the United States, 300,000 to 600,000 people a year develop blood clots in their lungs or in leg veins or other parts of the body, according to the C.D.C. With nearly a million people a day now getting vaccinated, some of those clots will occur in those receiving the shots just by coincidence, unrelated to the vaccine.
Some countries restricted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small number of people in Europe who had received a shot were seriously sickened or killed by a very rare condition characterized by both clotting and abnormal bleeding.
Carol Coupland, a co-author on the latest study and a professor of medical statistics affiliated with both the University of Oxford and the University of Nottingham, said that the study could not evaluate that precise condition because the researchers did not have detailed enough readings of patients’ platelet counts.
The finding of a slightly elevated clotting risk after the Pfizer vaccine conflicted with other analyses, including the article from Israel published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week. The study from England included far more people, allowing it to home in on rarer categories of clots. It was also designed differently: It studied the same people over time, whereas the Israeli study compared risks in vaccinated and unvaccinated people over the same period.
Ben Reis, a co-author of the Israeli study and the director of the predictive medicine group at the Boston Children’s Hospital Computational Health Informatics Program, said that both studies were a testament to the way electronic health records allowed researchers to rapidly pick up on even very rare safety signals and compare the risks to those following a coronavirus infection.
“The vaccination decision shouldn’t be made in a vacuum,” he said. “The alternative outcome is the very real risk of being exposed to the virus without vaccination. Those are the two scenarios that should be compared.”
Canadian regulators on Friday authorized the use of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine in children 12 and older.
“After a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, Health Canada has determined that the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing Covid-19 in youth aged 12 to 17,” the agency wrote in a tweet.
The Moderna vaccine is being used in those 18 and older in the United States, Canada, the European Union and Britain. Moderna has filed for emergency use of its vaccine in the United States for children 12 and older, but the Food and Drug Administration has yet to rule on the request.
Until now, the only vaccine approved for adolescents in North America has been the shot from Pfizer-BioNTech.
Despite a slow start, Canada has moved rapidly to inoculate its population. More than 72 percent of Canadians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while about 65 percent are fully vaccinated, according to data from Health Canada.
An average of 2,831 cases per day were reported in Canada in the last week, according to a New York Times database. Cases have increased by 74 percent from the average two weeks ago and deaths have increased by 164 percent.
As children’s hospitals in many parts of the United States admit more Covid-19 patients, a result of the highly contagious Delta variant, federal and state health officials are grappling with a sharp new concern: Children not yet eligible for vaccination in places with substantial viral spread are now at higher risk of being infected than at any other time in the pandemic.
Nowhere is that worry greater than in Louisiana, which has among the highest new daily case rates in the country and only 40 percent of people are fully vaccinated, putting children at particular risk as they return to school.
Most children with Covid-19 have only mild symptoms, and there is not enough evidence to conclude that Delta makes some of them sicker than other variants do, scientists say. Doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital New Orleans agreed with that assessment.
“So many days are filled with this puzzle of: We don’t have enough beds for this patient who wants to come, so how are we going to shuffle our children around to accommodate one more?” said Devon H. Relle, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital, where she worked the front desk of the 17-bed I.C.U. The hospital was also seeing an early, worrisome wave of respiratory syncytial virus, known as R.S.V., which can cause some of the same symptoms and was contributing to the overflow conditions.
The crush of Covid-19 at Children’s Hospital grew so intense this month that the state called in a federal “surge team” of emergency responders from the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System. The group of about 14 included a physician, a nurse practitioner, nurses, paramedics, a respiratory therapist and a pharmacist.
The team was the first assigned to a children’s hospital during the pandemic.
“Covid-19 right now down here is so endemic that you don’t have to have a specific exposure, because it’s just out there,” said Anne Barylick, a nurse practitioner on the surge team who handled patient intake in the emergency department and Covid-19 units. “Statistically, you’re going to run into it.”
As schools return to in-person learning with masks and social distancing, some districts are facing another challenge: getting students to class.
Thousands of school bus drivers were furloughed, fell ill or quit as classes moved online last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, school and union officials said. Now districts across the country are trying to lure them back, offering signing bonuses and juggling schedules and bus routes to make up for the shortfall. One school in Delaware is even paying parents to drive their children to school.
“There are reports of shortages across the country,” said Joanna McFarland, the chief executive of HopSkipDrive, which works with districts on transportation solutions. “It is the worst that we have seen in a very long time, if not ever.”
Driver shortages have been an issue for years, but the pandemic made things worse. Many school bus drivers retired or quit out of fear of becoming exposed to the virus in an enclosed space, a risk some new drivers were also reluctant to take. Some quit over mask mandates, while others were furloughed or got sick, further diminishing the pool.
As the start of the 2021-22 academic year approached, officials sounded the alarm. HopSkipDrive, which conducted a national survey of 1,186 transportation and district officials, said that efforts to prepare for the coming school year would be hobbled by the shortages. The National School Transportation Association, which represents bus companies, warned this year that new drivers would not be able to fill the shortfall caused by furloughs and the loss of drivers from the work force.
The training of replacements is not keeping pace. It can take up to eight weeks for a driver to get a commercial license, the association said. Additional training is required for drivers who transport children with special needs and behavioral issues.
From late spring into early summer, Britain’s elementary and secondary schools were open during an alarming wave of Delta infections.
And they handled the Delta spike in ways that might surprise American parents, educators and lawmakers: Masking was a limited part of the strategy. In fact, for the most part, elementary school students and their teachers did not wear them in classrooms at all.
Instead, the British government focused on other safety measures, widespread quarantining and rapid testing.
“The U.K. has always, from the beginning, emphasized they do not see a place for face coverings for children if it’s avoidable,” said Dr. Shamez Ladhani, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at St. George’s Hospital in London and an author of several government studies on the virus and schools.
The potential harms exceed the potential benefits, he said, because seeing faces is “important for the social development and interaction between people.”
The British school system is different than the American one. But with school systems all over the United States debating whether to require masking, Britain’s experience during the Delta surge does show what happened in a country that relied on another safety measure — quarantining — rather than face coverings for young children.
Rohingya in Myanmar will be vaccinated against the coronavirus, Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the spokesman for Myanmar’s military junta, said at a news conference on Friday.
In 2017, a military crackdown in Myanmar against the Rohingya drove hundreds of thousands of men, women and children from their homes.
Vaccinations are set to begin on Saturday, people in the camps said. Abhishek Kumar Singh, a Rohingya man who is a leader in Thet Kal Pyin camp, confirmed that the Rohingya would receive 20,000 vaccine doses, sponsored by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, according to documents seen by The New York Times. There are a total of 13 camps in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, with a population of about 200,000 Rohingya. The first priority will be people 65 and older.
“The Bengalis in Rakhine State, including Buthidaung and Maungdaw, will be vaccinated with Covid-19. All of them are our people,” Gen. Zaw Min Tun said, while using terminology that implies the Rohingya, members of a Muslim ethnic group that has been living in Myanmar’s Rakhine State for generations, belong in neighboring Bangladesh.
Rohingya in Bangladesh have begun receiving vaccinations. But no attempt has been made until now to vaccinate the Rohingya in Myanmar, and some are skeptical that the vaccines will come through.
“The military is pretending to the international community to get a good political image. I never trust them,” said Mr. Singh, who lives in the Rohingya camp in Sittwe.
A military coup in February ousted the government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and Myanmar’s vaccination program has been in turmoil. Like many others, the country experienced a surge over the summer.
Myanmar has recorded 383,514 total cases of the virus and 14,850 deaths, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.